People and process help power The Industrial Controls Company

Made in Milwaukee

The Industrial Controls Co. Inc.
N56 W24842 N. Corporate Circle, Sussex
Industry: Industrial controls
Employees: 50

It’s all about people and process at The Industrial Controls Co. Inc. in Sussex. Those two elements combine to allow the company to deliver a higher quality product while still being competitive on price.

Industrial Controls designs, engineers and builds control panels and systems for a wide variety of industries, including consumer paper products, food and beverage, oil and gas, transportation, wastewater treatment and more.

Don Lavrenz, president, says the company relies on customers to bring expertise in their particular industries and ICC brings expertise in engineering and building controls.

Relying on its expertise in controls is both a blessing and a curse for ICC. Many new engineers are drawn toward other industries or applications, which makes building a strong team more difficult. That challenge can also be a benefit, as customers have to turn somewhere to find the skillset they need.

“There’s a greater need for the engineering side,” Lavrenz said, adding that increasing safety and electrical requirements help drive business as well.

The Industrial Controls Co. traces its history back to 1982. Lavrenz started his portion of the business out of his home in 1995 with the engineering firm LAS Automation. In 1998, he moved the business into a building occupied by control panel manufacturer Tenric.

“The line of where one started and one ended became very gray,” Lavrenz said, adding that it was clear he had a lot in common philosophically with his now-business partner Tim Thorn, who ran Tenric.

The two decided to combine their companies in 1999 as Absolute Automation Systems. The partnership generated reasonable organic growth, but over time they decided they wanted to go farther. In 2010, the company was renamed The Industrial Controls Co. to better reflect what it does. ICC also expanded by acquiring Downers Grove, Ill.-based Control Masters Inc.

Lavrenz said the company tries to measure results by the success of customers, not its own bottom line.

“Maybe you don’t make as much money, but like I said, in the long run it’s a true partnership,” he said.

Developing those partnerships requires the right people and ICC takes a number of steps to attract and retain the right talent. Lavrenz said the company has developed an “environment of responsibility,” giving engineers and other front office employees total autonomy over their work day.

“If you have a son or daughter in school and they have a play or a soccer game, we expect you to be there,” he said, adding some work from home a few days a week and everyone knows what work needs to be completed.

ICC has also invested in benefits and in developing new talent, with several interns eventually having joined the staff. New graduates are brought on as part of a CAD team and function as understudies to engineers.

The best engineers wouldn’t be worth anything if their designs weren’t executed properly. While the assembly process is straightforward, Lavrenz said it is also exacting, with weekly metric meetings to address safety, quality, delivery and productivity.

“From a manufacturing side, it’s pretty fundamental. From an efficiency side and a quality control, quality assurance side, we’re really on the upper end of what we do,” he said.

ICC’s focus is on high-quality assembly of control panels. The company works with local metal fabricators for sheet metal needs. While ICC makes its own wire harnesses, the company relies heavily on vendor-managed inventory for components.

Lavrenz said the idea is to do the things that will generate income and “farm everything else out.” One process that has been brought in-house is the engraving work used for labeling and identification. Lavrenz found that a $20,000 panel would sometimes be waiting for $12 worth of engraving work and figured the company could avoid costly delays by doing the work in-house.

ICC’s processes are built on attention to detail and meeting an established standard. Binders at each workstation detail how a product should be assembled. The quality assurance team checks everything and documents any issues. If similar problems keep popping up, the team sits down to figure out where things are going wrong.

“If there’s something wrong, the first thing you do is look at the process,” Lavrenz said. “Don’t blame the people.”

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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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