The team at Fastener Engineering has been reaching out to manufacturers and distributors to learn how essential companies are coping with the challenges of work during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In this audio interview, we speak with Gary Cravens, president of Advance Components, an industrial fasteners master distributor. Gary shares insight on the products the company is distributing at this time, the precautions being taken, as well as the risk-management program the company has in place.
Fastener companies, such as Advance Components, are an important link to manufacturers who are building medical devices and providing other critical infrastructure support — such as to those delivering food, power, and other essential items.
Listen to the interview here:
Here’s a summary of the steps Advance Components currently has in place:
- Last year, Advance Components developed a Risk Assessment Plan and implemented a Strategy for Risk Management Program, which is strongly supporting the company now. This program was initiated by a key customer who required that all their suppliers develop such a program and implement it.
- Through this process, Advance Components was able to identify several areas where its business was vulnerable to risks (including accidents, storm, fire, fraud, theft, etc). “We obviously didn’t foresee a global viral pandemic wreaking havoc on our business like it has but the Risk Management Program we developed and the solutions we put in place last year have helped us to be very prepared for this current environment,” said Cravens.
- The upgrades have allowed the distributor to successfully work remotely via the cloud. The company also upgraded all of its users to the newest version of Microsoft Windows 10 and Microsoft Office 365 (in the cloud). To ensure it had adequate network speed and available bandwidth for the increase in traffic, the team also purchased additional high-speed data.
- To better ensure the ongoing safety of its employees, Advance Components has split its warehouse crew into two shifts that alternate, working every other day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Everyone is also still receiving their full regular pay.
- Advance Components has received two orders for products that are going into the manufacturing of coronavirus respirator testing kits and respirator machines. The company also shipped more than two million ARaymond/Tinnerman Push-Ons and a large order for Davies Molding 5-arm (Star) knobs to manufacturers who are working 24/7 to get their products to hospitals across the country.
- “The work that Advance and others in the fastener industry are doing truly is essential,” added Cravens. “It’s so very important that we keep our domestic supply chain up and running and we all do our part to keep America strong.”
The following is a lightly edited transcript of the audio interview…
Fastener Engineering (FE): Hello, everyone! Thanks for listening. I’m Michelle Froese, an editor with Fastener Engineering. Today I have Gary Cravens on the line with me, the president of Advance Components, an industrial fasteners master distributor. Gary kindly agreed to speak with me about Advance Components’ current capabilities and response in regard to COVID-19. The company has been deemed an essential supply chain partner under all state and federal standards, so it is still in operation, but, of course, with additional safety measures in place. Gary, thanks so much for your time today.
Gary Cravens (GC): Absolutely. I’m so happy to be able to join you today.
FE: Thank you, Gary. I appreciate it! Before we get into the precautions that you’ve been taking at Advance, can you first please share a little bit about the company and the components that it supplies?
GC: Yes! Advance Components is a master stocking distributor. We’re based in the Dallas area. We’ve been in business for 47, going on 48 years. So, we’re a second-generation and going on third-generation, family-owned and operated business. We represent a number of fastener manufacturers and all are domestic manufacturers.
We do have one manufacturer we’ve picked up that is actually manufacturing out of the country, but 95% of our products are domestic manufacturers. We’re supplying to the domestic supply chain, including everything from the automotive, heavy truck, off-road, even lawn and garden, children’s toys, ice chests, and more. It’s a pretty broad range of components.
So, what separates what we sell is that along with some of the more familiar products, such as the nuts and bolts and screws — although, we certainly have some of those things — most of what we sell and represent is of the oddball stuff that if you showed it to someone, they might say, “Oh yeah, I’ve kind of seen that.” Maybe it’s like a little cap that holds the pedal on your child’s tricycle, or it’s what holds the wheel on your ice chest, or it keeps the cord from pulling out of your blow dryer. Once you saw it and I pointed it out to you, you’d be like, “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that. I just really never kind of noticed it.” It’s different little clips and inserts.
