It’s no secret that manufacturing drives our region’s economy, delivers new jobs and feeds our families. Just who are these innovators? Meet some of our region’s top manufacturers, and discover the unique products they built right here at home.
If you’re looking for proof that Rockford’s manufacturing sector plays a vital role in our day-to-day lives, all you need to do is look up.
“We have statistics that tell us that at least one part on every airplane is made in Rockford,” says Therese Thill, president of Rockford Area Economic Development Council (RAEDC).
From the foods we consume to the tools we use and the vehicles we drive, there’s a good chance someone in our region has played a role in their creation. Not only do Rockford manufacturers produce straight-to-consumer goods, but they also support the companies that produce other goods – even down to the disposal of manufacturing waste products.
Manufacturing means economic growth, and in Rockford that’s closely tied into employment. After all, about 20% of all local jobs are tied into manufacturing, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Another 22% tie into the utilities and logistics firms that keep everything moving – and that doesn’t even account for the many more businesses that support manufacturers and help their workers to raise a family.
Winnebago and Boone counties boast a labor force of more than 176,000 people, with a nearly half a million workers within 45 minutes, according to RAEDC analysis. At area manufacturers, you’ll find entry-level and highly trained workers on the shop floor, and in the office there’s a qualified team of office personnel, engineers and executives.
“Careers in manufacturing are substantially higher than the national average, here in the Rockford area,” says Thill. “These jobs pay higher than average wages and typically lead to a career, rather than just a job.”
To help feed the high-tech, high-skill jobs that drive Rockford’s industries, there’s a determined effort to create a stable pipeline of talent. Education programs like Rock Valley College’s Advanced Technology Center and NIU Engineering @ RVC are leading the way, while public schools are doing their part.
Local manufacturers work in a wide range of industries, including automotive, food processing and health care. Their work is driven in part by the city’s proximity to airports, interstate highways and Class 1 railroads, which are major competitive advantages for businesses to locate here.
Among this region’s industrial strengths, aerospace has emerged as one of the biggest movers and shakers. Rockford boasts the fifth-largest aerospace manufacturing cluster in the nation, according to RAEDC, and industry leaders like Collins Aerospace make up some of the region’s largest employers.
“For a city its size, Rockford has a very significant footprint in the American aerospace industry,” says Eric Cunningham, vice president of electric power systems at Collins Aerospace. “We play an extremely prevalent role, both in commercial aerospace and support of our armed services, providing everything from special processes to general and high-precision manufacturing, to assembly and test.”
Manufacturers in Rockford move people from place to place. These companies provide vital components to the machinery we use, the data we access and the health care products we depend upon. They put food on many tables. They might even make the food and the table.
This section features just a small sampling of the manufacturing companies that make up not just one sector of our local economy, but the lifeblood that keeps it going.
Throughout its history, Rockford has been a city of makers and doers. The following pages show just how much manufacturers in our region have adhered to those roots while, at the same time, boldly moving the region, and the nation, into the future.
4747 Harrison Ave. | Rockford | (815) 226-6000 | collinsaerospace.com
Collins Aerospace, a Raytheon Technologies business, is an industry leader in providing technologically advanced solutions for global aerospace and defense, serving in the areas of commercial and business aviation, military and defense capabilities, helicopters, space travel and airports.
Headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Collins Aerospace maintains a Rockford campus where 2,000 employees work in four separate businesses under the company’s banner. The first, Electric Power Systems, oversees how power is generated, distributed, and controlled on commercial and military aircraft. The second business is Engine Controls, which manufactures vital engine accessories like gearboxes, fuel pumps, air starters and oil pumps. Actuation oversees flight control surfaces that allow pilots to move their aircraft during takeoffs, landings and air maneuvers. The fourth business, Mission Systems, provides a number of operational systems for terrestrial and space vehicles.
Together, these four separate businesses provide a substantial contribution to America’s aerospace presence. At the same time, Collins Aerospace contributes to the Rockford region as one of its largest employers. For Eric Cunningham, vice president of Electric Power Systems, the company’s longtime presence in Rockford laid the foundation for success at Collins and within the aerospace industry.
“Our footprint in Rockford goes back 100 years,” he says. “We started by making 10-button adding machines, then moved our way into machine tooling, which led the way to the invention and design of a constant speed drive that became the backbone of aerospace electrical power for over seven decades.”
To Cunningham, this growth and advancement is a direct result of the skill and talent of the people who work for Collins Aerospace, including those on the Rockford campus.
