Wisconsin Metal Products keeps it in the family

Made in Milwaukee

Dennis Held loads steel discs into a press to be stamped into parts.

The Janes family has owned at least part of Wisconsin Metal Products since it was founded in 1915, and president John Janes plans to keep the business in the family.

Dennis Held loads steel discs into a press to be stamped into parts.
Dennis Held loads steel discs into a press to be stamped into parts.

Janes’ great-grandfather was one of the company’s founders, and stock was passed among family members for a number of years. John’s father got hands-on with running the business in the 1960s, and John came on board in 1978, taking the leadership position in the mid-’90s. The company stock is now mostly owned by John and his children.

Now, he’s training his son-in-law, Robert Stillman, to eventually take over the business.

“We should be in good hands in the future,” Janes said.

“We’re not in any hurry – we have a good working relationship, so I bring some of the things I’ve learned over the years, from the Lean aspect and the 5S (workplace organization methods) aspect,” Stillman said.

Over the past year, Stillman, who came on board in 2012, has led an effort to rebrand and refresh the company as it celebrates 100 years of metal stamping. WMP designed a new logo that is based on a logo used in the ’40s or ’50s. It also created a new brochure and is launching a new website soon.

“We’re trying to kind of preserve the heritage, the history of what we’ve done,” Stillman said.

Wisconsin Metal Products originally made Christmas tree stands and products purchased in hardware stores, but since the ’50s or ’60s has focused exclusively on custom parts.

It’s a second-tier supplier for automotive manufacturers – some of its parts end up in the brakes and clutches of Ford and GM trucks – and also for the lawn and garden market, with similar parts for riding mowers and lawn tractors. The highest volume parts the company makes are shells for power brake boosters.

WMP’s 67,000-square-foot facility has been in operation since the 1920s, with a few additions along the way. The company renovated the front office last year, complete with framed prints of some of its earliest press operators in action, and is continuously investing in upkeep of the building, Stillman said.

This transfer stamped clutch part travels through 10 stamping stations to be formed.
This transfer stamped clutch part travels through 10 stamping stations to be formed.

“We wanted to hold on to that industrial experience of the company, but we’re also staying with the times,” he said.

On the manufacturing floor, enormous floor-to-ceiling presses stamp up to 45,000 parts per shift. The company has 18 presses, the largest of which is 2,000 tons. During its busy season, which runs from about October to June, the company runs two shifts.

“Just about everything we make is related to brakes and clutches,” Janes said. “I think a lot of people do business with automotive because of the high volumes, but the margins aren’t always super generous.”

“We’re trying to diversify our customer base,” Stillman said.

The company has looked into several local companies, as well as the railroad and lighting industries.

Once a part has been ordered, the customer works with the engineering department to talk about what is feasible and economical, and tweak the design to what is desired. Once a final print has been agreed upon, WMP sends the part to be prototyped and shows the model version to the customer.

When the prototype has been approved, WMP issues a purchase order for new tooling for its stamping presses, which it maintains in-house once they’re in use.

Most parts are made of hot rolled steel, cold rolled steel or stainless steel. Giant rolls of material are fed into progressive stamping machines to make a part through a series of steps on a strip of material. The company also stamps transfer parts, in which a machine arm transfers a metal disc from one station to the next for another stamping step; and first operation blank parts, in which a part is stamped once and is finished.

Wisconsin Metal Products Co.
1807 DeKoven Ave., Racine
Industry: Metal stamping
Employees: 32

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Molly Dill, former BizTimes Milwaukee managing editor.

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