International Thermal Systems LLC

4697 W. Greenfield Ave., West Milwaukee

Industry: Industrial ovens and furnaces

Employees: 120

Countless metal products rely on heat treating of one sort or another during their production. Aluminum cans, metal packaging, lead acid batteries and numerous components in the automotive, mining, power transmission and related industries need heat treating or related services during the manufacturing process.

Manufacturers around the world who make those types of products rely on West Milwaukee-based International Thermal Systems LLC to design and build custom heating systems used in their manufacturing process.

“These are ovens, furnaces, cookers and washers that involve a thermal process of some sort,” said John Zea, president of the company. “On the oven side, they usually go up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, but we make some furnaces that go up to 2,100 degrees so we can get into heat treating.”

International Thermal Systems makes ovens and furnaces for three broad categories – industrial batteries, other industrial products and metal packaging, Zea said. The industrial battery category sells heating systems to companies that make batteries for the automotive and truck, marine and cellular tower backup power markets.

The company designs and builds ovens and heaters used by industrial customers for heat treating. Customers include foundries and manufacturers that make automotive and mining equipment, heat exchangers and electronic equipment like motors or transformers.

International Thermal Systems also designs and sells a large number of heating units used by beverage can manufacturers. Those systems are usually used to dry ink applied as part of the labeling process.

All of International Thermal Systems’ heating systems are built to order. The ovens and furnaces can be up to 40 feet high and several hundred feet long. Each unit is built in the company’s 125,000-square-foot facility in West Milwaukee, tested, and partially disassembled for shipping to the end user.

The company sells systems all over the world. Its West Milwaukee facility produces units for North America and more complex, highly engineered systems that are sold all over the world. It also operates a 20-person facility in Shanghai, China, to supply Asia, the Middle East and South America. It also has a small sales and engineering office in the United Kingdom. In addition, International Thermal Systems has an exclusive contract with a Polish manufacturer that builds systems for the company’s European and African customers.

International Thermal Systems has about 120 employees in West Milwaukee. Like many manufacturers, the company saw sales slide significantly in late 2008 and most of 2009.

However, its sales began rebounding late last year, and have continued to rise through 2010.

“(Sales) have steadily built through 2010,” Zea said. “2010 has been a phenomenal year. We’re ahead by five to 10 percent of where we were in 2008 (before the recession).”

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