“It’s been a grassroots journey of growing our competency locally in all these different areas,” he says. “The talent in Rockford is not only broad, but it’s deep. I have people in my building who are third- or fourth-generation employees.”
The relationship between Collins Aerospace and Rockford is continuing to grow and evolve as the company finds new ways to power aircraft. As the aviation industry looks to reduce carbon emissions, there are two major trends the company is supporting at the Rockford campus: the conversion to high-voltage DC power and the exploration of hybrid-electric propulsion systems. Both initiatives are critical to the future of aerospace.
To further pursue these new developments, Collins Aerospace has made substantial investments in lab facilities and specialized training for lab workers and engineers.
“A bulk of that investment is happening right here, in Rockford,” says Cunningham, “including a $50 million investment in The Grid, a new high-powered electric systems lab that will be formally opened later this year.”
Through these investments, Cunningham hopes that new heights can be reached, not just in aerospace, but also in the Rockford region.
“I grew up 13 miles from Collins’ Rockford facility,” says Cunningham. “We want to continue to build our legacy here and we want to continue to recruit talent locally.”
At a Glance
Specialties: Design and engineering related to aerospace power systems, engine systems, mission systems, actuation and integration
Industries Served: Business and commercial aviation, military and defense, helicopters, space travel
Number of Employees: 2,000 in the Rockford region
Local Operations: Manufacturing and research facilities located in Rockford
Bergstrom Climate Control Systems
2390 Blackhawk Road | Rockford | bergstrominc.com
Bergstrom Inc. was founded in Rockford in June 1949. At first, the company specialized in heaters that used hot water from a vehicle’s engine to produce occupant heat for trucks, school buses and construction equipment. Today, 74 years later, the company still sells to these same markets and many more. Sales now are mostly a combination of heating and air conditioning units.
In addition to the company’s main Rockford facility, Bergstrom has production facilities in the United Kingdom, China, Spain, India and Mexico. There are approximately 1,800 team members who all work in clean, safe environments and live by the Bergstrom Code of Conduct, which means respect for your fellow team member.
Bergstrom encourages its team members to get involved in their communities to make them a better place to live. Throughout the year, the company’s facilities raise money and collect things like food and clothing to help those in need. The Bergstrom Inc. Charitable Foundation supports nonprofits and organizations that provide health care and education. It also supports the arts, which make our communities a wonderful place to live. In 2014, WTVO in Rockford teamed up with Bergstrom to produce the Bergstrom Stateline Quiz Bowl. Today, the Quiz Bowl has a viewing audience of thousands every week, as people cheer their high school and middle school teams on to victory.
Bergstrom’s first investment to protect our environment was back in the 1980s when company management moved from a wet spray paint system to a powder paint system, which does not use solvents that can expand into the atmosphere. In the mid-1990s, Bergstrom engineers began working on a no-idle heating and air conditioning system for sleeper cabs in Class 8 Trucks. This system allows for heating and cooling of the truck’s sleeper compartment without the truck engine running. This NITE (no-idle thermal environment) system hit the market in 2001. Since its inception, millions of gallons of fuel have been saved from polluting the air. This year, Bergstrom begins producing a new product that will provide cooling for battery packs that store wind or solar energy. Once again, Bergstrom is helping to reduce pollution in our environment.
At a Glance
David Rydell, Chairman
Year Founded: 1949
Specialties: Climate control systems, with an emphasis on commercial vehicle applications; thermal management for energy storage systems.
Industries Served: Trucking, construction, agriculture, bus and specialty, military, mining, logging, oil drilling, shipping, sport fishing, transportation refrigeration.
Number of Employees: 450 in Rockford
Offshore Operations: United Kingdom, China, Spain, Mexico, India
984 Ipsen Road | Cherry Valley, Ill. | (800) 727-7625 | ipsenglobal.com
This year, Ipsen celebrates 75 years in business, and it all started with an ambitious young man who had an entrepreneurial spirit and a mind for innovation. The story of Ipsen began in 1940, when Harold Ipsen established a commercial heat-treating shop in Loves Park, Ill., just one year after earning an engineering degree from Brown University. The company initially produced shell fuse parts for defense contractors.
In 1943, Ipsen and his wife, Lorraine, opened a decorative pottery business. When their kiln broke down, the entrepreneur designed and built a new one. Inspired by the need to produce more uniform parts for his customers, he used the same technology to build furnaces for heat treating steel. On July 1, 1948, Ipsen was officially incorporated as a manufacturer of heat-treating furnaces.
