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Manufacturers Index - DeVlieg Machine Co.
History
Last Modified: Jul 22 2017 11:08PM by Jeff_Joslin
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Charles B. De Vlieg (1892-1973), the son of deaf-mute parents, dropped out of school at age 14 and worked as a machinist's apprentice for several years. Between ages 21 and 35 he worked for a series of companies, with increasing responsibilities: Ford Motor Co., Dodge Brothers, Kearney & Trecker, and Sundstrand Machine Tool Co. That last company hired DeVlieg to put into production a novel type of milling machine he had designed, which became the Sundstrand Rigidmil.

In 1928 DeVlieg left Sundstrand and set out on his own, establishing DeVlieg Machine Tool Company to design and sell milling machines. For the first year, DeVlieg contracted with a Michigan machine tool maker to build his milling machine, but that company went under and so DeVlieg bought a factory building and began making the machines himself. His milling machine was designed to be rigid enough to safely climb-cut, which provides a superior surface finish as long as the machine is sufficiently rigid and free of backlash.

The 1929 stock market crash and ensuing depression pushed DeVlieg Machine Tool Company out of business. DeVlieg and son Bud formed another business, DeVlieg Engineering Company; during this Depression era Charles refined his machine tool designs, and by 1933 had been granted three key patents: a backlash eliminator, an automatic transmission mechanism and an automatic positioning device. All three of these inventions had general applicability across a range of machine tools.

DeVlieg signed licensing deals with Lucas Machine Tool Co., Carlton Machine Tool Co., Lodge & Shipley Machine Tool Co., and Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Co., each of them for at least two of his patented inventions. In 1933, DeVlieg Engineering Co. and the other companies created Associated Patents, Inc. (API) as a patent licensing organization. Each of the five member companies was granted an exclusive license to use the three DeVlieg patents in their specific product niche, and agreed to cede ownership of any improvements to those patents to API, where those improvements could then be used by the other members.

In 1939 DeVlieg established DeVlieg Machine Company to begin manufacturing the Vanemil, a specialized milling machine for making aircraft supercharger vanes. With World War II brewing, the machine tool business was brisk. In 1941 the War Production Board asked DeVlieg Machine Co. to focus on horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines, and Charles began designing a new boring mill. By 1943 DeVlieg had built two prototype boring mills that were so accurate that they virtually eliminated the need for separate jigs and fixtures. Further refinement of his design resulted in a new product for the young company: the JIGMIL.

Under the terms of the API agreement, Lucas had exclusive use of the three key DeVlieg patents for "horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines". As soon as he began designing his new boring mill in 1941, DeVlieg approach Lucas for permission to sell it, and negotiations proceeded over the next year or so. They eventually agreed that where Lucas's combined horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine had its spindle axis parallel to the bed, the JIGMIL's spindle axis was perpendicular to the bed. Lucas agreed to allow the JIGMIL to be produced as long as DeVlieg did not making a version with its spindle axes parallel to the bed.

Sales of the JIGMIL proceeded, and it was a success. In 1945, Lucas complained to DeVlieg and the other API members that DeVlieg was violating their agreement by making the JIGMIL. In 1947 the API members agreed to support Lucas in this dispute, and in July of that year, negotiations with DeVlieg having failed, Lucas brought suit against DeVlieg, a process that dragged on for years.

Meanwhile, Charles B. DeVlieg designed a new adjustable boring tool that could match the rigidity and precision of the Jigmil, and in 1946 was granted a patent for what became the "Microbore".

In 1955, API was sued by the US Government under the Sherman Act for restraint of trade, and the courts found against API. The ruling ordered the dissolution of API once the lawsuits were settled, which presumably occurred but we could not find what the results were of the Lucas-DeVlieg suit.

