Building braces

Millions of Americans have had braces to straighten their teeth, and there is a good chance that at least some of the components used in the process were made by Sheboygan-based American Orthodontics, a manufacturer of tubes, brackets, bands, springs and related components that orthodontists affix to teeth to form braces.

Because of technological advances, many orthodontists have stopped or decreased their use of bands. Instead, many are using the tubes and brackets made by American Orthodontics that can be glued directly onto the surface of the tooth, said Michael Bogenschuetz, president of the company.

“We make extremely small, comfortable low-profile tubes,” he said.

Tube systems are made for molars, while brackets are used on other teeth. With their smaller designs, both systems are now commonly glued directly to teeth, instead of being fastened with bands.

American Orthodontics also has designed several bracket systems that eliminate the need for fasteners that hold wiring in place, including one that uses a small hinged door (called self-ligating), Bogenschuetz said.

To compete with other transparent teeth-straightening systems on the market, American Orthodontics introduced a line of clear ceramic sapphire brackets two years ago.

“Brackets are (needed) for the more technical (orthodontic) cases, which are the vast majority of cases,” Bogenschuetz said. “This is the leading bracket in the industry. They’ve done extremely well.”

American Orthodontics also makes many of the products related to its bands, tubes and brackets. The company supplies orthodontists with traditional stainless steel wire as well as newer materials such as nickel titanium and beta titanium, which have grown in popularity over the last 20 years. It makes many of the hand tools needed to adjust, attach and remove braces, as well as adhesives used to attach brackets and tubes to teeth.

Many of the processes inside the company’s Sheboygan facilities have been automated, allowing one employee to oversee several machining stations.

“Even though some of our competitors are (manufacturing) in China or Mexico, we are the low-cost manufacturer of what we do,” Bogenschuetz said.

All of American Orthodontics’ manufacturing is done in Sheboygan, where it employs more than 400 workers in three facilities. The company was founded in 1968 and is still owned by Dan Merkel, its founder. Bogenschuetz was named president last year.

In recent years, American Orthodontics has averaged five to 15 percent revenue growth. Its 2008 growth was in the middle of that range, Bogenschuetz said. The company is forecasting slightly smaller growth for 2009 because of a slowing in domestic orders.

About half of American Orthodontics’ orders are from the United States, while the remaining half is split between the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Mexico, the Middle East and some Asian countries.

Because of its use of automation, American Orthodontics can easily shift its tooling, molding and other systems to create different pieces, allowing it to manufacture thousands of different types of orthodontic products.

“Our company is known as one that specializes in mass customization,” Bogenschuetz said. “Our manufacturing is set up to customize easily.”

The company is now working to bring a line of products into its production facility, which could create 10 to 15 new jobs in Sheboygan. The firm also is considering the expansion of its 60,000-square-foot main manufacturing facility.

American Orthodontics

1714 Cambridge Ave., Sheboygan

Industry: Supplies for orthodontists, including tubes, brackets and bands, as well as wiring, adhesives and hand tools.

Employees: More than 400

Web site:


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