Now, 75 years later, the company started by Ipsen is a global manufacturer of thermal processing solutions, providing the design, manufacture, service and retrofitting/modernization of vacuum furnaces. In addition, Ipsen leads the industry with technical developments in supervisory control systems and predictive maintenance software platforms. Ipsen’s work exists in more than 60 countries with more than 10,000 systems still in operation today. Most have been running for decades.
Ipsen’s work remains valuable to a wide range of industries, including aerospace, automotive, commercial heat treating, energy, medical, and tool-and-die manufacturing. The reliability Ipsen brings to its customers stems from its loyal employees, who have an average tenure of 10 years, with some even reaching the 40 to 45-year mark before retirement.
Ipsen furnaces are designed by engineers with expertise in mechanics, electronics and software. They’re supported by a purchasing team and project managers who communicate with clients and keep each job on schedule and within budget. The production team flexes its expertise in skills like assembly, welding, electrical systems and quality inspection.
“Our employees are the reason behind how Ipsen can provide both world-class equipment and critical aftermarket support, enabling our customers to outperform and outlast their competition,” says Patrick McKenna, who has served as Ipsen USA’s President and CEO for the past six years.
What also sets Ipsen apart is the work that comes after a new furnace is installed. Ipsen’s Chief Service Officer, John Dykstra, oversees a robust and growing team that’s dedicated to post-sale customer support. Field engineers and technicians are positioned worldwide to provide remote diagnostics, retrofits and modernizations, timely repairs, and quality replacement parts whenever and wherever they’re needed.
Although Ipsen furnaces are recognized around the world, the company remains loyal to its hometown of Cherry Valley, Ill., procuring as many parts locally as possible and recruiting skilled talent from the region. Ipsen prides itself on its longstanding commitment to develop and promote from within. It also provides robust benefits to retain the best talent. In these times of supply chain issues and tight labor force, these qualities make all the difference.
Harold Ipsen tragically died in a plane crash in 1965, but his legacy has lived on with his company, which holds more than 100 granted global patents. The organization maintains a global footprint with locations in China, Germany, India, Japan and the United States.
At a Glance
Harold Ipsen, Founder
Patrick McKenna, Ipsen USA President & CEO
Year Founded: 1948
Specialties: New vacuum and atmosphere furnaces. Retrofits rebuilds and modernizations for those furnaces and controls, and offers field service and parts support.
Industries Served: Aerospace, additive manufacturing, automotive, commercial heat treating, energy, medical, tool and die
Number of Employees: 600 globally
Local Operations: U.S. headquarters in Cherry Valley, Ill., with manufacturing facilities in Cherry Valley and Souderton, Penn. European headquarters and a manufacturing facility in Kleve, Germany. Ipsen Customer Service support locations in China, India and Japan.
7550 Quantum Court | Machesney Park, Ill. | quantumdi.com
For over 35 years, Quantum Design has provided control systems integration services to the Midwest, with a heavy focus on the northern Illinois region. With five unique product lines, all designed and manufactured in a 100,000-square-foot facility in Machesney Park, Ill., Quantum has grown significantly over the years.
Started by Danny Pearse in 1986, Quantum Design was originally an electrical engineering firm. Within months the company added a control panel fabrication shop. Now, it’s recognized as a leading control systems integrator. Quantum also acquired four additional product lines of manufacturing equipment for a variety of industries, including labels, packaging, food, beverage, steel, aerospace and more.
In 2019, Quantum Design moved into a brand new, fully air-conditioned facility in Machesney Park.
“Moving to one location reduced expenses, generated a team environment, boosted morale and created efficiencies throughout the company,” says Angie Ostler, vice president of finance.
Creating a team environment is important. Quantum invests in the future through training and community involvement. With an older generation of workers considering retirement in the next few years, the company is working to train new employees.
“We have been working with the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center to build a training program on our manufacturing floor,” says Ostler. “We have decades’ worth of experience and realize that we need to document and retain that knowledge to support the newer generations in the workforce. It’s important that we set our entry-level employees up for success, not only for the future of our company, but as individuals in their careers.”
Internal promotion is also a key focus with leadership at Quantum Design, which strives to hire goal-oriented individuals who have a good work ethic.
“The hope is that they will want to move up throughout the company,” says Derek Wheeler, vice president of sales at Quantum Design. “I started in the shipping and receiving department 17 years ago. There’s a lot of opportunity for growth within the company for individuals who are driven and hard working.”
Scott Kline, a control systems engineer who has been with Quantum Design for 10 years, appreciates the opportunities he’s been given, as well as the family-oriented, laid-back atmosphere.