In 1986-7 DeVlieg Machine Co. was sold to investment group Stanwich Partners, Inc. At this point, different versions of the story become wildly inconsistent. It is likely that the full story includes the machinery and boring tool businesses being split apart, merged with other businesses acquired by Stanwich, and every part of this being renamed, going bankrupt, acquired, and reincorporated. The various names during these dark ages include UPCo., Inc.; Stanwich Industries, Inc.; Universal Engineering, Inc.; Universal / DeVlieg, Inc.; DeVlieg-Sundstrand; DeVlieg, Inc.; and DeVlieg-Bullard Inc. The corporate machinations are sufficiently complex that even different court proceedings have different stories, and financial reporting firm Moody's (normally reliable) history for this firm is, at best, over-simplified.

Information Sources

  • Patents submitted by Charles B. De Vlieg and his employees variously give the company name as DeVlieg Machine Co., De Vlieg Machine Co., and Devlieg Machine Co. We picked the one that seems to be most common.
  • From 134 F. Supp. 74 (1955) UNITED STATES of America, Plaintiff, v. ASSOCIATED PATENTS, Inc., Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company, The Carlton Machine Tool Company, DeVlieg Engineering Company, DeVlieg Machine Company, Charles B. DeVlieg, The Lodge & Shipley Machine Tool Company, and The Mac Investment Company, Defendants. The Associated Patents, Inc. (API) was being sued under the anti-monopoly Sherman Act. The specific allegation was that the member companies of API were allocating "among themselves the manufacture and sale of machine tools according to specified types thereof, so that each defendant has the exclusive right to manufacture and sell specified types of machine tools, and so that each defendant refrain from the manufacture and sale of types of machine tools reserved for exclusive manufacture and sale by any other defendant". Three of Charles B. DeVlieg's patents were at the center of the allegations.
    6. The DeVlieg Machine Company is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Michigan, with its principal place of business at Ferndale, Michigan. It is engaged in the manufacture and sale of a horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine called the "Jigmil".
    7. The DeVlieg Engineering Company is a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the State of Michigan, with its principal place of business at Ferndale, Michigan. It is the successor to a former co-partnership of the same name, and is a party to the API agreements, but is inactive and is not engaged in manufacturing or selling any product.
    8. Charles B. DeVlieg, a resident of Farmington, Michigan, and owner, with other members of his family, of the controlling interest in the DeVlieg Engineering Company and the DeVlieg Machine Company, is an inventor in the machine tool field. Prior to 1933 he had developed three major inventions of general application in the machine tool field known as a backlash eliminator, an automatic power transmission mechanism, and an automatic positioning device. These inventions shall hereinafter be referred to collectively as the "subject matter inventions" and their patents as the "subject matter patents".
    ...11. On September 3, 1931, Charles B. DeVlieg granted Lucas an exclusive license on two of his inventions, the backlash eliminator and the power transmission mechanism, for use on horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines. No provision was made in this agreement for the licensing of future improvement patents.
    12. On October 7, 1932, Charles B. DeVlieg granted Carlton an exclusive license on all three of the subject matter inventions, for the manufacture, use and sale of drilling machines. The license included future improvements on the subject matter inventions.
    13. On October 7, 1932, Charles B. DeVlieg granted Lodge & Shipley an exclusive license on the subject matter inventions for the manufacture, use and sale of lathes. The license included future improvements on the inventions. By a subsequent agreement dated May 18, 1933, DeVlieg granted Lodge & Shipley an exclusive license on the same inventions for use on shaving machines.
    14. On November 29, 1932, Charles B. DeVlieg granted Brown & Sharpe a non-exclusive license on the subject matter inventions for the manufacture, use and sale of machine tools, without specification of particular types of machines. This agreement provided that future improvements on the subject matter inventions developed by either party were to be licensed to the other party. DeVlieg agreed not to license competitors of Brown & Sharpe on these inventions without that company's approval.
    15. By an agreement dated May 18, 1933, between Charles B. DeVlieg, party of the first part, and Lodge & Shipley and Carlton, parties of the second part, DeVlieg agreed to assign the subject matter inventions to a corporation to be known as Associated Patents, Inc.
    16. By a series of assignments dated June 13, 1933, Charles B. DeVlieg transferred all rights in the subject matter inventions and the patent applications thereon to API.
    ... 22. API was in substance and effect merely an agency or instrumentality utilized by the members to effect a network of exclusive cross-licenses among themselves and to control the terms and conditions of any licenses that might be granted to outsiders. The actions and policies of API were controlled entirely by the member companies who directed its activities to serve their individual purposes. Thus, API had no independent control of its own affairs.
