Culver Tool Plans $1 Million Expansion

A northern Indiana orthopedic manufacturer is growing at a pace that surprises even its leading executives. Culver Tool and Engineering, Inc. in Plymouth—just 25 miles from the Warsaw orthopedic cluster—has experienced three consecutive years of 33 percent growth, says president Wade Berger. For the small company of 55 employees, the flourishing business has resulted in some unexpected "growing pains" that it's responding to with a $1 million expansion. "It's never really been about the dollars," says Berger. "Culver Tool has always been about integrity and quality. Over the last few years, [our customers] want a supplier that has a robust, quality system—someone that has a good product and integrity. We're able to provide a quality product on time that meets all of their requirements."

The company specializes in spinal implants, mostly spinal rods, which it has been manufacturing for about 20 years. The expansion includes a $700,000 investment in new machinery to streamline and increase its milling capabilities and capacity; Berger says spinal rods have evolved from standard, straight rods to an array of variations, such curved rods.

"We're now doing some other components that require more time; they're more complex products," says Berger. "We're going to grow our machine base and increase our inspection equipment; as you're doing a more complex product, you need to have a good way of measuring that complex product."

Culver Tool's clients include some of the biggest orthopedic players in Warsaw; Berger says most people are surprised to learn that major orthopedic manufacturers often don't produce all of the parts that eventually bear their name.

"In spinal surgery, for example, there's a kit. The kit includes clips, screws, cross connectors, rods and the instruments as well," says Berger. "Even some of the OEMs (Original Equipment Manufacturer) rely on suppliers like us to provide a piece or pieces of the kit to them."

In addition to keeping pace with the evolving products, Culver Tool also strives to keep its manufacturing processes cutting-edge.

"We have some pretty good technology projects," says Berger. "We've filed for patents on some processes that we're trying to move through development. Hopefully in the next year, we'll have some new processes that will actually have a decent impact on the industry, as far as new manufacturing methods."

While company leaders are optimistic about Culver Tool's growth, Berger notes the biggest challenge is finding workers, namely machinists and inspectors, to fill open positions.

"We're growing so fast that we're a little behind as far as getting people in place to handle this growth; we're trying to play catch up," says Berger. "It's hard right now to find people to come in and hit the ground running, who have the experience, are familiar with the practices and the machining methods."

The manufacturer is considering developing an in-house program that could train manufacturing workers from other industries, developing their skills to match Culver Tool's needs.

Berger also credits the company's growth to its business philosophy—a Christian-based mindset established by his father-in-law when he created the company. The company offers daily devotionals to its employees and tithes as part of its business practices.

"We've not gone out and grown on purpose, it's been whatever is provided to us. We don't advertise or do trade shows—we credit the growth to our beliefs," says Berger. "It's hard to speculate and think we're going to do 33 percent every year, but we expect to see some pretty significant growth in the next two years, and that's exciting."
Source: Indiana Inside Business