Superior keeps it in the family

Superior Die Set Corp. makes the tools used in manufacturing across a range of industries. Though much of its work is custom, the Oak Creek company manages a tight turnaround of just four to six working days lead time on made to order products.

At any one time, Superior has five million pounds of steel on-site, in five different grades and ranging in size from 1/8-inch to 12 inches thick, said Frank Janiszewski, president and chief operations officer.

Superior makes die sets, mold bases, pins/bushings, three platen presses, cut-and-ground machined plate, fabrications and forging products for manufacturers. It has grinding, welding, blasting and stress relief heat treating on site. Less than 2 percent of its work is outsourced.

“In essence, we are a job shop,” Janiszewski said. “Everything is really driven by unique designs and it’s our job to sell our capabilities.”

Superior has 2,000 active customers. The top 10 make up just 15 percent of its business.

Dave Pirkle machines a pocket out of a plate.

“We occasionally compete against our customers,” Janiszewski said. “When they get slow, they make their own die sets.”

Janiszewski and his brother Casey, the chief executive officer, are the third generation to lead the family company. They have owned Superior since 1991. Frank assumed the role of president in March.

Their grandfather, Kasimir, came to the U.S. from Poland in 1910 with $25 in his pocket and eventually started Superior in 1923 in Milwaukee. It has been in the current location since 1965.

Frank and Casey’s sons are also involved in the business. The plan is to pass the company on to the fourth generation, Frank said.

“Each transition from generation to generation has its own challenges,” he said. “There’s just a commitment to our legacy and the future.”

A die holder made at Superior that will be used in a 6,000-ton forging press.

The company is essentially refinanced each time it is passed along. The family has gone through training on dealing with the dynamics of a family company and maintains an outside board of directors to advise them on strategy.

Superior has two wholly-owned subsidiaries: Greendale Precision Services in Greendale, which has 30 employees; and FCPK Bytow in Poland, which has two facilities totaling 240 employees.

The company’s Oak Creek facility is 120,000 square feet and has 200 employees who work three shifts.

The recession caused the markets that Superior serves to shrink between 50 and 60 percent from 2008 to 2010, but Superior was able to stem its production decline at about 30 percent. Some of its competitors weren’t lucky enough to make it through the recession.

“I think we have kind of a unique opportunity right now to take advantage of some voids in some of our competitors,” Janiszewski said.

Now, the industry is on the upswing and he expects to experience significant growth over the next five years, fueled by the domestic tooling industry. Superior saw 40 percent growth in its annual revenue from 2009 to 2010.

Its parts are heavy and needed quickly, so Superior relies most on domestic customers in the Midwest.

“It’s really difficult for us to export,” Janiszewski said. “The transportation and lead time to export is very difficult.”

Janiszewski plans to invest more than $1 million in new equipment in 2013. The additions will allow for some replacement and also more capacity.

The company is mostly paperless on its manufacturing floor. Each employee receives one piece of paper at the beginning of their shift and uses a computer system to complete operations and evaluate designs. Paint sticks are used to write tracking numbers on completed pieces.

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