    23. From August 1933 until July 13, 1953, there was a concert of action in pursuance of a common plan among the defendants herein by which restrictions were imposed upon the manner in which licenses would be issued upon improvements developed by the API members. On July 13, 1953, one of the Courts of Common Pleas for Hamilton County, Ohio, ordered a limited dissolution of the affairs of API and, subsequent to that date, certain of the shareholders of API have filed with the Ohio court having jurisdiction of the dissolution proceedings disclaimers of all claims to assets of API, and of all rights under the API agreement.
    24. Concurrent with the execution of the API agreement the members arrived at a general unwritten agreement not to compete in the manufacture of machine tools irrespective of whether or not API patents were utilized. To implement this general agreement not to compete, a number of subsidiary agreements were made from time to time when a new machine designed by one party threatened to conflict or compete with a machine being manufactured by another party, to wit:
    (a) In August 1933, Carlton was designing a new drilling machine capable of both horizontal and vertical drilling. This machine threatened to conflict with the horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines being manufactured by Lucas and encroach upon the field reserved to Lucas in its declaration of use in the API agreement. The Carlton machine did not embody inventions covered by API patents. Henry M. Lucas, President of the Lucas Machine Tool Company, visited Carlton's plant and examined the blueprints of Carlton's new drilling machine. Carlton requested drawings of the Lucas machine involved in the conflict. It was subsequently agreed between Lucas and Carlton that there would be no conflict in their respective manufacture of the machines involved.
    (b) In March 1934 Charles B. DeVlieg visited the Brown & Sharpe plant in Providence, Rhode Island and because of Mr. DeVlieg's status as a member of API he was shown confidential designs being developed by Brown & Sharpe for a new milling machine called their No. 12. Some time prior to this date Brown & Sharpe and DeVlieg reached an agreement designed to prevent competition between them in the manufacture and sale of milling machines whereby DeVlieg would manufacture only the larger sizes and Brown & Sharpe would manufacture only the smaller ones. This agreement was not limited to milling machines incorporating API patents. On learning that DeVlieg was designing a milling machine of a size which would compete with the Brown & Sharpe No. 12 milling machine, Brown & Sharpe protested to DeVlieg that this was a violation of their agreement. DeVlieg replied that he recognized his obligation not to produce a competing machine and would not do so unless an arrangement could be decided upon at some future date. After Brown & Sharpe's protest, and out of deference to the understanding, DeVlieg did not go ahead with his plans for manufacturing a machine of that size although such a machine had already been designed.
    (c) In 1938 DeVlieg was designing a knee type milling machine which incorporated a sliding spindle. Despite the fact that DeVlieg believed that the machine he proposed to produce was entirely within the Declaration of Use allocated to him by the API agreement he nevertheless felt that the understanding among API members required him to obtain from Lucas a letter of approval before going ahead with the production of such a machine. Lucas was the API member whose machine tools would be most nearly competitive with the machine that DeVlieg proposed building.
    (d) In 1941 DeVlieg was requested by the War Production Board to concentrate his activities on the production of horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines. After making preliminary drawings and designs for the production of such a machine (which later came to be known as the Jigmil), DeVlieg went to Cleveland for the purpose of consulting with Lucas. DeVlieg sought clearance from Lucas which would permit him to commence manufacturing activities within the field that was exclusively reserved to Lucas by the Declaration of Uses provision of the API agreement. On this occasion he exhibited to Lucas the preliminary drawings for the machine. Subsequently, in July of 1941 when Lucas visited DeVlieg's plant in Ferndale he inspected the work that was being done on the design and development of the Jigmil ... and asked for and received a set of drawings which he took back to Cleveland. Thereafter in December of 1941 while visiting DeVlieg's plant, Lucas saw the first machine in operation. During this visit the conversation turned to the possibility of competition between the Jigmil as produced by DeVlieg and the horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines manufactured by Lucas. Lucas was at this time producing a combined horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine in which the axis of the spindle was parallel to the bed. The Jigmil as designed by DeVlieg was differentiated from Lucas' product in that the axis of the spindle was at right angles to the bed. On this occasion DeVlieg and Lucas arrived at an understanding the essence of which was that each agreed not to produce the type of combined horizontal boring, drilling and milling machine being manufactured by the other.