“As someone who had more of a troubleshooting background and not a lot of design experience, I appreciate the patience and guidance my manager and senior staff have given me to advance my career,” he says.
Quantum has worked hard over the past few years to build a presence with students in the community, as well.
“Just last week we hosted 22 students from the Rockford School District in a job shadow program,” says Ostler. “The students were able to learn from various departments within Quantum including controls engineering, quality control and our CNC machine shop. They had the opportunity to work side-by-side with our machinists to create their own name tag and get a feel for that type of work.”
Last fall, Quantum attended an event at Hononegah High School hosted by The Hononegah Community High School Workplace Readiness Committee and the Education & Manufacturing Council. The event allowed Quantum Design and other area manufacturers to showcase their work and allow parents and students to learn about jobs in manufacturing.
“Many students don’t know much about manufacturing or else they think of manufacturing how it was 30 years ago,”
Ostler says. “Things have evolved; it’s much safer and cleaner, and it offers a lot more opportunities than most people realize.”
Wheeler adds: “It was important to us to get in front of these kids and spread the word that manufacturing can offer something to their future, too.”
Quantum’s leaders recognize many students are unsure what they want to do after graduation. Starting a career in manufacturing at a young age can open up many doors for the future. Quantum also offers a tuition reimbursement program that employees can utilize after getting a better understanding of what career path is the best fit.
Quantum Design leaders are hopeful the success of the training program and a continued presence in the community will keep the company in front of members of the workforce who may be interested in making a change or trying something new.
“We want to continue to grow our company and be a leader in the manufacturing world,” says Ostler. “We just need to find the right people to grow with us.”
To learn more about Quantum Design and view open positions, visit quantumdi.com.
Behr Iron & Metal
1100 Seminary St. | Rockford | (815) 987-2755
What Joseph Behr started as a one-man and one-horse operation in 1906 has grown into a multimillion-dollar certified metal recycling business and one of the top ferrous (containing iron) and non-ferrous scrap metal processors in the country. Behr’s four Rock River Region facilities process more than 15,000 tons of ferrous material and close to 3.5 million tons of non-ferrous material each month, including iron, steel, aluminum, brass and copper.
Prior to the company’s acquisition by Alter Trading Corp. in 2016, Behr Iron & Metal operated 15 locations throughout the Midwest in Illinois, Wisconsin and Iowa. Its parent company now operates more than 70 yards and brokerage offices throughout the Midwest and South.
As an iron and metal recycling company, Behr purchases and processes scrap from area industrial companies and large-scale dealers, homeowners, small dealers and peddlers. This includes electronics, farm equipment, automotive scrap, aluminum cans, household appliances and home improvement refuse. Its customer base is mostly domestic, but it also has a large array of customers around the world in places like India, China, Canada and Mexico.
“We buy scrap metal in all shapes, sizes and forms,” says Roger Little, Behr’s regional marketing manager.
Once the scrap is received it’s prepared for recycling and repurposing using a myriad of equipment, including auto shredders, guillotine shears, cranes, balers and breakers.
Rockford’s strong industrial history makes it a natural fit for a company like Behr, which currently maintains a 40-acre facility in Rockford, serving companies local like the Gunite Corporation and Sterling Steel, in Sterling, Ill., as well as other Midwest companies like SSAB Steel, U.S Steel and the Waupaca Foundry, in Waupaca, Wis.
“Rockford’s nickname is Screw City, which gives you an idea of just how ideal this region is for us,” says Little, who credits the company’s level of service and attention to detail as reasons for its continued growth and success.
Behr’s Rockford facility also includes smaller niche businesses, including a Tin/Babbitt Alloys production facility, where certified alloys are made and supplied to the industrial bearings industry. Those customers create scrap in their production process, which comes back to Behr for re-use in the next round of alloy products.
Another reason for Behr’s popularity in the region is its dedication to the community and compliance to federal, state and local laws. Every year for the past two decades, the company has been awarded ISO 14001 Environmental Certification, a recognition for businesses that execute ethical environmental practices that reduce environmental impact. Behr is also ISO 9001 certified, a distinction awarded to companies with strong management and customer-focused practices.
Behr is heavily involved in recycling efforts on a community level, working with schools, churches, local businesses and other organizations to promote recycling efforts. Behr helps them to fundraise by providing trailers for aluminum can drives.
“We try to be a good participant in every community we’re a part of, including Rockford,” says Little. “We take part in trash cleanups and other events throughout the Midwest.”
