Running on the premise that anything made can be marked, Mecco Marking & Traceability finds that more businesses want to imprint codes, numbers and logos on products than to use labels that can fall off.
Ford Motor Co., for example, "marks a barcode on every single part now," said David Sweet, president of the Cranberry company that sells marking and engraving equipment to manufacturers of industrial and consumer products.
If Ford finds a problem with 500 pieces or so, the automaker can track when and where they were used. "It's not, 'Let's call 100,000 vehicles back that may or may not need that product fixed,' " he said.
Mecco's sales of laser-marking and other devices, plus related computer software, grew by more than 20 percent annually in recent years. The company nearly tripled its workforce since 2009 to 31 employees. It expanded its manufacturing space in June.
Catalyst Connection, a South Oakland-based business consulting organization, named Mecco in February as one of its 25 top manufacturing clients.
"Mecco Marking represents the kind of innovation that is driving growth in our manufacturing sector today," CEO Petra Mitchell said. The company put in place "modern business processes, along with cost-effective technologies coupled with training, to be globally competitive while providing good-paying jobs."
The company began in 1889 as M.E. Cunningham Co., a South Side machine shop that produced steel hand stamps in the 1920s. A worker pounded a mallet or hammer on one end to imprint a number or letter on the stamp's opposite end onto a piece of metal.
Fire destroyed M.E. Cunningham's plant during the St. Patrick's Day flood of 1936. The company opted to focus exclusively on metal marking tools when it set up quarters in the North Side and later relocated to Ingomar before settling in Cranberry in 2007.
Sweet is collecting photos and old equipment for a historical display at the front of Mecco's offices.
But these days, the company that a group of investors purchased from family owners in 2002 "feels like a new company" with two major product lines, Sweet said. Mecco assembled and customized laser marking equipment for the past eight years, and sold dot peen, or contact marking equipment that uses a stylus, for 22 years. The company is the exclusive U.S. distributor for Couth dot peen products, made in Spain.
The two parts of the business contribute roughly equal amounts in sales.
Dot peen markers make a deep impression in metal or other material that can be painted over in Caterpillar's bold yellow or John Deere's bright green, for example, and still be readable, Sweet said.
"Oil and gas is our No. 1 industry for dot peen" sales, Sweet said, referring to fuel producers working in the Marcellus and other shale plays. "Markings are put on flanges and pipes and fittings that are going to get buried, or are going down a hole. That mark had better be there after it's pulled up."
Laser, favored by the automotive industry, etches clear, readable markings on a background. Jewelry artisans, along with manufacturers, use laser-marking devices.
"We serve every industry out there, and traceability is getting recognized by manufacturers more and more," Sweet said.
The technology has been tried on unusual products. "We've done fruit, to see if you can barcode an apple. We could, but then a few hours later you start seeing the brown damage," he said. One attempt at putting date codes on chicken went nowhere.
Mecco designs and makes pieces that hold products to be laser- or dot peen-marked. Individual operators run some machines; others are part of a conveyor-belt production system.
Customers weighing the two technologies often go with the less expensive dot peen equipment, at $6,000 versus a laser that might cost 10 times that.
Still, "Gillette marks six parts a second" with serial numbers for its Venus razor cartridges, he said. "The only thing that's going to keep up with that process is laser."
Kim Leonard is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
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