Kinetic trains industrial knifemakers

Kinetic Co. Inc. in Greendale has invested in its facilities and employees as it has grown.

The company, founded in 1948 in Milwaukee, has 110 employees at its 75,000-square-foot facility, which has been expanded four times, most recently in 2009. And there’s room for growth – the facility sits on 10 acres.

“We have room for more expansion. We are essentially full again,” said president Jared Masters.

Kinetic makes about 20 categories of knives and has around 5,000 different SKUs. The knives, most of which are made of steel, are adapted to meet the desired cutting style.

New employees must be thoroughly trained on how to set up each job, since there are so many different product set-ups, Cash said. Over the last five to 10 years, a lot of experienced employees have been retiring so he has undertaken a constant and more documented training process in the shop.

Kinetic recently received a $42,520 Workforce Advancement Training grant from Milwaukee Area Technical College for blueprint training, master CAM and surface grinding training.

Kinetic’s contoured blades are used to cut thick materials like metal.

There are two sections of nine workers each that started the courses at MATC’s Milwaukee campus on May 20, said Ginny Gnadt, senior specialist in public relations at MATC. The employees will also be trained in MSSC safety at work.

“This provides the company with better-trained employees and gives the workers a chance to make more money by having a higher skill level,” Gnadt said.

Since their father, Joseph, died in February, brothers Jared and Cash Masters have taken the helm at the industrial knifemaker.

Under Joseph, the company grew significantly in the last five years, entering new markets and widening its reach.

Kinetic employees Dave Ortiz, Bryan Barbian and Dean Pogorzelski inspect parallels for flatness at an MATC training course.

“We’ve expanded our focus,” said Cash, vice president. “Years ago it was just knives for paper.”

The company now serves steel mills, power plants and other industrial companies with both blade manufacturing and contract grinding and machining.

“We’ve got such a wide variety of product lines and products within those product lines that this is what’s helped us when the economy might slow down,” Cash said.

But that variety can also mean a longer lead time because of the number of product changes each machine undergoes, Jared said. Its diversity has also set Kinetic apart from competitors, since it serves several industries instead of just one.

Paper manufacturers like Kimberly-Clark Corp. still make up the largest portion of Kinetic’s customer base, while steel mills and food packagers are also drivers.

A thin perforation blade is used to create designs and perforate products like toilet paper, while thick contoured knives slice through metals. Most of the blades Kinetic makes aren’t sharp to the touch – they’re simply used with force.

Depending on the application, a blade is rough ground, milled or turned. Kinetic takes on any project it can perform, Jared said.

Many of Kinetic’s customers are in the Midwest, particularly for the contract machining work. It exports about 10 percent of its products, and is growing that segment in South and Central America, Jared said.

The company keeps its work in-house so it can control the quality, which sets it apart from competitively priced products, he said.

“When a piece of raw steel comes in the door, for all of our product lines we do 99 percent of the work here,” Cash said.

Kinetic had about $25 million in annual revenue in 2012, up more than 20 percent in the last three years. Jared expects about five percent growth for 2013.

The company invested almost $2 million in equipment last year. It moves employees around based on which areas are busier.

“We don’t do budgets,” Jared said. “If we need it, we buy it. If we don’t need it, we don’t buy it.”

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