Behr’s Rockford facility is also the home to the Behr Den, a beloved local fixture and authentic American diner that’s open to the public for lunch and breakfast on weekdays.
At a Glance
Joseph Behr, Founder
Year Founded: 1906
Specialties: Metal processing and purchasing, industrial scrap management, brokerage and trading, trucking, containment, construction/demolition
Number of Employees: 80 in Rockford; 17 in South Beloit, Ill.; five in Monroe, Wis.; and six in Woodstock, Ill.
Local Operations: A buyback facility for non-ferrous peddlers in Rockford, an industrial processing facility in Rockford, an auto shredder in South Beloit, and regional feeder yards in Woodstock and Monroe.
Berner Food & Beverage
2034 E. Factory Road | Dakota, IL | (815) 563-4222 | bernerfoodandbeverage.com
Berner Food & Beverage is a leading supplier of shelf-stable and dairy-based food and beverage products. While the company does not package and distribute its own branded products, it does support the work of large consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies, emerging beverage brands and private-label retailers from around the country. These firms rely on Berner Food & Beverage for ready-to-drink coffees and teas, dips, sauces and snacks.
“Our vision is to be the employer and provider of choice in the food and beverage industry,” says Kelly Diamond, chief operating officer.
As a world-class manufacturer of food and beverage products, Berner is dedicated to maintaining rigorous standards for quality control and food safety for the brands it represents. While consumers won’t find anything on store shelves labeled with the Berner name, a number of familiar brands might just have come from Berner.
“We take a lot of pride in making sure that what we’re producing is safe and of the highest quality,” says Diamond. “We very much consider ourselves to be stewards of our clients and their brands.”
“If you looked at Berner Food & Beverage 20 years ago, then 10 years ago, and again today, you’d see the massive growth pattern that it’s been through,” says Diamond. “This is important to us, and we expect to stay on track for further growth.”
It all began in the 1940s with Arnold Kneubuehl, a local cheesemaker whose locally sourced hard Swiss cheese became a sensation. Although the company he started has moved away from Swiss cheese, the firm still adheres to Kneubuehl’s dedication to providing quality and seeking continual growth. Its location in northwest Illinois is also a strategic advantage, not in small part due to the heavy agricultural base in this part of the Midwest.
“Berner started right here, in the center of the nation,” says Diamond. “It’s an asset to us as a nationwide producer. There are a number of products where we’re the only manufacturer of those products in the country, so it’s very beneficial for us to be this centrally located and so close to major corridors for distribution.”
Berner also seeks to attract the best people to its ranks. Being one of the largest employers in Stephenson County is a responsibility company leaders do not take lightly.
“We’re not just focused on being a supplier of choice, but also an employer of choice,” says Diamond. “We strive to foster a culture that promotes a safe, productive, inclusive, respectful and meaningful environment for our employees.”
The company is also focused on giving back to the community, and it serves in many ways, including through blood drives, holiday donation drives and fundraisers for local charities. Berner is also working with local schools to inspire students to consider a job in manufacturing.
“We see ourselves as a great place to start and build a career,” says Diamond. “We want to be a company that employees want to be a part of.”
At a Glance
Arnold Kneubuehl, Founder
Year Founded: 1943
Specialties: Private-label food production, particularly ready-to-drink coffees and teas, cheese dips, sauces and savory snacks
Industries Served: Food and beverage
Number of Employees: 830
Local Operations: World headquarters, manufacturing and research facilities
1231 Fulton Ave. | Rockford | (815) 964-9114 | mrsfisherschips.com
For 91 years, Mrs. Fisher’s has been tantalizing the region with its famous thick-cut, homestyle potato chips. Now, as the only female-owned potato chip company in the Midwest, the beloved chip maker is broadening both its horizons and its flavor profile.
“We’ve encountered some expansion opportunities these past few months,” says Christopher Spiess, vice president at Mrs. Fisher’s, “and we’re introducing a new chip.”
Salt & Vinegar, the hotly anticipated new release from Mrs. Fisher’s, is set to hit stores in the spring or early summer. It’s an addition that has been fervently anticipated by chip aficionados throughout the region.
“It’s the flavor we’ve been getting asked the most to produce,” says Spiess. “It’s a fantastic-tasting chip and we’re excited to debut it.”
The newest chip joins a company of stalwart favorites, like BBQ, French Onion, Black Pepper, Ripple, Cheddar and, of course, Classic. It also stands alongside another Mrs. Fisher’s favorite that is often misunderstood: the Dark chip.
“The Dark chip looks like it’s burnt, but it’s not,” explains Spiess. “It’s a different potato with a slightly higher sugar count. In the frying process, the chip becomes caramelized.”
