2017-10-01 / Insight

H&H Tool supplies auto industry with aluminum parts machined in Lapeer

BY PHIL FOLEY
810-452-2616 •


Andrew Harrington, (above) president of H&H Tool in Lapeer, wishes more people realized manufacturing isn’t the dark, dirty environment many envision. Debbie Rudd (right) of Lum and Kaylee Rodgers of Davison work in the company’s quality control department. Andrew Harrington, (above) president of H&H Tool in Lapeer, wishes more people realized manufacturing isn’t the dark, dirty environment many envision. Debbie Rudd (right) of Lum and Kaylee Rodgers of Davison work in the company’s quality control department. LAPEER — If Andrew Harrington’s parents had made a couple of different decisions, he might have ended up selling motorcycles. Instead he became president of H&H Tool, Inc., a Tier Two supplier of hundreds of thousands of small machined aluminum parts to the auto industry.

A Tier Two supplier is a company that sells parts to a company, which in turn makes assemblies that it sells to an auto manufacturer.

Harrington said his parents, Jim and Mary Ann Harrington — the two H’s in H&H Tool — got into the machining business almost by accident.


Davison’s Rosalind Hardman unloads a CNC machine on H&H Tool’s production floor. She’s been with the company nearly two years and says she “likes it a lot.” 
Photos by Phil Foley Davison’s Rosalind Hardman unloads a CNC machine on H&H Tool’s production floor. She’s been with the company nearly two years and says she “likes it a lot.” Photos by Phil Foley Before creating the company 35 years ago, they owned Lapeer’s Harley-Davidson dealership.

Along with selling Harleys, they sold Suzukis, Ski Doos and Apache trailers, had a racing team and ran a small machine shop to modify motorcycles.

“My grandpa on my mom’s side built assembly lines for the Big Three,” Harrington recalled. In the early 1980s Harrington’s grandfather had a problem on one of his jobs and asked the Harringtons to do him a favor by machining some copper welding tips and fabricating some welding arms.

A series of small jobs led the Harringtons into the niche of making small steel, and eventually aluminum, parts that connect hoses and lines to automobile HVAC systems, transmission coolers and any other system carrying fluids under the hood.

“Sometimes,” Harrington said, “people just get lucky.” He said that around the time the auto industry was switching from steel to aluminum parts to save weight, his father had purchased a machine capable of producing precision-machined aluminum parts. “Dad’s always been interested in state-of-theart equipment,” he said.

Since their beginning as a small machine shop, the company has grown into a facility that can do everything from creating prototype parts to high volume production. Harrington said, “There are four or five places who do what we do.”

The company maintains a platoon of CNC machines, which cost around $300,000 each, and Hydromats — Swiss machines which cost $1.75 million per unit. Harrington said to keep an edge in the highly competitive auto industry the company replaces its machines about every three to five years.

This year alone they have invested $8 million in equipment upgrades.

All for parts most people will never recognize or think about unless they fail. And the fear of failure generates tons of data via quality assurance programs required to exist and compete in the high-tech world. “Product identifiability and traceability is huge in this industry,” Harrington said, noting he can tell you where the bar stock a part was made of came from, who cut the blank and which machine the part was made in.

To justify the cost of the machines needed to do all that, H&H needs to keep the machines humming, so the plant runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

To do that, you need people. In H&H’s case 170 working in four alternating 12-hour shifts. Ideally, Harrington said, the employees would work four days on and three days off followed by three days on and four days off.

Along with recruiting and hiring for existing positions, H&H is looking to expand in the third quarter of 2018.

That has made maintaining a stable workforce the company’s biggest issue. “We’re trying to spend a lot more time with people upfront,” he said, adding it’s frustrating to go through the entire training process only to have new employees decide they don’t like the job and leave.

“If we can get them through the first year, then retention shoots up,” he said. Harrington said to improve retention, H&H has abandoned the old model of people having to work 90 days to be eligible for things like health insurance. The now offer benefits starting on the first day of the month following 30 days of employment.

H&H pays between $10 per hour for parts packers up to $27 per hour for semi-skilled machine operators.

Harrington has been encouraged by the positive public relations manufacturing has been getting the last few years. “There are a heck of a lot of people in college who are not happy with what they’re doing,” he said, adding those same people could be making a good living in manufacturing.

He said that while he’s heard of some local manufacturers thinking of moving elsewhere in hopes of finding a better employee pool, it may just be “a case of the grass is always greener.” He added, when looking at places with chronic high unemployment for new employees, “there may be a reason there’s high unemployment.”

Harrington has been impressed in the vocational training centers like the Lapeer County Education & Technology Center and Lapeer Community Schools’ Center for Innovation that have contributed to getting young people prepared for the manufacturing workplace. He said he is more than willing to give local educators and students a tour of his facility and explain the skills needed in his business.

H&H Tool isn’t your grandfather’s machine shop. It’s bright, clean and relatively quiet.

Harrington said the company has plenty of room to grow and he’s upbeat about its future and that of Lapeer.

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