Industry: Supply Chain
Founder and CEO Alfonso Jaramillo has disrupted spring manufacturing with innovative online tools.
"Basically, I started it in a garage," says Jaramillo. "I had a computer, phone, fax machine, and a hand spring winder. . . . I was a one-man operation at that point."
"I had 20 years of experience with some of the top spring companies in the United States," he says. With Acxess, he was looking to improve what he saw as "shortcomings in service."
His employers weren't listening to his advice, says Jaramillo. "I got tired of it and said, 'I'm going on my own.'"
Jaramillo hired his first employees and moved from his garage the first year he was in business. The medical industry proved an early catalyst for the company. "We were one of the first firms to engineer an EpiPen," says Jaramillo. "We invented the dual EpiPen [with Bayer]."
He originally learned the skills of the trade at his father's business, A.J. Torsion Spring. "I’m an inventor, tinkerer, and spring engineer," he adds. "I like to get my hands dirty."
But Jaramillo also recognized the need for IT in the staid spring industry. "A lot of things in life boil down to an algorithm."
Today, Acxess has three divisions: a custom manufacturing division ("Anywhere there's a switch, there's always a spring behind it," says Jaramillo); and engineering division that encompasses the Spring Creator, a free interactive tool on the Acxess website that allows customers to design springs themselves; and The Spring Store, launched in 2012, with an inventory of 24,000 different kind of springs ready to ship.
"Spring design is a very complex field and it broke it down into bite-sized chunks for our customers," says Jaramillo. The Spring Creator "will generate a real-time blueprint of the part. At the same time, they'll get an instant quote."
The tool was the "first of its kind," he adds. "It's used worldwide daily by hundreds of people. Even our competitors use our calculator."
The end result? The size of the company roughly tripled between 2012 and 2018. "It has spurred so much more work for us," says Jaramillo, as the number of quotes skyrocketed from five to 90 a day. "Our customers look at us as experts in spring design and engineering."
It also decreased the size of the minimum orders for prototypes from thousands of pieces to 20 or fewer. The sheer volume of prototypes and quotes "led us to open the Spring Store," says Jaramillo. "We realized there was a need for a stock spring division. . . . To fill that void, we had to have years of stock accumulated." To that end, the Spring Store's inventory includes 10 million springs.
The increasing importance of technology prompted Jaramillo to open a tech office in Guadalajara, Mexico, with a staff of six to build websites and run the back end of the Spring Store. There are plans to build more specialized sites for specific spring categories.
The strategy allows Acxess to move customers down the pipeline to larger orders. "We get these small customers who order 10 pieces, 20 pieces," says Jaramillo, "then we get the production work and we move them back to the custom division."
As many as 1,000 pieces are available through the Spring Store, and larger orders require a five-day lead time. Jaramillo says customers use it to "validate [prototypes]: 'We bought 10 and they work. Now we want 25,000.'"
That translates to about 40 percent annual sales growth for the last decade. "Two years ago, we grew 100 percent," says Jaramillo. Since 2013, the company's largest competitors "have been knocking on our door looking to buy us out," he adds.
"All of the manufacturing is done in Colton," says Jaramillo. The company's facility is about 10,000 square feet, and includes more than 20 CNC spring coilers and the warehouse for the Spring Store. "We're pumping out 3 million springs a month," says Jaramillo. "We've got a lot of automated processes and machines we built for ourselves."
Most of the production staff has more than 20 years of experience manufacturing springs. "We've got some really good team members," says Jaramillo. "We call them 'spring technicians.'" Spring winding "is a very difficult craft to learn," he adds. "They call it a black art."
But the Acxess crew is more than up to the task. "I had to connect the dots and get the right people,"says Jaramillo. "It's been an uphill journey, but a satisfying one."
Challenges: "Keeping up with growth," says Jaramillo. "It's a great challenge to have."
"We're constantly reorganizing the company," he adds. "It gives team members new opportunities for growth."
Opportunities: Technology. Jaramillo's big idea is "one big, seamless, easy product that will do everything." He sees it as a catalyst that will make Acxess a software company as well as a spring manufacturer. "We're going to be able to sell this product to other spring companies," he says. "This software's huge. It's a game changer."
Acxess Spring has registered more than 20 websites to focus on specialized niches like compression springs.
The company is also expanding on the ideas behind its Spring Creator with web-based modules tailored for particular kinds of springs, starting with compression springs. "The first module will be able to design 26 trillion different kinds of springs," says Jaramillo. "It's going to be a disruptor in the industry."
After compression springs, the IT staff will develop modules for extension, torsion, and conical springs in order to target most manufacturers. "Every spring company has a niche in terms of what wire they use and how small they can manufacture," says Jaramillo.
Needs: "There's always a need to be on the cutting edge with new equipment," says Jaramillo. "We've got a good array of equipment, but every year we're buying more equipment."
After buying a 3D printer in 2018, Acxess prints tubes to hold springs in place while their ends are ground off, but it offers 3D printing services to outside clients as well.