    25. In 1945 The Lucas Machine Tool Company notified DeVlieg that by incorporating devices covered by API patents into the Jigmil, he was violating Lucas' rights under the API agreement which granted to Lucas the exclusive right to use these inventions in horizontal boring, drilling and milling machines. It also charged that DeVlieg was infringing two other Lucas-owned patents which had not been assigned to API. Lucas also claimed that DeVlieg's Jigmil patent was an improvement within the meaning of the API agreement, and that, accordingly, DeVlieg was obligated to assign it to API.
    26. In April, 1947, at a directors' meeting held in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the members of API voted to support The Lucas Machine Tool Company with respect to the claims it was asserting against DeVlieg. A motion was adopted at this meeting which provided that, if necessary, API would bring suit against DeVlieg to enforce these claims, or join with Lucas in such a suit. During the succeeding months various members of API made efforts to bring DeVlieg and Lucas together in order that an out-of-court settlement of the controversy might be reached. Throughout these efforts to effect a settlement both API and Lucas made it an indispensable condition that DeVlieg agree to assign the Jigmil patent to API. The insistence upon this condition caused the attempts to reach a settlement to be unsuccessful.
    27. On July 16, 1947, API and The Lucas Machine Tool Company filed suit against DeVlieg in the District Court of the United States, Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, (Civil Action No. 6813). In the second cause of action alleged in this suit, The Mac Investment Company, as successor to Lucas, and API are relying upon the API agreement in the following two respects:
    (a) They are asserting a claim for damages based upon an alleged invasion by DeVlieg of the field of exclusive use assigned to The Lucas Machine Tool Company by the Declaration of Use provision of the API agreement.
    (b) They are asking the Court for an order of specific performance requiring DeVlieg to assign the Jigmil patent (2,391,398) to API on the ground that it is an improvement within the meaning of that term as used in the API agreement, and that by virtue of the provision of Article II he is obligated to assign it to API.
    This suit is still pending.
    The Michigan court found that API's patent licensing arrangement violated the Sherman Act. API was dissolved, although this was put on hold until certain pending lawsuits were settled.
  • From a 1993 lawsuit, Cole v. Health Care Corp.: "In 1987, DeVlieg Machine was sold to a group of investors known as Stanwich Partners, Inc. and became part of DeVlieg-Sundstrand, Inc. now known as DeVlieg, Inc. ... In August, 1991, DeVlieg filed under Chapter XI of the bankruptcy code."
  • From 1999 edition of Moody's OTC Unlisted Manual.
    DEVLIEG-BULLARD INC. History: Incorporated in Delaware in 1986 as UPCo., Inc. Name changed to Stanwich Industries, Inc. on March 23, 1986: present name adopted on Dec. 22, 1989. In Apr. 1986, Co. acquired Powerrnatic-Houdaille Inc. ....
  • The Universal / DeVlieg web page provided a version of the 1988 and later history of DeVlieg Microbore.