Delta Manufacturing finds niche with quick response, custom orders
BY KYLE ARNOLD World Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 06, 2013
2/06/13 at 7:30 AM
Local production facilities are vital to the economy.
When NASCAR drivers such as Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards need quick heat for their 750-horsepower engines, it's a small Tulsa company that helps get the oil flowing.
Delta Manufacturing, a custom and quick-turnaround manufacturer, makes heating elements for everyday products such as coffee pots but also for high-performance machines such as race car engines.
And like NASCAR drivers measuring victories in fractions of a second, it's faster speeds and improving efficiency that have helped Delta survive making a relatively simple product.
"You're limited by the laws of physics, so you have to find ways to make yourself more efficient and find a niche," said Richard Housekeeper, who founded the company in west Tulsa in 1989.
Delta Manufacturing makes a variety of electrical heating elements, including mica bands and strings as well as ring and ceramic models.
It's a product that hasn't changed much in the century or so that electricity has been widely available - mainly it's a way to convert wattage into heat that can be regulated.
But the industry has evolved. The simpler products are now mostly produced outside the U.S. - first in Mexico with the passage of a free-trade agreement in the 1990s, and more recently in China as the Asian giant's cheap labor makes it difficult for American manufacturers to compete on price.
But now, after a five-year economic slump that took much of the momentum out of U.S. manufacturing and caused sales and employment at Delta to fall, the company has seen turnaround resulting in more orders and stepped-up hiring.
Housekeeper said he started Delta after working in sales for a larger manufacturer that couldn't keep customers because of delays and slow turnaround.
"A lot of people need these products fast," he said. "If it's a local customer, we can get a custom order in the morning and turn it around in a few hours if someone really needs it."
Heating elements are simply wires that can heat up to as high as 1,200 degrees. They're designed to fit various shapes depending on their use.
Housekeeper acknowledges that Delta can't compete with mass-volume manufacturers overseas that can make millions of products for pennies each.
His crew of about 20 workers still fashions the company's heating elements mostly by hand, using only a few machining tools.
"They've become very efficient at what they do," he said of his workforce. "We're essentially a job shop. If someone needs something, especially just a few prototypes, we can do it."
It's that kind of flexibility that has garnered contracts from companies such as Roush Fenway Racing, one of NASCAR's most successful teams. The racing products are used to preheat oil and maintain temperatures while a vehicle idles.
Delta's products are also popular in heat sealers for food manufacturers, appliances such as warming trays, and with trucking companies.
"The profit margin isn't that great, and if you aren't making a million products, only the smaller companies like us are responsive enough to compete," Housekeeper said. "It's definitely a niche business."
Much of the increase in recent business has come from the trucking industry, which often has a need for replacement parts. Housekeeper noted that the upturn in trucking is a bright sign for the economy as a whole.
8717 W. 84th St.
President: Dick Housekeeper
Original Print Headline: Made to order
Kyle Arnold 918-581-8380
Stacy Buckley makes a heating element at Delta Manufacturing. STEPHEN PINGRY / Tulsa World