SIC 3495

This industry consists of establishments primarily engaged in manufacturing wire springs from purchased wire. Establishments primarily engaged in assembling wire bedsprings or seats are classified in the Furniture and Fixtures industries.

NAICS Code(s)

332612 (Wire Spring Manufacturing)

334518 (Watch, Clock, and Part Manufacturing)

Industry Snapshot

In 2000 the value of shipments in the wire springs industry was approximately $2.76 billion, which was extremely close to the 1998 figure of $2.72 billion. The value of precision mechanical wire springs produced by the industry in the late 1990s was slightly over $900 million, and the value of other wire springs was about $1.3 billion. The largest bloc of material consumed by the wire springs industry in the late 1990s was steel wire and wire products valued at nearly $535 million. There were 394 establishments in the industry in the late 1990s, which is close to the mid-1990's figure of 383 but down sharply from the 432 establishments reported in 1982. Of these 394 establishments, 199 had 1 to 19 employees; 147 had 20 to 99 employees; and 48 had 100 or more employees.

Organization and Structure

The capital requirements for the wire springs industry are generally low, with average investment per establishment around 40 percent of that for the manufacturing sector as a whole. "Someone who gets to be a proficient springmaker may decide he doesn't have to be working for someone else anymore. He will go out on his own and get the financing to get started with a few pieces of equipment. This is going to be as constant a thing in the future as it has been in the past," predicted Rich Chud, president of Wesco Spring Co., during a 1998 Springs round table on the future of the spring industry.

Prior to the 1980s, it was rare for firms to cooperate in the production of springs, but this has changed in the last two decades. Firms learned to cooperate on a number of bases. For example, some firms developed expertise in grinding springs at high tolerances, while others developed high levels of efficiency in looping the wire on the ends of springs. Other spring-producing firms found it advantageous to hire these specialty firms for such operations. "We as a small spring company probably couldn't survive if it weren't for other spring companies that we've met through the SMI (Spring Manufacturers Institute) and do work for," Dave Habicht, president of the Kirk-Habicht Co., told the Springs round table. "We make parts for about 12 other spring companies. That's our sales force."

The smallest firms have fewer than 25 employees and generally do not design the springs they produce, relying instead on specifications provided by their customers. They typically produce small batches of springs made from larger wires (up to about 3/8 inches in diameter), as well as both large and small batches from smaller diameter wires (up to about 0.08 inches in diameter). These versatile firms typically have one or two hand-operated spring coilers and several automatic spring coilers, in addition to a lathe or two for coiling heavier wires. Furthermore, these small firms typically have a number of machines devoted to the other processes necessary for spring production, including grinders, spring testers, baking ovens, and various machine tools. "If you look at the SMI membership, I would say 80 percent of them are ma and pa spring companies," Chud told his fellow spring makers. "As far as the future is concerned, I'd say there will always be ma and pa spring companies serving particular markets. There will always be a local market or niche where they can find a place for themselves in the industry." In 1997, companies with 19 or fewer employees made up the largest segment of the industry. But Dan Sebastian, president of MW Industries sees the spring industry of the future being dominated by fewer and larger companies. "If you look at the spring industry 25 or even 50 years from now, I think you'll see four or five players controlling the vast majority of the spring marketplace," he told the round table. "I also see a lot of small companies still existing for individual niche areas for a particular reason. But I think we're going to see more Associated Spring, Peterson Spring-sized companies over the next few years because it's the nature of the beast," he concludes.

Medium-size companies have 20 to 99 employees, and these made up the second largest share of companies in the industry. These firms typically employ engineers to design and test springs. Medium-size firms usually specialize in producing coil springs in large batches or are diversified in the production of a large number of spring types. These firms employ processes similar to those used in smaller firms, and the main distinctions regarding capital goods were the number and size of machines. These firms also typically have a greater variety of machines to supplement core production processes, such as electroplating equipment. Using computers in the design and production of springs throughout the 1990s has led to greater qualitative distinctions in the production processes of smaller and larger firms.

Large firms have more than 100 employees and typically have a larger technical and scientific staff. There were about 48 such establishments in the United States in 1997. In addition to engineers, such firms often employ metallurgists and highly trained inspectors. These firms also devote substantial resources to specialized research equipment, such as fatigue testers and wire-twisting machines. These large establishments are typically diversified in the production of all major spring types and are often diversified across industry lines. The Peterson Spring Company of Southfield, Michigan, for example, has about 900 employees. The company has a home office engineering staff that complements the production engineers working in Peterson's various plants as well as engineers and metallurgists involved in product design, performance analysis, and research and development.