The Dark chip, with its deep, rich flavor, is just one of many things that sets Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips apart in the Midwest snack scene. Another is its tradition of only selling ownership to a company employee.
“Our mindset has always been that, from sweeping crumbs off the floor to signing payroll checks, the owner should know what to do, from top to bottom,” says Spiess. “That tradition has been rooted in our culture through five owners. It’s the reason behind our success.”
The company’s current owner, Roma Hailman, who purchased the company in 2007, is the first female owner since Mrs. Fisher herself. Ethel Fisher, along with her husband Eugene, started the company in 1932 from their home at the corner of Charles and Seventh streets in Rockford.
“They sold slicers and peelers through Popular Mechanics magazine,” says Spiess. “They also fried chips and sold them door-to-door and to bars. A craving took over, and they expanded.”
The company, originally known as Mr. Fisher’s Potato Chips, changed its name after Eugene left Ethel. Before leaving, he designed the company’s logo, a drawing of two children dancing with a potato, that is recognized today.
Throughout its history and growth, Mrs. Fisher’s Potato Chips has striven to stay true to its roots. Customers can still buy “penny chips” in small paper bags from the company’s shop, just like they could when Ethel was in charge. Another dedicated tradition is sourcing everything it can locally.
“Our goal is to be that regional Midwestern snack food manufacturer that gives bang for its buck and has fun doing it,” says Spiess. “This is a generational chip shared by great-grandparents, grandparents, parents and kids. It’s a tableside tradition, and that’s the key to our success.”
At a Glance
Eugene and Ethel Fisher, Founder
Current Owner: Roma Hailman
Number of Employees: 22
Local Operations: Headquarters and manufacturing facilities in Rockford; distribution throughout the Midwest.
Global Display Solutions
5217 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 282-2328 | gds.com
Founded in Roscoe, Ill., in 1979, Global Display Solutions (GDS) has been at the forefront of providing indoor and outdoor display technology to quick-serve restaurants, retailers, hospitality businesses and advertising markets for over 40 years. Now part of a global company that creates display, lighting and printing solutions in 20 countries, GDS maintains its North American headquarters on the southeast side of Rockford, with plans to expand its local manufacturing facilities to create highly rugged displays for industrial, medical and outdoor environments.
The company began as a repair center for automated teller machines (ATM), emerging as the largest supplier of ATMs at a time when phone apps and internet banking were still in the future. In 2016, the company teamed up with Starbucks to install GDS digital signage in more than 4,300 locations across the country, the single largest drive-thru digital signage project in history at that time. The 46-inch outdoor LCD displays earned an Applied Tech Award from QSR Magazine, who praised the product’s FaceTime-like feed that connected customers with their baristas. This engagement through innovative display is a cornerstone of the company’s success.
“Flexibility remains the biggest advantage in implementing digital signage,” says Robert Heise, executive vice president and general manager at GDS. “Flexibility for branding, messaging and connecting with your customers can have a positive impact on the customer’s experience.”
GDS continues to work with quick-service restaurants across the United States, providing outdoor digital menu boards for drive-thru customers. It’s a market that is going through rapid change as factors like social distancing and phone apps make their mark on the landscape.
“Technology is key to the digital transformation of the drive-thru,” says Heise. “Drive-thru and pick-up may completely take over the dining experience in some locations.”
Medical display is another important part of GDS’ customer base. Its largest customer at the moment is CE Healthcare, a company with manufacturing facilities in Milwaukee and Madison, Wis. As the supplier of CE Healthcare’s ventilator, cardiac, incubator and anesthesia display systems, GDS played a vital role in providing medical equipment during the COVID pandemic, increasing ventilator production for hospitals and government contracts.
Another important market for GDS products is transportation. The company provides displays for a number of transit systems and agencies, including Rockford Mass Transit District’s downtown bus terminal. Chicago Transit and Chicago Metra also use GDS platform displays as do agencies in Washington, D.C, New York, Seattle and California. GDS is also engaged in the growing segment of ePaper, an eco-friendly, solar-powered solution that-s becoming a front-running technology for transit agencies throughout the United States and the world.
“Due to our development of innovative technology and strategic relationships with industry leaders, GDS delivers unique display solutions,” says Heise. “We provide impactful advertising and information display for any application.
At a Glance
Year Founded: 1979
Specialties: Digital signage and display systems for ATMs, drive-thrus and health care equiment
Industries Served: Food service, transportation, retail, health care, financial institutions
Number of Employees: 1,000 globally; 25 in Rockford
Local Operations: North American headquarters and manufacturing facility in Rockford
Obsidian Manufacturing Industries, Inc.
