Business in Focus magazine wrote about Swiss Automation, a leader in precision machining back in August of 2017. Demand has since increased and with it a renewed sense of urgency to train skilled laborers. The internal apprenticeship program is helping in that regard. Diversification is a part of this company’s history and will continue going forward. We spoke with Vice President Vanessa Malo-Kurzinski about this and the new building addition to the Barrington, Illinois facility that will increase efficiencies.
The original Barrington facility was built in 1998. In 2006, Swiss Automation put up an addition which included a second quality control room, an area for more machines, and some additional offices. All of this was orchestrated to increase overall operations.
In 2016, more work was accomplished to accommodate the volume of materials being used. The company has been moving into more medical sector work, so to provide the inventory area for those customers that need specialized materials, more space was needed.
“We have also expanded our secondary operations. We try to make our parts as complete as possible off the machine, however, sometimes it makes sense to send it to a secondary operation,” says Vanessa.
Now, in 2018, Swiss Automation is about to complete an addition to the quality control room built in 2006. “We knew we needed more room for quality control. At first, the two separate areas were efficient because we had dedicated them to two of our top customers. We were doing primarily hydraulics work, but now we are at the point where we just have to make do with what we have,” says Vanessa. This addition will increase capabilities.
The inspection equipment in both rooms can accommodate any part. With the addition, Swiss Automation will be able to consolidate the two rooms under one roof to better train its apprentices and cut down training time. Presently, having the two rooms at opposite ends of the building means that the company requires two people dedicated to training. This spreads the guidance thin.
“Now, we have one dedicated person to go around and help the apprentices with their work. This will streamline communication, our processes, and give us a lot more room, which we are very excited about,” says Vanessa. The addition is now completed, furnished, and operational.
Demand has increased by over twenty percent from last year, and that is attributed in part to the amazing staff that Swiss Automation has. Many employees have been with the company between five and thirty years, and all are invested in the company and its results. Excitement can be felt in the building when there is growth. The company does not shy away from a lot of work and anticipates new additions, new equipment, and new employees joining the fold.
“We also have a fantastic human resources department that works diligently with local organizations from community colleges to temp and full-time staffing agencies. They help us to stay on track and keep us staffed with administrational support, machinists, shipping, and delivery,” says Vanessa.
Growth happens, and Swiss Automation rolls with it. Its people are very adaptable, and there is a culture of jumping in to help and taking over whatever needs to be done. Vanessa expressed that when a janitor, for example, may be sick, others will work to take the trash out.
Growth is imminent, and Swiss Automation has increased its sales force. It has been in business for fifty-three years and still boasts the same ownership. It has maintained a phenomenal reputation in the industry, and as that continues, the future is unlimited.
The formal apprenticeship program is geared towards quality control and machinists. There are, however, informal programs where Swiss Automation promotes from within. Recently, a few machinist apprentices have gone through the maintenance program. They are learning how to fix machines and perform building maintenance and preventative maintenance on these machines.
“We also have some administrative folks moving up in the ranks. A receptionist recently moved up to purchasing, and a customer service representative was elevated to a human resources manager. We’ve had quality control apprentices go into quality control management or other senior positions,” says Vanessa.
Its internal training programs will help to increase numbers within the company, and its culture of education has prepared it for the increased demand. All these promotions in the company occurred on an informal level and do not require an official internal program. These people have been with Swiss Automation for a while and understand the organization and its culture, making for a smooth transition.
There is a new focus on the aerospace, defense, and medical industries, showing the company’s ability to be adaptable in the marketplace when demand shifts. Swiss Automation has been in the hydraulics sector for twenty-five years, but before that, it was involved heavily in electronics and dental instruments.
“While hydraulics still has an increase of demand, there is also demand in the Swiss precision machining field for medical and defense segments. The defense industry has really ramped up,” says Vanessa.
Defense includes anything from gun parts, scopes, and military grade flashlights to fighter jets and other airplanes. “We shift our focus a little and remain strong with hydraulics, which is great for everybody. It makes us better as a company because the medical industry has stricter regulations and demands,” says Vanessa.
The medical industry looks for far more stringent ISO certifications, such as ISO 13485. Swiss Automation is on target to acquire that certification in August of 2018 for the entire operation and not just a single department. The capabilities also apply to other market segments.
Twenty years ago, Swiss Automation only had fifty employees. “Twenty years from now, we will continue growing and have a third location. We have about three hundred employees now, which could jump to about five hundred,” says Vanessa. Obviously, growth will be dependent on the economy and the status of the U.S. in the world at any given time.
Hydraulics work is increasing, and Vanessa attributes this to a post-recession scenario where other hydraulics manufacturers dropped off, and now the economy has picked up.
In addition to its hydraulics, medical, and defense work, Swiss Automation is also involved in the aerospace industry. A lot of this due to an increased demand, based on the company’s reputation, but also attributed to two great salespeople who have done an excellent job getting the name out there and meeting with customers.
“As for competitors, there are a few out there, but nothing that makes us uneasy. We don’t really think about it and just try to focus on ourselves and how we serve our customers. We take feedback seriously, and that has helped us to grow,” says Vanessa.
There are other companies doing research on the competition, what they are doing, and how to get a piece of that action. Swiss Automation has never had to do that in its fifty-three years, and it continues that way.
Twenty years from now, Swiss Automation sees itself continuing to delve into other industries. If the country starts doing more space exploration, there may be a new niche within the company to make components for a satellite or space shuttle. “You just never know, but we have always been very adaptable and able to manufacture what the customers call for as long as it is within our capabilities.”