We’d been trying to catch up with Pete Chatel for a few days when he called us back from Amsterdam. The vice president and general manager of Delta Machinery was on his way to Taiwan when he got our message.
His intended destination spotlighted one of the realities of manufacturing today. Delta, like most major tool companies in North America, has at least some of their product lines built in Taiwan, China, and elsewhere in Asia. Due to quality concerns and “buy American” issues, it can be a sensitive issue with some companies.
Not so with Delta. The company has achieved a balance by continuing to make its premium products in the United States and establishing its own manufacturing facilities “offshore” in Asia.
Rather than conduct the interview in a Schiphol concourse, we spoke with Pete about Delta’s Taiwan plants and other topics after his return from the Far East.
“Part of our strategy is to be a low-cost supplier. Our two facilities we own in Taiwan and another in China allow us to be extremely cost competitive,” Pete explained from the company’s headquarters in Jackson, Tennessee.
“While most of our competitors may have one or two of their own people overseas, they are really just importers.” Pete noted, “We are a manufacturer on both sides of the Pacific. Our people are on the assembly floor and even with the sub-suppliers who machine our tabletops, mold plastic parts, or cast the aluminum pieces. Our people from Jackson are in constant communications or actually shuttling back and forth … working on logistics, developing new products, and ensuring quality control.”
But Delta also recognizes and shares the high value that some woodworkers place on American-made products.
“We’re going to continue to make our premium products in America.” Pete explained, “We operate a world-class facility in Tupelo, Mississippi. Our Unisaw – an icon of woodworking machinery – is made there. So is our renowned 14″ band saw and some of our shapers, just to name a few.”
No matter where the products are manufactured, Delta makes innovation a priority. Using Kaizen — a method for continuous improvement developed in Japan — and other techniques, Delta brings new ideas and focused quality controls to all its products … from a $2,000 Unisaw to a $99 miter saw.
“Developing new products and being a leader in innovation is the name of the game,” Pete explained, “We’re trying to marry up new technology and fresh thinking with some pretty old categories. That’s why we’ve hired some of the best and brightest product managers and engineers.”
One outcome of that process was the company’s recent decision to follow a dual, sub-brand strategy. In English that means they will continue to offer their premium products to commercial and serious amateurs under the Delta name. For beginner or DIY customers, more interested in a lower opening price point, the company will introduce the Shopmaster line. Starting with the first $99 table saw, Delta’s goal is to establish a relationship with the customer that lasts throughout their woodworking career.
And yes, the Shopmaster products will tend to be made offshore. But in Delta’s philosophy neither price point nor country of origin should affect expectations of quality.