5015 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 962-8700 | obsidianmfg.com
Obsidian Manufacturing Industries is a woman-led, SBA-certified business with four brands that together specialize in building and repairing machine tool products. Magna-Lock USA workholding products, Arter Precision Grinding Machines, MagnaLift & Power-Grip lift magnets and ObsidianMfg Surface Grinding all work under the same roof.
“If anyone is working with steel, we’re there,” says Sue Nordman, president of Obsidian Manufacturing Industries. “Our lift magnets are lifting it, our workholding products are holding it, and our grinders are grinding it. Our vacuum-holding can also hold non-magnet material, so what we do even goes beyond steel.”
The company originally started as Magna-Lock USA in 2007, when Sue and David Nordman, Obsidian’s vice president, purchased the brand. The MagnaLift and Power-Grip lift magnet brands were acquired by Magna-Lock USA in 2010, giving the company the ability to offer a full spectrum of lifting needs. With the acquisition of Arter Precision Grinding Machines in 2018, the company rebranded to Obsidian Manufacturing and took on the manufacture of new CNC models and OEM spare parts and repair services for all Arter grinding machines. The growth continued in 2019 when Obsidian moved its headquarters to the former location of Stieg Grinding Corp., which was also absorbed into the Obsidian family.
All in all, the brands under Obsidian combine for over 300 years of manufacturing history, with each brand being a forerunner in its respective product line. Obsidian’s products are used on manufacturing floors the world over, in a multitude of industries, including aerospace, agriculture, automotive, medical and pharmaceutical. And Obsidian continues pushing forward in new markets, including the production of electric vehicles.
The company’s location in Rockford gives Obsidian the ability to ship parts across the country quickly and easily. Despite logistical challenges created by the pandemic, supply chain issues, and shortages in the trucking industry, getting the product to the customer remains a top priority.
As Obsidian continues to grow, the company is keeping a close eye on the future of manufacturing, an industry that is expected to grow by almost 5 million jobs over the next 10 years. To show commitment to the advancement of skilled manufacturing personnel, the firm offers an educational institution discount to schools and programs that train their students using Obsidian products.
The biggest difference maker, however, is Obsidian’s wide range of clientele.
“Our ability to work with small businesses and Fortune 500 companies alike gives us experience and exposure in a lot of different areas,” says Nordman.
Brands big and small have found value in Obsidian products like the Magna-Vise. Part of Obsidian’s Magna-Lock USA working product line, the Magna-Vise allows for non-magnetic material to be held on a magnetic chuck while it is being worked on. The product is popular with a number of clients, ranging from hobbyists to the U.S. military.
“Custom-designed workholding and lift magnets are becoming somewhat of a specialty of ours,” says Nordman. “We make things people need that they can’t find anywhere else.”
At a Glance
Year Founded: 2007
Specialties: Workholding, lifting magnets, grinders, repair
Number of Employees: 11
Local Operations: One facility in Rockford
Shaner Quality Machining
4935 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 967-1627
For 16 years, Mike Shaner has been operating Shaner Quality Machining, a small-job machining shop that specializes in the needs of the automation industry.
“We can make just about anything, but I love to go after work in the automation industry,” he says. “That’s my background. I spent 20 years building custom, automated machinery.”
As a smaller shop, Shaner’s firm focuses on short-run jobs, which often come in smaller or single batches.
“That’s our niche: making single, one-off pieces for automation houses,” he says.
By keeping his operation small and focusing on one-piece to 30-piece projects, Shaner keeps turnaround times low, something his clients appreciate. Fast turnaround is one of Shaner’s highest priorities, as well as making sure his clients have a square deal.
“I treat people fairly,” he says. “That’s the name of the game.”
His past and present client list includes firms of all sizes. Shaner’s honest approach and focus on quality make him a sought-after machinist.
“I keep my shop state-of-the-art,” he says. “I only buy the latest and greatest. My name is on every part I make. I take pride in what comes out of my shop. I want it to look nice and the work to be done correctly.”
Rockford | (815) 229-5077 | rkfdseparators.com
For over 50 years, Rockford Separators has taken all of its experience in building custom, engineered designs and focused it on separating waste products. As a result, the company has become an industry leader, specialized in high-quality, custom-made steel and stainless steel separator and interceptor units.
