The term honing has become part of business lexicon. Chances are you have used it, “I’m going to hone in on the right candidate.” Or, “We are honing in on the right software for the job.” It has come to be synonymous with sharpening or refining a decision or thought. For those working at Sunnen Products Corporation, however, honing has a slighting more technical definition. They would know. After all, Joseph Sunnen perfected the technique of honing almost 100 years ago. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Sunnen Products company was founded in 1924 by Joseph Sunnen, and it ran out of the back of a 1916 Hupmobile. In 1928 Sunnen introduced their first manual cylinder honing tool, which was used as a finishing tool to perfect cylinders that had been resized through a technique called boring. This technique, briefly put, produces a precision surface on a metal workpiece by scrubbing an abrasive stone against it along a controlled path.  This new process allowed for a more precise effect, creating a very exact result in the cylinder, perfect for a burgeoning automotive industry.

Since 1928 Sunnen’s honing tools have been used in countless industrial applications, far beyond the small engine honing that first shaped the company. Honing is now used in everything from the manufacture of guns to the oil industry. Sunnen honing machines aid in the production of a myriad of gears that are used in countless machines from motorcycles, to airplanes to space exploration. Amazing, isn’t it, to think that a tool devised in 1928 helped to get us into space.

The path from a 1916 Hupmobile (a replica of which can still be found in Sunnen’s St. Louis Missouri headquarters) to space wasn’t a simple one, however. Sunnen has made its mission to continue to innovate in the world of honing; with a commitment to research and development. This has allowed the company to stay a leader in the industry, even as the field has become more crowded. This is a lesson that every industry can learn from, in terms of evolving along with technology. Those who don’t innovate are lost.

Here are some of the core principles that Sunnen had applied to allow it to grow over the past 90 plus years:

  1. They believe innovation is a way of life. As such they devote the time and capital to new ideas and technology.
  2. The encourage and reward initiative. Those with the big ideas can succeed at the company and everyone is encouraged to share their ideas.
  3. They listen to customers, employees and stakeholders need and expect. They then use this data to chart a path forward.
  4. They insist on a level of excellence that will exceed client expectations. Nothing goes to market that isn’t tried, tested and perfected.
  5. Their goal is to solve problems, rather than placing blame. They insist on accountability but offer the tools and their employees need thrive.

These are valuable lessons that can be applied not just to the manufacturing sector, but to any company that wants to stay relevant in a high-tech world. Applying the time, money and support to innovation is the first step in staying at the top of any industry; from manufacturing to tech start-ups. So what are you doing to stay up to date in your field? How does your company stay abreast of new opportunities in your industry? If you are not sure how to answer, take a look at Sunnen Products Company; a company that is rapidly approaching its centennial and still growing strong. Do you have a plan for continued innovation? What challenges have you faced in terms of growing your tech in your industry? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.