In the years just after World War II, production of springs was tightly concentrated in the northeastern states of Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, and Ohio. By 1997, however, the top five states with spring manufacturing establishments were Illinois with 51, California with 45, Ohio with 37, Michigan with 34, and Connecticut with 29. Many plants in the industrial Midwest produce springs for the automobile industry while many California firms produce springs for the aircraft industry.

The output of the wire spring industry is widely dispersed across industry and sector lines reflecting the great extent to which the industry is dependent not only on the production of manufactures, but on the production of the economy at large. The top ten industries and sectors buying the outputs of the wire springs industry in 1998 were new construction (6.9 percent); repair and maintenance (6.4 percent); personal consumption (5.1 percent); mattresses and bedsprings (5.1 percent); miscellaneous fabricated wire products (5.1 percent); non-farm residential structures (4.9 percent); exports (4.6 percent); motor vehicles and passenger car bodies (4.5 percent); maintenance and repair of residential structures (4.2 percent); and retail trade (3.5 percent.)

Background and Development

The wire spring manufacturing industry grew rapidly in the post-World War II period. The number of plants producing precision springs increased by about six-fold from 1940 to 1980. Membership in the Spring Manufacturers Institute (SMI) increased from 40 establishments in 1940 to about 350 in the late 1990s.

The SMI was founded in 1933 and is headquartered in Oak Brook, Illinois. The SMI publishes the quarterly Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology , books such as the Handbook of Spring Design and various publications on topical subjects such as computer software, federal regulations relating to health and safety issues, etc. In 1998 SMI undertook a partnership with Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio that introduced engineering students to the spring industry, spring design, and performance analysis. A number of programs are involved ranging from industry internships to courses of study including a full college level course in spring design. The industry is also served by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American Society for Testing and Material, and the American Society for Metals.

There are three primary types of wire springs: compression springs absorb energy as they are compressed, extension springs as they are extended, and torsion springs as they are twisted. The design and production of wire springs has been referred to as a "Black Art" because of the complexity of interactive variables that must be taken into account. The industry used about 100 types of metals in the production of springs. The choice of the optimal metal depends on such conditions as the potential for corrosion, conductivity, the loads to be borne by the spring, the temperature ranges to which the spring will be exposed, the desired working-life of the spring, and size constraints. The basic types of metals used in spring production include high-carbon steels, steel alloys, stainless steels, and copper and nickel-based alloys. Since the cost of materials can vary from one to hundreds of dollars per pound and safety was often a factor (in production of vehicles, for instance), the optimal choice of materials was vital.

Production begins with the process of coiling metal wire. For smaller batches (several hundred or less), the manufacturer uses a hand-operated coiler or a lathe. Larger batches require automatic coilers. Whereas in the mid-1970s, many coilers produced at the rate of 3,000 to 5,000 springs per hour, by the 1980s machines were sold that coiled up to 18,000 springs per hour. After being coiled, springs were baked to stabilize their shape. Thereafter, they were compressed to remove any set that would accumulate during usage. Lastly, the ends of the springs were shaped (in the case of extension and torsion springs) and ground. Precision grinding was among the most time-consuming and expensive operations in the production of springs. After they were thus formed, springs were typically finished by oiling, painting, electroplating, or oxidizing.

In addition to the more common wire spring types are hairsprings. These are spiral springs made from very fine flattened wire (as thin as 0.0002 inches). These springs were used in clocks and watches, as well as specialized precision instruments. Only a few firms produced hairsprings.

Current Conditions

In the late 1990s, the value of shipments fluctuated, growing from $2.48 billion in 1997 to $2.72 billion in 1998, and then falling to $2.66 billion in 1999. The value of shipments in 2000 totaled $2.79 billion. In total, the industry employed 20,780 in 2000, with 16,635 involved in production. The average wage in 2000 was $13.61 per hour, and total industry wages reached $470 million.

In the late 1990s Springs gathered together eight industry leaders for a round table discussion on the current state and future of the wire spring industry. John Petry, vice president/general manager of Sandvik Steel Spring Products, noted that the industry was growing between 6 and 8 percent a year or almost double the GDP growth rate. In spite of this growth rate, the spring industry is nevertheless threatened by growing demand for non-wire or non-mechanical springs such as gas springs and plastic products. Other participants were heartened by the growth of new markets for the industry. "The amount of parts we put into electronic components today versus 20 years ago is mind boggling. Innovation may change the size and nature of springs, but they're still there," said Dan Sebastian, president of MW Industries.