FE: For sure. Makes sense…and that’s an impressive variety of products.
GC: Some of these components have also been going into the supply chain that’s supporting ambulances and fire trucks, and even in to support this coronavirus solution — like into coronavirus testing kits and stuff like that. This came as kind of a surprise to us, but we’ve expedited some products out to support that. That’s been pretty exciting.
FE: Can you please explain what it means exactly to work as an essential supplier at this time? For example, what’s changed for you and the team at Advance Components to meet the current demands?
GC: Well, it’s been really interesting. As part of the domestic supply chain, we are supplying essential products, specifically to medical supply and to medical devices. So, we’ve had some pretty large orders come in. The supply chain is sort of long, and most people do understand that you have the fastener manufacturers, and then it goes to these big stocking warehouses like us. And then, we sell parts to other distributors who then parcel the fasteners out in very small quantities on a weekly, daily, or monthly basis to the OEMs — which are the equipment manufacturers and those making these medical devices. A lot of those names are a little more obscure, but they are making hospital beds, respirators, or the testing devices, for example. We’ve had some orders specifically for these medical devices and respirator testing machines, and even the respirators themselves.
Sometimes, because we’re a master distributor, we’re also selling to other distributors. We may not even know what specific devices the parts go into. We sell big volumes under the distributor, and we don’t know what the end device is. But we’ve been really pleased and privileged to know that some of these devices are actually going into medical devices.
But in addition to just the specific medical solutions, being part of the critical infrastructure for the domestic supply chain also includes… for example, parts that go into refrigeration units that go on semi-trailers that deliver refrigerated food. Also, there are parts that go into windmills and power generation, which is an essential part of the infrastructure that we keep. We’ve got to have power, we’ve got to have water, we have to have electricity, we have to have food being delivered. So, you can’t just shut companies down. We all want to have food and water and electricity, and we want to be able to carry out our lives in a semi-normal state. So, keeping the supply chain up and running and strong is important to us.
People never stop and think that we’ve got to keep building this stuff, but everything is held together by little tiny nuts and bolts and screws and cable ties and glue. And you got to have all this stuff and it has to be delivered by trucks and vehicles. And of those are all held together by these little components. Refrigerators and compressors and all of this stuff is part of what we deliver. This fastener industry is pretty fascinating. It sounds mundane to a normal person. Once you dig into it, it’s exciting to be part of keeping things running.
FE: I agree. I think it is interesting. You mentioned the testing kits. Can you just briefly explain what’s included in those? Is that specific to the medical industry, or do you have different ones depending on what sector you’re providing to?
GC: They relate to the respirators that are being used in these hospitals. Everyone sort of sees the disposable masks but, in some of the more critical care areas, they’re actually using a more robust respirator — which has cartridges. These filter cartridges are being replaced and they have a sort of a rubber device. It’s almost like what you’d see somebody using in sandblasting or in a big commercial construction environment but, in this case, to ensure that medical personnel keeps safe. They’re using some pretty intense respirators. And so to make sure that the respirators, they test them with just a little electronic device that you could hold in your two hands, and it has electronics and pressure-testing that they put on to the devices, and it tests the flow. It’s like pressure and flow testing.
There’s a shortage of these respirators. There’s also a shortage of respiratory testing equipment. All of it is part of the package. Everybody hears about…well, we’re running low on respirators. But you have to have a way to test the machines. You also have to have everything that goes with it. It’s all part of the package. Then, we have another customer that’s actually building the respirators themselves so that’s another order. And those require some five-star knobs. We represent a manufacturer up in the Chicago area that manufactures these knobs. So, there are several different parts that we help support that are going to these solutions.
FE: What are the restrictions or safety precautions that you have in place at your facility?
GC: I think we’re more fortunate than a lot of people and we were more prepared. Some of it was really good planning, I guess, and some of it was just sort of fortunate. Last year, we developed a risk assessment plan, but it kind of came from one of our key customers. And like I said, we have a lot of customers. These big customers are multi-billion dollar companies, and they have thousands of suppliers in their supply chain. And to ensure that their supply chain remains strong, they’re also dealing with a lot of big-name end-users. I mean, Ford, General Motors, John Deere, Caterpillar…these are big companies.
