Move to Pewaukee to further United Tool’s growth

United Tool Inc. is busting at the seams of its 12,800-square-foot manufacturing facility in Milwaukee. The job shop does precision machining, fabrication and welding work and recently announced plans to move to a 27,530-square-foot building in Pewaukee that it purchased for $1.5 million.

The move will allow United to expand its production capacity and take on more business, said owner Ron Kelnhofer.

“We’re turning away a lot of work right now,” Kelnhofer said. “Until we can add more equipment and more people, we’re just stretched.”

The company has 31 full time and two part time employees. Nine of those were hired since April, and a second and third shift were added to keep up with increasing orders.

United Tool had $3.5 million in sales in 2012, and Kelnhofer expects it will reach $6 million in the next year and a half.

United has been growing as it enters new markets, its existing customers grow and it takes on more progressive tool and die work, he said.

Tyler Thiel welds a part at United Tool.

“China has hurt themselves when it comes to quality and a lot of the manufacturers are coming back to United States (suppliers),” Kelnhofer said. “Since we have the experts in the draw dies, it eliminates a lot of the competition.”

United works mainly with stainless steel, bronzes, aluminum, plastics and tool steels. As much as possible, the company tries to complete orders for customers as a one-stop shop.

The company also recently achieved ISO 9000 quality certification, which has opened doors to more business.

All of United’s customers are within a 30-mile radius, and many of them are larger manufacturers that send their work to manufacturing contractors like United. When the Great Recession hit, some machine shops went out of business and the manufacturers’ work was transferred to United, Kelnhofer said.

Tool and die maker Scott Wise operates one of the company’s CNC machines.

United Tool was founded in Menomonee Falls in 1960 and moved to Milwaukee in 1980. It was initially tool and die focused. Since Kelnhofer has a general machining background, United shifted into more machining when he took over in 1997.

He has grown the company from five employees in half of the 12,800-square-foot building to how it is today out of room, growth that Kelnhofer attributes to customer service and his employees.

“We service the heck out of our customers,” he said. “My philosophy is you hire the very best people you can find, period. And you get out of the way.”

Kelnhofer said he is constantly on the lookout for qualified employees. He has a waiting list of young men who would like to enter his apprentice program.

With the additional space at the Pewaukee facility, Kelnhofer plans to offer more production stamping.

United recently received a $862,000 SBA guaranteed loan from Foundations Bank, which will go toward the new equipment it has been purchasing. Kelnhofer has added three new vertical machining centers in the last two months. He wanted to wait to add them after the move in August, but the demand was too high.

Stamping presses, lathes and grinders will also be added in the new facility. The equipment investment will be well over $1 million, he said.

The company will also continue to add employees to keep up with the work, with another three to four hires expected by year end, Kelnhofer said.

“My goal isn’t to be the biggest, it’s just to be the best,” he said. “If you’re good at what you do, growth is inevitable.”

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