Industry Leaders

In 1998 the top four American manufacturers of wire springs, excluding manufacturers of wire springs for furniture and bedding, were Associated Spring, the aforementioned Peterson Spring, Newcomb Spring, and Mid-West Spring. Associated Spring of Farmington, Connecticut is part of the Barnes Group. Founded in 1857, it has since become the largest manufacturer of springs and precision metalforms in North America. The company has 2,000 employees and was a $280 million business in 1998. Associated has 10 manufacturing divisions in five countries, and it produces 13,000 different parts including compression, extension, torsion, die, stock, and power springs and wireforms for its over 3,000 customers worldwide.

Peterson Spring of Southfield, Michigan was founded in Detroit in 1914 and is part of the international group of Peterson-American companies—the largest privately owned spring group in North America. Peterson has 14 manufacturing plants in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and England and produces compression, torsion, and extension springs, as well as multiform clips and wireforms. In 1998 Peterson had sales of $95 million and 900 employees.

The Newcomb Spring Corporation is located in Southington, Connecticut and manufactures compression, extension, and torsion springs as well as wire and strip forms and metal stampings. Newcomb also specializes in the production of battery contact springs for a variety of battery-powered devices. In 1998 Newcomb had 300 employees and sales of $40 million. Mid-West Springs is located in Romeoville, Illinois and employed 500 and had sales of $38 million in 1998.

Research and Technology

In the mid-to late 1990s there were no major breakthroughs in spring design or spring technology. Instead, the industry concentrated on and expanded the use of computer software in spring production and design and the use and development of new materials. This included software developed by the SMI for the design of compression, extension, and torsion springs. The program is based on parameters drawn from the SMI Handbook of Spring Design , and enables the design of optimal springs working under various sets of constraints.

Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) spring-making equipment is also being employed by spring manufacturers after years of lagging behind the machine tool industry because of the cost of the machines, the relatively small size of the spring industry, and because of the complex set of operations required for the production of springs. CNC technology, however, has made possible increased speed of production, lesser setup and training times, greater precision, and lower costs.

New materials also played an increasing role in spring production throughout 1990s, including memory alloy springs, beryllium copper, which is especially well suited for springs needing increased production speeds and decreased product size and springs made from titanium alloys. Springs made from titanium alloys weigh one-half of those made from steel and are also highly resistant to corrosion. The high cost of titanium makes it prohibitively expensive for many applications, but new and less costly titanium alloys are responsible for expanded use of the metal in the spring industry.

Further Reading

Associated Spring. Associated Spring. Farmington, Connecticut: Associated Spring, 1999. Available from .

Capaldi, F. "Beryllium Copper Flat Springs." Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology. Spring 1999, 32.

D & B Million Dollar Directory: America's Leading Public & Private Companies. Series 1999, Bethlehem, PA: Dun & Bradstreet, 1999.

Darney, Arsan J., ed. Manufacturing USA. , 6th ed. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1999.

Domsch, David and David Bywaters. "Looking Ahead to the 21st Century." Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology. Winter 1999, 9-12.

"Educating Tomorrow's Spring Engineers." Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology. Winter 1999, 14-16.

Halleran, L. Michael. "Beryllium Copper." Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology. Summer 1998, 75.

"Making History: A Chronicle of Companies That Shaped the Spring Industry." Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology Spring 1999, 8-31.

Mitteer, John. "Bend or Slide: Sometimes It Makes More Sense To Use CNC Wire Forming Equipment …" Springs: The Magazine of Spring Technology. Winter 1999.

Newcomb Spring. Newcomb Spring. Southington, Connecticut: Newcomb Spring, 1998. Available from .

Peterson Spring. Peterson Spring. Southfield, Michigan: Peterson Spring, 1999. Available from .

Schauer, Rita. "On the Table: A Mixed Outlook for Future Spring makers." Springs: The Magazine of Springs Technology. Summer 1999.

Spring Manufacturers Institute. Spring Manufacturers Institute. Oak Brook, Illinois: Spring Manufacturers Institute, 1999. Available from: .

United States Census Bureau. Spring (Light Gauge) Manufacturing. 1997 Economic Census: Manufacturing—Industry Series . Washington: G.P.O., 1999. Available from .

United States Census Bureau. "Statistics for Industries and Industry Groups: 2000." Annual Survey of Manufacturers. February 2002. Available from .

Ward's Business Directory of U.S. Private and Public Companies 1998. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group, 1999.

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