Custom Products of Litchfield Incorporated is proudly proclaiming its sixtieth year in business. Located in Litchfield, Minnesota, the family-owned company was originally known as Reinke Sheet Metal and Manufacturing. Arvid Reinke established his company in 1959, primarily to address the needs of the construction industry for customized sheet metal fabrication.
However, all of that changed in 1962 when Arvid was approached by a local farmer, LaVon Grotto, who requested a cab enclosure for his tractor, something still quite rare in farm equipment at the time. The two worked together to create a design for cab enclosures, a vision that quickly led to a product line. “The need was there,” says Arvid’s son, Randy Reinke, company chief executive officer. Arvid was responsible for the manufacturing end of production, and Grotto built the distribution company around the first Cozy Cab product, launched in 1963.
When Grotto resigned from the business, all assets of distribution were acquired by Arvid. “Basically, that’s how the Cozy Cab product line came in house here with Custom Products,” says Randy. Custom Products now manufactures custom cabs for a diverse market engaged in the on- and off-highway equipment industry and supplies cabs and roll bars to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and aftermarket buyers. “We’re a sheet metal manufacturer/fabricator,” adds Randy. “You have to look at us as a manufacturer that’s in partnerships with its customers.”
Today, its Cozy Cab brand makes up a small portion of Custom Products’ sales as an aftermarket product sold through distribution. Custom Products offers, “turnkey project management to the OEM customer,” says Randy, explaining that this benefits OEM clients since they do not need to deal with numerous vendors and suppliers. “We manage that,” he says. And since Custom Products offers an in-house design and engineering team, clients may take advantage of the company’s “expertise that comes from our engineering team.”
Custom Products is constantly monitoring its industry’s standards, such as those proposed by the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), for example. Randy explains that in the 1970s, OHSA was instrumental in developing the rollover standards in the agriculture and construction industry that have now become law. Consequently, such standards address how products are to be designed to protect operators. “That’s really what we’ve honed as a core competency,” says Randy. “To understand the standards and apply them.”
Its ability to understand and apply standards is why OEMs turn to the company. “Standards are industry-specific, and we work with a multitude of industries,” explains Randy. “We couple that with the design and the in-house testing to produce a cab assembly that meets those standards.”
Construction is currently the company’s largest market. Other equally important markets include agriculture, forestry, industrial, lawn and garden, mining, municipal, and power sports and utility. “We track those standards that are imposed upon all of those industries. We’ve become somewhat of a standards expert and understand them – how to design, comply and test to those standards.”
Custom Products is ISO 9001:2015 certified for its design and manufacturing processes. “The quality in manufacturing begins with the first part that we produce,” says Randy, adding that each employee is responsible for, “quality in the beginning. The quality in ISO 9001 really is continuous improvement. So that’s the culture we try to create.”
Its in-house testing facility is ISO 17025:2017 accredited, with rigorous testing conducted for roll-over protective structures (ROPS), falling objects protective structures (FOPS), and operator protection structures (OPS).
“First and foremost, we focus on safety,” explains Randy. He says that industry standards are continually changing and being rewritten and have transitioned into international standards. It is essential to ensure that such standards are synchronized since OEMs are selling products globally.
“These are not usually laws,” he says. “They’re considered more voluntary standards, yet most manufacturers will choose to comply with them. We have that knowledge to help them meet those standards.” For the OEM, the issue “really becomes product liability; so that they’re designing to the latest industry consensus standards,” he notes. “Safety is not optional. Safety needs to be designed in.”
The company is a key player in a niche market with technology, innovation and symmetry between all involved parties viewed as essential. Technology is used in the all-important design phase of each product. “We need to be current with our CAD technology because our customers are,” says Randy. “Basically, that is an interchange of files.”
He explains that the design phase is concurrent design. “As our customer is designing or redesigning a piece of equipment, and when they award us the contract to produce the complimentary cab or roll bar that will go on the machine, we have to be able to exchange files and interpret what each other is doing.”
Within the testing laboratory, the company has customized software for data capture and analytics that examine the forces applied to a structure and, “certify its design and to certify that it’s meeting those safety standards.” State-of-the-art computer numerical control (CNC) machines are used for laser cutting, press brakes, and tube bending. “We’re more on the heavier side of production. We’re accurate to meet the design, but we’re using heavier machines to do that,” says Randy.
“We have complete fabrication, welding and assembly processes in-house,” he says. “Cabs often have hundreds of parts to each design, requiring coordination with many outside component suppliers. That’s one of the things we work out with the customer.” The company asks what level of completeness is desired. Not every product is plug-and-play but, “we have that capability,” adds Randy. “And certainly, in recent years, we’ve seen a lot more of that in our industry.”
Many cab designs are fully trimmed with all electronics, hydraulics, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems installed. The cabs are then shipped and ready to go to the OEM production line. Once there, cabs are, “plugged in, bolted on, and become part of the off-road piece of equipment,” he adds. “They’re bringing cabs in, fully trimmed and fully complete.”
Custom Products views the establishment of long-term relationships with suppliers, dealers, and OEMs as the mainstay of its success. Such relationships are crucial in a niche market since production is not easily moved. “In most cases, our customers have sole-sourced that product from us, so there’s a high degree of requirement to be on time,” explains Randy. A close-knit relationship benefits both parties.
Litchfield, with a population of seven thousand people, has manufacturing as its most dominant industry. The company employs 150 in jobs that range from skilled labor positions to highly technical engineering roles. “We’re pretty proud that we’ve provided stable jobs to our region here in central Minnesota and offering those jobs to workers within our region,” states Randy. “We’re probably in the top five employers. Central Minnesota has a lot of manufacturing jobs, and we’re simply part of that.”
Randy relates that there are approximately twenty to thirty off-highway cab manufacturers nationally. So the competition is not fierce, but it is competitive nonetheless. The company is unique in its own way. “The one thing that’s important is that we’re right-sized.” If volumes are extremely high, Custom Products is not the right supplier. This is also true if volumes are low. “So we carve our niche out of the middle market. And a lot of that has to do with manufacturing capability,” he says. “We tend to stratify in our market where we see the need.”
Custom Products of Litchfield has grown fifty percent over the past two years and 100 percent in the last four. Its customers are, “across the United States and into Canada,” says Randy. His vision for the future is to “be a stable supplier [and have] that long-term relationship with the customer. Our growth is the growth of our customers,” he says, adding that the future of the company lies in fully comprehending and engaging industry standards, “to help our customers in their markets.”