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Proto-1 Manufacturing
Written by Pauline Müller

Proto-1 Manufacturing is a global leader developing and manufacturing industrial tube and pipe machinery and creating one-of-a-kind engineering solutions, specializing in custom tube end forming solutions. It is based in Winneconne, Wisconsin but has an impressive international following. The company complements its tube forming equipment with top-quality parts and automation controls, staying power, and a fantastic attitude to problem-solving.

“Our work is not done until you succeed,” says Marc Jankowski, Director of Marketing. This is why manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace, agriculture, water, food industries, and even military units, come from across North and South America, Europe, Asia, Saudi Arabia, and even Australia and New Zealand.

You know you are doing something very well when former staff recommend your machines to their new employers. Through word-of-mouth marketing, the company has become famous for its veritable army of respected mechanical and electrical engineers, several of whom solely focus on developing brand new machines, tools, and system improvements.

Proto-1 Manufacturing has always been known as a first-class innovator. In the days when de-burring tubes was done by hand, it came up with a modern and much-improved way of getting the job done. The company created the Roto-D-Bur®, a specialized range of de-burring heads and pins that is still on the market today.

When they started a niche machine shop focusing on automation and tube de-burring equipment in 1997 in the Fox Valley, Wisconsin, founders John and Valerie Schwochert could never have imagined what global success awaited their company. Proto-1 Manufacturing’s popularity has been spurred by its ability to give customers what they needed, even if that meant creating solutions from scratch.

In this industry, staying at the front edge of innovation means staying abreast of technology, something to which Proto-1 Manufacturing is fully committed. The company’s multifunctional, quality-made workhorses are worth every dime. As well as cell automation and robotics, the company also offers machines that deal with ram end forming, rotary end forming, segmented end forming, slotting, notching, and punching. The company also states it has the fastest rotary cut-off machines which are renowned for the clean cutting of titanium and Inconel, a hard, patented superalloy of nickel-chromium favored by the aerospace industry.

Its automated three-axis machines are also popular for several reasons. The typical Proto-1 Manufacturing tube forming machine is reliable and can create between three and five million units annually. As the machines are multifunctional, fabricators also get more done on less floor space. Proto-1 also offers solutions to companies that have smaller quantity projects to meet their customer needs.

These machines are engineered to perform optimally around the clock. They fabricate high production volumes for many years in tough conditions often like super-hot fabrication plants where 100°F is not uncommon. Machine owners also have full-time, direct access to the company’s manufacturing team which offers expert guidance to ensure the best return on their investment. Many Proto-1 clients’ machines are twenty years old and still run smoothly.

The company has mainly used Allen-Bradley automation controls technology in its machines, but with its growing global clientele, Siemens is increasingly becoming popular. Both these brands are known for their trustworthiness and durability, but as Siemens is the European standard, its controls are making the company’s machines more accessible by bringing in a stream of new business from abroad as well as from multinationals that follow protocols set by their European headquarters.

“Being able to adapt to our customers’ needs is a huge asset for us. We look at it as an opportunity to offer more to our existing customers and our new customers,” says Jankowski. To this end, the company ensures that it has the best people to do everything from building custom machines to conforming to client standards.

Its facility covers around 100,000 square feet and is home to its manufacturing plant. Apart from easing communication by having all staff on the site, structuring fabrication in this way also means having control over all tool and machine processes with its on-site, full-service machine shop. Mechanical assembly and electric wiring also happen here. The result is shorter lead times and better accuracy.

Having the odd machine breakdown on another continent is not a problem. The electrical programming department can sign into such units remotely via TeamViewer to establish what the issue is, while mechanical problems are identified using photographs and video. And, on the very rare occasion that neither of these methods solves the issue, people are dispatched to get non-operational machines up and running again. “If we need to send somebody [to repair a machine] we will certainly [do that],” says Jankowski.

With a staff count hovering around eighty, Proto-1 Manufacturing is always geared for action. The company retains its family atmosphere and has matching values. It even has a few of its original engineers who are still a part of the company. The result is a group of people who have the skills and the drive to always do better.

And, once business is back on track post-COVID-19, the company will be hiring more machinists, electrical assemblers to wire machines, and even more engineers. When schools reopen, it will once again take up its mission of introducing itself to a multitude of potential students and candidates in trade programs who might be interested in taking up employment, but, for now, it is comfortably meeting market demands. Clients still benefit from multiple points of contact that ensure assistance whenever needed. “Our machines are built to last. We hear time and time again from customers that we offer the best service out of any of the other companies that they deal with,” adds Jankowski.

The company’s generosity of spirit transcends the boundaries of business. This company prioritizes giving back into its communities and supports a considerable number of charitable causes in the Wisconsin area. Proto-1 signed up as a benefactor of the Children’s Cancer Family Foundation three years ago and awards its Big Heart Award to local children who are making a difference in the community by creating awareness about childhood cancer.

Becoming ISO-9001:2015 certified in 2019 brought about an interesting turn of events at Proto-1 Manufacturing. Apart from wading through the incredible administrative task of qualifying for the certification, it had to standardize its processes across all its divisions. Its president then realized that technology could be the answer to transforming all of the business’s systems. “It’s made things a lot easier. We’re starting to see it in our facility. [Leveraging technology] is making us better as a company,” says Jankowski.

Another big goal is to stop using paper or at least radically reduce its use. The idea is to ensure that every staff member has a computer and that sufficient protocols are in place to support the initiative by the end of 2020. Of course, this is no small undertaking as all paper records must first be uploaded to the company’s server to allow for easy access. The move will help to improve speed and efficiency even further and stimulate a sense of ownership as employees work together to make all processes as sleek as possible.

Moving ahead, Jankowski sees the aerospace and medical industries becoming increasingly better fits for the company’s products. We’ll no doubt read more exciting news on Proto-1 Manufacturing’s great successes across these fields sometime in 2021.



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