DeLong and Short of a Family Business
The summer months of 1966 found Dave DeLong shuttling between the baseball diamond and his father’s machine shop. In an era of manually operated machine tools, this young man of twelve years commenced learning the machining trade from an attentive father who was just scratching out a living.
There were two machines, a manual mill and a manual lathe. The actual shop area was about the size of a closet. “We were tucked into the back of an industrial wiring firm, leasing the space for dad’s machines,” remembers Dave.
In the ensuing nine years there would be one more location for DeLong Manufacturing, until the company settled in its present location in Santa Clara, California. Dave spent those nine years learning the ins and outs of manual machining. His father, Bill, was encouraged with his son’s progress. Bill noticed that Dave would save all the parts whenever he took something apart, which in the machining trade is a sign of intelligent tinkering. Well, Dave still saves the parts. Enter his office and one notices cylinders, flanges and the like propped up against tables, door jams or whatever is handy.
A brother, Bill DeLong Jr., joined forces with the family business in 1983. Bringing with him 16 years of work-foreman’s experience from IBM, Bill Jr. learned his scheduling and accounting on the job. But a greater influence was his mother, who would arrive once a week to do the company payroll. Bill still remembers “going to school” on the company books with his mother. Now everyone in the family was involved – mom, dad and two sons . . . no purer definition of a family business could be found.
Growth for DeLong Manufacturing was a constant. But as Dave DeLong admits, “As goes the Silicon Valley, so goes our business.” Now, with real estate values as they are in San Jose and the surrounding communities, finding new space for growth is nigh on impossible; and if possible, the space is prohibitively expensive. DeLong’s current building housed three independent machining companies at one time. But, the DeLongs always were in need of more space, so, when the front tenant vacated, the DeLong’s negotiated a new lease, knocked out a wall and took over the space. And when the second machining company in the rear departed, the brothers expanded again, assuming control of the entire building. With all space problems resolved, DeLong Manufacturing was now focused on the long term.
The DeLongs made the jump to CNC machining in 1974. Though essentially a job shop, a wide variety of machining in aeronautics and computers comprised the company’s primary workload. A collector plate for an F-15, a connector for AWACs, these are typical examples of the challenges confronting the shop. However, it wasn’t until January of 1998 that the brothers purchased their first Haas vertical mill, a VF-4 with three rotary tables. Wayne Pate, one of the veteran machinists on staff, was chosen as the operator of the Haas.
Wayne had this to say about the VF-4: “Frankly we do a lot of parts with arcs and circles. These are complex parts, but I have learned with the Haas that you can machine a complex part with simple steps. The Haas is ideal for this! The interface between machine and operator is simple, the programming is easier – it’s like having four machines in one . . . we can pull a part, run another program for a different part, come back, do the first part again with no loss of time.” Wayne’s next experiments are all going to be in the third dimension, using the Haas rotary tables for 4th- and 5th-axis work. These are the challenges for the future at DeLong Manufacturing.
As for the total impact of Haas at DeLong, Dave DeLong, co-owner, said this, “As soon as our older mills die, I can assure you, we will replace them with Haas . . . they’re such a value.” And when asked as to the servicing of the Haas, he laughed and said, “We’ve had the Haas since January of ’98. What is that, more than two years? Well, I don’t know about the service, we haven’t needed it! And remember, we run two shifts a day.” Kim Gahafer, the shop quality control manager, volunteered, “We really are impressed with the Haas, to the extent that we will only look to Haas in the future.”