The Fadal family business is
the perfect manifestation of the entrepreneurial spirit: vision +
ambition = success.
Larry de Caussin started working in their father's garage
shop in 1955 and in 1995 sold their family's
multi-million-dollar business to Giddings and Lewis.
The old and new heads of Fadal got
together in March of 2001 with American Machinist editor Tom
Grasson to discuss Fadal's 40-year history in business. As
seen seated around the table from left to right: AM editor
Tom Grasson, Larry de Caussin, Fadal Marketing Manager Dan
Gustafson, AM Regional Sales Manager Scott
McCafferty,Giddings & Lewis president Steve Peterson, Dean
de Caussin, and Dave de Caussin.
When Dave de
Caussin took a trip to IMTS in 1974 to show off Fadal's new
tool-changer, he had no idea that in five short years the company
would be revolutionizing the machining-center market with its VMC45.
Looking back, he said the trip was a pivotal event for the California
machine tool builder. But, at the time, things didn't go all that
"We put the
milling machine with the toolchanger in the back of a rental truck,
which had a top speed of 55 mph. Leaving from California,
my wife and I made it to Bickerville,
filled the truck's 25-gallon tank, giving us a traveling range of
about 90 miles. We ran out of gas about 40 miles out-side of Las Vegas
While sitting alongside the road, freezing, a guy comes by in an
off-roading jeep. He drives me to a Stucky's to get five gallons of
gas and I paid him and tossed in a fifth of scotch. When we finally
got to Chicago,
it was at
and the height of rush hour traffic. As if that wasn't enough, I
made a turn onto a street with an 8-ft bridge that the truck
wouldn't fit under. My wife is in tears at this point, and it took
me an hour to back the truck up. But we did finally make it to the
show, and we met a lot of important people."
is just one example of the many ups and downs Fadal has experienced
throughout its 40-year history. But the founding family members
--Francis, Adrian, Dave, and Larry de Caussin -- attribute their
company's success to constantly staying on the cutting edge of
machine tool technology. As Larry de Caussin says, "We started in
pioneering times, and pioneers take some arrows."
foundation of what would become Fadal got its start in 1955 by
Francis de Caussin, who was a toolmaker trained in the automotive
industry with a dream to own his own machine shop. He purchased some
equipment on time payments and his sons Larry and Dave, still in
school and living at home, worked with him at the garage operation.
The brothers learned a basic but important lesson in those early
shop years. They realized that the faster they could remove metal,
the more money they could make.
In order to
keep the chips and the money flowing, the family made a lot of
modifications to the machines they used to cut metal. Francis added
a riser block to a small mill so that they could do bigger jobs.
Larry added a temporary second motor to a main spindle of a lathe,
and Dave made the handles longer so they could push harder. The
family says this motivation to make better and faster machines was
the beginning of a trend that would carry Fadal to prominence in the
machine tool industry.
after all the part-time experience in the garage shop, the family
decided to work full time for themselves. They needed a little
capital to get started and everyone turned to Larry for funding.
"Larry was always the penny-pincher. He saved all his money. He had
$2,500 in the bank. And his $2,500 financed a multi-million dollar
an 800 ft 2 industrial unit in N. Hollywood,
and bought a Siamp metal cutting lathe on Francis' good credit. Then
in 1965 the shop fell on hard times when one of its largest
customers, Summers Gyroscope, went into chapter 11 owing Fadal
$17,000. But the shop soon recovered and started doing a lot of
contracts for the "space race," including work for the Surveyor,
Voyager, various satellites, aircraft landing gear, and eventually
the space shuttle fuel systems.
really picked up for Fadal in 1969. That was the year they bought
their first NC machine for $25,000 -- a Bridgeport
mill with a Superior Electric control and a Spindle Wizard third
axis. The machine did not, however, have an automatic toolchanger,
and all the tools had to be changed using a wrench. Fadal, in
accordance with their desire to do everything as quickly as
possible, started designing better methods for changing tools on the
out designing a power draw bar and then began brainstorming on how
to automate the entire toolchanging process. An aftermarket
toolchanger, they believed, would be quite valuable to small machine
tool builders and their customers. So Fadal set out with a new goal
for the mass market -- manufacture an affordable toolchanger that
could be attached to a mill.
consumed with the design and manufacture of a prototype, while
designed the electrical work on the system. Due in part to Fadal's
booth at IMTS in 1974, the toolchanger was a wild success. So
successful, in fact, that there was a shortage of toolchangers to
we had with the toolchanger is that we over marketed and then
couldn't meet the demand," says Dave. "Be-cause of that, the guy in
that we were marketing too, Matchmaker, copied our toolchanger. They
apologized for doing it, but did it because we couldn't deliver to
toolchanger also caught the eye of a company out of Bozeman,
Summit Engineering, a division of Dana Corp. That firm offered to
buy the toolchanger design and patents so they could package it with
an inexpensive control. Summit
paid Fadal $75,000 for the toolchanger, which was renamed the Bandit
Quick Draw. Summit
also gave Fadal the rights to manufacture the mechanical assemblies
for the changer. That $75,000, plus the profits from manufacturing
over 2,000 mechanical assemblies, made it possible for Fadal to
start their biggest project ever -- the design of a complete CNC
the story of what inspired the family to build their first machine.
machinists and having some experience with controls, we realized
there was a lot of fat in the Japanese equipment that was selling
for up around $160,000. Our first machine was a geared head 45
taper, with a 4-speed gearbox. It was a high-end machine we were
selling for $110,000. But in 1980, right when we came out with our
first model, the Japanese dropped the prices on their $160,000
machines down to $90,000.
this, Fadal decided to pursue a simpler design to appeal to a
broader market. Dave sold Fadal's first redesigned machine to
Columbia Machine, which was where Francis, Dave, and Larry had all
worked before starting Fadal. As much of an accomplishment as that
was, confidence was not always high. "We used to say, 'We'll have a
nice auction someday when we go bankrupt,'" says Dave.
people loved the speed and the price of the simpler system, and each
year the company sold more and more machines. By the 80s and 90s,
Fadal's manufacturing plant was at peak efficiency -- building 10
machining centers per employee each year. By 1995, Fadal had sold
10,000 machining centers.
came a lot of important decisions, one of which was changing the
machine's control. The company was being pressured to use a
different control on the machine. Dave says the family decided
against it to keep cost down.
with our control because we could see that the competition,
especially the American industry, had made a mistake by catering to
special requests. They had too many special orders. 'I want my
machine pink, I want it with this control, and I want it with this
and that.' So you ended up not having a production line. We refused
to do that."
"In addition, custom machines are a nightmare for service. Other
builder's servicemen would have to go out and review the situation
before they could fix the machine. With our machine, the servicemen
were able to go out ready to do the job, get it done, and then get
out of there."
This was the
kind of common-sense customer service that helped drive Fadal to the
top of its industry. And that success caught the attention of
Giddings & Lewis when it came time for Fadal to sell its family
business to the corporate giant. But selling the company was not an
easy decision. Originally the brothers had planned on passing it
down to the next generation of de Caussins, but there were some
was tied up in property, equipment, inventory, and accounts
receivable, and the company was going to have to dip into profits to
pay the 55% gift tax. That was an issue because profits were also
being taxed 50%. Financial advisors told the brothers that $1 earned
was going to be about $.25 cents in pocket once the transfer was
the company's demise in a forced "fire sale" if the succession was
unsuccessful, Larry and Dave decided it was best to sell the
business outright. Fadal sold to G&L in April of 1995, and the
brothers are pleased with the new ownership.