Made in Milwaukee: Technology helps continue family legacy at Engel Tool and Forge

Parts are forged on a recently installed press at Engel Tool and Forge.
Parts are forged on a recently installed press at Engel Tool and Forge.

Last updated on March 17th, 2020 at 01:34 pm

Engel Tool and Forge
123 W. Orchard St., Milwaukee
Industry: Press forging
Employees: 17

When Charles Engel returned to take over his family’s business in 2010, employees did not immediately jump on board with the idea.

“Coming back is difficult because you have a group of individuals who are a bit worried or nervous about you coming in or what might happen because they don’t know,” said Engel, now president and owner of Engel Tool and Forge.

Engel had worked at the company, started by his grandfather in 1923, in the late ‘90s but left for a job at Harley-Davidson.

Returning to the company, Engel looked for a way to have an immediate impact and settled on working to generate more sales.

At the time, the business was primarily focused on the domestic market, but did have some sales to Australia. When Engel sought more information about the Australian customer’s operations, the representative the business worked with didn’t have much to share. Engel arranged for a visit to the customer and found an untapped opportunity. Over time, Engel Tool and Forge was able to grow sales to Australia to around $4.5 million.

“That was the big turn of events for us,” Engel said.

The opportunity to make decisions like when to go after sales or make investments led Engel to leave Harley, where his work included plant consolidations and evaluations.

“I’d rather be the guy who makes that decision than be the cog in the wheel putting the puzzle together,” he said. “You can decide whether you go out and get more sales to keep things going or you do some engineering changes or you do some cost reductions.”

Engel Tool and Forge makes parts in runs of 500 to 10,000 for customers in a number of industries, including agriculture, off-highway, oil and gas, hydraulic and, in particular, mining. Engel isn’t set up to simply provide a quote and run parts.

“If you have something that you need some material assistance, you want to take some cost out of it, you want to work with reducing machine time in your facility, your finished costs, you’re going to come to us,” he said. “We’re an engineering company first and then a production company second.”

Working at a corporation like Harley helped Engel understand how large companies operate, he said, especially in working with different functions like engineering, purchasing or quality.

“You understand that they’re limited on their scope of work, what they can do, so you have to address what they need,” he said.

That means having the right data available for someone in quality, helping an engineer solve a particular problem or working with a buyer to navigate the pressures they face.

“If you want to take out cost, grab the engineer, grab the manufacturing folks, let’s sit down at a table and figure out how to take 10% out, or maybe 20 at that point, but don’t come to me and ask me to cost down 10% because it’s not realistic,” he said, noting Engel Tool and Forge aims to set its best price upfront that will still allow for on-time and quality delivery.

Engel said the company has undergone a cultural shift over the past decade, changing from a shop to a manufacturing plant. The unexpected death of a company leader a few years ago led to a new management structure with three managers on the shop floor. Last year, the company installed a new refurbished press and before that added a new ERP system. Engel continues to reorganize equipment on the shop floor to take advantage of available space and has room for future building expansions.

The company is working to incorporate Industry 4.0 technologies, with the goal of having data available to evaluate how individual cells and machines are running.

“You’ve got to start with one thing that’s meaningful,” Engel said, suggesting the use of sensors to determine when and why certain bearings are overheating. “It leads you to answers you might not get otherwise. I think a lot of guys will wait until things break down and then address it at that time, which I get. Don’t fix it if it’s not broken. However, I’d rather do it on my time, especially as a capital-intensive business, I don’t want to go down and then be calling customers for three days and giving them updates for two weeks until we get things straight.”

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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