Rockford Separators products can handle a full spectrum of undesirable contaminants, including oil, grease, fuel, fats, sand, food solids, sediment and solid waste such as glass or metal chips. Its products are applicable in a multitude of industries, from restaurants and hospitals to car washes, retail centers, manufacturers and laundromats.
Rockford Separators relies upon more than 35 approaches to separate and retain destructive or hazardous materials from waterborne waste, preventing undesirable material from entering the sewer system. While there are over 600 stock sizes available, the company can custom manufacture a separator, interceptor, trench drain or catch basin that meets any client’s specifications.
The unique design of Rockford Separators products follows the flow of gravity to separate lighter-than-water and heavier-than-water waste products, resulting in a virtual elimination of clogged drain lines. There is no straight-in-and-out travel of wastewater from inlet to outlet. Instead, separator screens and a removable filter screen prevent waste from entering the sewage system.
Setting itself apart from competitors, Rockford Separation works exclusively with standard and stainless steel, ensuring a separator that is stronger, more durable and more reliable than the polyurethane products offered by competitors.
Rockford Separators has built a reputation nationally for competitive prices, quick turnaround times, and high-quality, precision equipment, thus making it a trusted partner to architects, engineers, building officials, health industries and plumbing contractors throughout this region and the United States.
Cincinnati Tool Steel Co.
5190 28th Ave. | Rockford | (815) 226-8800 | cintool.com
Founded in 1976 by the late Ronald F. Cincinnati, this family-owned steel distributor is still firmly rooted to Rockford and the Eastrock Industrial Park, where it’s served for more than 45 years. The company maintains a sister facility near West Columbia, S.C.
Cincinnati Tool Steel Co. plays a critical role in supplying manufacturers with the steel they need to build other products. As a full-line tool steel distributor, the firm sells round bar and plate steel that’s cut to customers’ specifications. Cincinnati Tool Steel Company also offers an array of value-added services such as precision grinding, hollow bar, duplex milling for six-side machined blocks, and plate milling. These services are usually done before being heat-treated or hardened. Such steel is ideal for the tool and die industry, hand tools and machine tools, among other applications. For a full list of services and materials available, check cintool.com.
Rockford’s central location to major markets and easy access to major highways make this region ideal for distributing goods like tool steel. It also helps that the city remains a manufacturing powerhouse with many legacy companies.
In fact, it was that concentration of fastener production and tool-and-die work that led Ronald F. Cincinnati to launch his own business in the 1970s. Today, Ronald F.’s children – Ron J., Brian, Scot and Kelli – continue their father’s legacy. The firm is still in its original building, though it’s since sprawled into six surrounding buildings and a facility in the southern U.S.
“A lot of local, family-owned businesses like the fact that we’re locally owned,” says Ron J., vice president of sales. “We’re second-generation and there are lots of companies in town that are second- or third-generation owners, and I think they appreciate that we’ve still maintained 180 workers. It’s a big part of doing business in Rockford – there’s plenty here and there are lots of customers that rely on us.”
Circle Boring & Machine Company
3161 Forest View Road | Rockford | (815) 398-4150 | circleboring.com
More than just a job shop, Circle Boring & Machine Co. serves many markets that require precision boring, milling and turning. This contract machining company has more than 60 years of experience in the field, and its cutting-edge equipment is capable of working parts as big as 40,000 pounds or as long as 20 feet. CNC vertical lathes can turn parts that are more than 5 feet long, and six bridge cranes in four bays make it possible to handle some of the biggest parts. At the same time, though, Circle Boring also has the ability to turn parts so small they fit in the palm of your hand.
Its work is most often found in the automotive sector, mining equipment, stamping presses, machine tools and renewable energy production – settings where unique, custom-machined parts are critical. The company’s skills are also critical for repairing equipment, like the giant grinders you’d find at a rock quarry or the pumps you’d see around the New Orleans levees. Clients are located around the nation, even in Canada and Mexico.
Sister company Circle Cutting Tools, also headquartered in Rockford, makes many of the machining tools that drive Circle Boring. The company’s adjustable boring cartridges work with DeVlieg boring machines, machining centers and jig bores, and it carries a line of indexable insert and brazed carbide cartridges built upon years of experience and research.
Circle Boring & Machine Co. started in 1961, and it remains a family-owned company working in Rockford’s Eastrock Industrial Park where it enjoys easy access to Interstate 90, Chicago Rockford International Airport, and a host of advanced manufacturing firms with a long heritage in our region.
“If you want to make something, we have the workers and machine tools to do it,” says John Ekberg, vice president. “We’re ready to make your metal parts within specifications and on time.”