Racine Metal-Fab increasing automation and employees

Made in Milwaukee


Racine Metal-Fab Ltd.
1520 Grandview Parkway, Sturtevant
Industry: Metal fabrication
Employees: 70

Mark Derderian stacks reflector parts next to a laser machine that is cutting them out.
Mark Derderian stacks reflector parts next to a laser machine that is cutting them out.

While it’s increasing the level of automation at its 75,000-square-foot Sturtevant facility, Racine Metal-Fab doesn’t plan to decrease the number of employees.

In fact, it will be adding about 20 new employees over the next two years and training them on the automation skills needed to run and maintain the new machinery.

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“We’ve been able to grow and we’re implementing a lot of new equipment,” said president Scott Lucas. “People have got to be able to program robots and set these machines up and run them.”

The new equipment will include an automated laser machine, brake presses, punch presses, welding and assembly machines, Lucas said. The company invested about $500,000 in the equipment, which will be installed this month.

“It’s all about taking on new business and we have a lot of pressure right now with new business coming in to do things faster,” he said. “I think we’re just getting known for our capabilities.”

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Racine Metal-Fab planned for its growth. It built its $7 million plant, which it opened in February 2012, on 14 acres to allow room for another 225,000 square feet of expansion.

The company manufactures light-gauge metal fabrication components or sub-assemblies that are then assembled into final products by its customers.

Racine Metal-Fab specializes in aesthetic parts, so its facility is kept spotless and many of its parts have reflective coatings or plastic sheets that can be peeled off by the customer upon assembly to keep the surface pristine. Sometimes, employees wear white gloves while handling a part to ensure it is kept clean.

“They can’t have scratches. They can’t have fingerprints,” Lucas said. “When people have those kind of parts, they need more attention to detail and that’s what we have.”

Antonio Boyd (left) and Randy Edwards bend the lip onto a painted steel light component.
Antonio Boyd (left) and Randy Edwards bend the lip onto a painted steel light component.

Among its parts are reflectors and other parts for LED lights, many of which go to the Cree Inc. (formerly Ruud Lighting) plant just down the road in Sturtevant. It also makes medical equipment and appliance parts, such as Sub-Zero ice maker components.

The company starts with rolls of sheet metal, usually made of aluminum, which it punches, forms, welds and laser cuts into parts.

Lucas has focused on grouping machines into cells and making the manufacturing process as team-based and efficient as possible, which he said has helped customers get their products to market faster and keep them on the market longer. Employees are cross-trained on each machine in their cell so they can move to where they’re needed.

“When you’re all split up, you’re doing your own thing, you don’t have common goals,” Lucas said. “Manufacturing would like to move slow and steady, but that’s not what (customers) need.”

One efficiency technique the company has implemented is clearly identifying machines that are not part of one cell and can be rolled to other areas by painting them light pink. They stand out among the other machines, which are mostly gray and blue.

Racine Metal-Fab starts a new part on its small-run manually operated machines, eventually moving it to more automated machines for medium runs, and finally to roll formers when the part is in high volume to keep the manufacturing process inexpensive and keep up with demand, Lucas said.

The company’s employees regularly participate in Kaizen continuous improvement sessions to implement rapid change in a production line to improve efficiency. Any employee can offer an idea to improve processes at all-staff meetings once a month, Lucas said.

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