Many of these companies have big risk assessment plans and high-level people that are putting together management programs to ensure that their supply chains and all of their partners…well, a supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link. So, they asked us to put together a risk assessment plan along with multiple suppliers in their chain, and then develop a strategy to ensure that we could stay operational. So most of it, we really sort of foresaw as accidents or a storm or fire or fraud or theft. We didn’t foresee this global viral pandemic wreak havoc on everything. But fortunately, the solutions we put in place helped us be very prepared.
Last year, we started systematically implementing a lot of programs that allowed us to, ultimately, be able to work remotely in the cloud, which has been very helpful now. We also upgraded everybody to the most recent Microsoft Windows. I think that’s Windows 10, and then the best thing we probably did was a couple of things: one is we went to Microsoft 365 cloud-based, so we were already really working in the cloud. And then we have a managed service cloud hosting for a partner that we work with. So, we moved all of our servers from in-house to an offsite hard and secure facility and a cloud solution.
Of course, then we had to buy more bandwidth to make sure we could handle that additional traffic and high-speed data transfer to make sure that everybody could actually work from home. We had to go from desktop computers to laptops, so we did that in a series of ways by the department. We didn’t plan for the coronavirus pandemic specifically but, it did, fortunately, help us be very well prepared for it.
FE: Well, it sounds like preparation was definitely the key, even if you couldn’t foresee what was going to happen.
GC: We got kind of lucky. I don’t want to say lucky. I mean, we were planning for a disaster, just not this disaster.
FE: Of course. I know it’s been an extremely challenging time probably regardless of how prepared you may have been. Have you been able to maintain positivity with your staff members and just your team?
GC: Yeah, I think everybody would like to get back to work, but because we have such a great team of managers, they’re having meetings every day with their teams. And the fact that we actually still have a pretty decent amount of business. I mean, our business has suffered a little bit, but it’s not terrible. We’re actually having to bring the warehouse people in because we are a supply chain company. And, I mean, accounting, IT, our sales and account management team, they’re all working remote from home. I think they’re staying pretty up, and I think they’re happy.
FE: So, any other challenges that you’ve had to face other than the obvious?
GC: We’re just trying to take every step we can. So we started…because our business is down a little bit, we’ve been able to take the warehouse team and split them into two shifts. I mean, we do have days we get really busy and we bring them back in, but we try to work them every other day as much as we can so that they’re not all here at the same time. This allows even more space and ensures that if somebody did come up with a case of coronavirus or something, that at least half the people wouldn’t be here on the same shift as that person. We still pay everybody their full pay even if they’re not working. And then we’re wiping everything down like crazy and everybody has a mask and gloves.
FE: The typical process right now…it sounds like for most everyone who’s working in a facility is having to take similar precautions.
GC: Yeah, surprisingly, it’s become business as normal pretty much.
FE: Any final tips you’d like to share with others at this time, Gary?
GC: I’m so proud of the work that our people here at Advance Components are doing. But I’m also proud of all of the people, the thousands and thousands of businesses, and the hundreds of thousands of people at the domestic supply chain. They’re all doing and contributing and working hard to keep the essential businesses in America up and running. Everyone is doing the best they know how to do.
FE: I agree! If listeners would like to learn more about Advance Components, where can they go?
GC: Well, we have a pretty robust website at advancecomponents.com. We have a Facebook page, we have a YouTube channel, and we’re on LinkedIn. We have a lot of information on LinkedIn. So, we’re out there on social media. We’re pretty plugged into the world with a lot of information out there. We’re trying to stay in touch with our customers and with our community.
FE: Well, I appreciate the conversation, Gary. Thanks so much for your time, and thanks to everyone else for listening today! I’m Michelle Froese with Fastener Engineering.