Interview with president and founder Mike Kartsonis

by Andrew Cullison, Editor of the Welding Journal Magazine


Mike Kartsonis President Dynamic Fabrication, Inc.Dull days are nonexistent at Dynamic Fabrication, Inc. (DFI). Creating a trade booth for BMW, missile components for Rockwell, special effects for Disney, or blower housings for Toyota are all in a day’s work for this Santa Ana, Calif., custom manufacturer. In addition to having many large companies as customers, DFI also knows the entrepreneur whose needs might be short-run production, prototypes, or R & D services. Since its founding in 1981, DFI has demonstrated its expertise in specialty projects.

Mike Kartsonis manages a work force of 20 certified journeymen. DFI has the skill to join copper, aluminum, stainless steel 4130, carbon and nickel alloys. Weldments as heavy as 15,000 lbs. have been produced, as well as spiral-shaped table bases and orbital spheres. Quality control is in compliance with AS9100 Rev C. Tight tolerances, exacting specifications, and stringent acceptance criteria are often required on jobs. Approximately 30% of the welding is done with gas metal arc and 70% with the gas tungsten arc process. Mill and lathe work is done in-house, as well as thermal cutting. Mike Kartsonis’ company provides both design and manufacturing services.

For president and founder Mike Kartsonis, our success is a reflection of hard work, skilled personnel, custom capabilities, and working for a wide variety of industries. Making sure the price is right is also a big factor. To be able to get the job, though, Kartsonis has to make sure he operates in the most cost-efficient manner possible. To find out how he does this, the Welding Journal asked him a series of questions on productivity and cost control.

WJ: There is much said about companies searching for ways to increase productivity, but in reality productivity may be hard to determine. Do you have specific means of measuring productivity in welding fabrication? Have you implemented steps in your manufacturing process to increase productivity?

Mike Kartsonis: Managing productivity can be tough, unless you’re doing the same job over and over again. From years of experience in manufacturing, I have a pretty good idea how long certain procedures and processes take. At Dynamic Fabrication, the steps I’ve taken to increase production include automated equipment, training and education, and creating a pleasant work environment, which makes people more productive. I’ve also learned that letting people have the authority and the responsibility to do the job the way they want motivates them and, in turn, increases productivity.

WJ: If you were going to make a capital investment in new equipment, what factors would you use to determine the savings you will realize?

Mike Kartsonis: Purchasing new equipment is always fun, especially if it makes the guys in the shop more productive. For example, several years ago we bought a Miller Aerowave welding machine, which has better arc control for AC welding of aluminum. This machine is top of the line and has all the features we need. When a potential customer comes into the shop and sees it, he knows this shop understands quality. When purchasing mills and lathes, the main factors I consider are spindle speed and size capacity.

WJ: Are there any specific costs factors you consider when estimating a job?

Mike Kartsonis: Labor and material are always the greatest, but you have to look at the whole job. You might have a job for 20 pieces that you can hold in your hand, or it might be a large weldment that weighs hundreds of pounds. Either way, you have to determine setup time, tolerance requirements, and the acceptance criteria. We have done rocket components that required interpass temperatures within 100° F. We have welded Inconel® tubing that required X-ray, hydrostatic testing, and a variety of other tests for acceptance. So you have to look at the whole picture.

WJ: When it comes to the cost of overhead in your operation, what specific areas present flexibility for controlling costs?

Mike Kartsonis: Labor is, of course, the largest source of overhead; material follows a close second. I’ve been able to control overhead costs by hiring highly skilled journeymen. I provide each employee the opportunity to think on his/her own and make business decisions that will benefit the company. It gives employees a sense of responsibility. If you have a great team, they try and always give 100%. I’ve also implemented a manifold system for shielding gas at each workstation.

WJ: Is there a welding process you consider more economical than others?

Mike Kartsonis: It really depends on the application. For example, a 304 stainless component is welded by my competitor with GMAW. We do that same piece with GTAW. The other process is definitely faster, but you don’t always get the penetration you need. This piece must be dye penetrant tested, and from experience, we know we aren’t going to have any problems. There will be no time spent in rework, and the inspection process proceeds quicker. When I look at the cost of job, I look at it in the long term, not just an immediate aspect of it.

WJ: What are the most effective means of controlling costs in your welding operation?

Mike Kartsonis: Simply hiring the best people. Hire people who understand the process and applications. With good people, they figure out ways to do a better job. They take responsibility for the job. They understand if a job isn’t done right the first time, then customers aren’t going to come back with jobs in the future. Also, with good people, you don’t have to worry about stealing, calling in sick for no reason, or false workmen compensation claims. They understand responsibility.

WJ: Do you have any recommendations to shops similar to yours on ways to control costs?

Mike Kartsonis: Again, hire the best people and know their skill levels. For example, you might hand a job to one person and know they will do it in four hours, while another would do it in six hours. One guy might be good on thin aluminum, and someone else is good on stainless steel. I know some who are very fast on layout, but I wouldn’t give them a welding job. I guess the real advice is to make sure the right job is given to the right people.

Reprinted with permission from Welding Journal Magazine, July 2002