Illinois-based machining manufacturer Swiss Automation has over half a century of experience in precision machining for a variety of industries including medical, defense, aerospace, and more. Feeling drawn to the automation behind cam-operated screw machines, Ken Malo decided to start his own business in 1965 and take on the market in his own way. Then located on Ohio Street in Chicago, the new business began manufacturing cam switches for the 1965 Ford Thunderbird, among other projects, before moving to the Barrington area of Illinois in 1970, where the main office has remained to this day.
The company underwent further expansion between 1998 and 1999 when it established a larger factory off the main Chicago highway, Route 14. Swiss Automation has undergone four expansions in the past five decades, including its 77,000-square-foot main building along with another building in Cary, Illinois established in 2010. The latest upgrade came in 2019, a 20,000-square-foot addition now housing around $13 million in new equipment, and more growth is to come soon.
There are now three hundred employees across the two facilities. Swiss Automation trains employees thoroughly and enables them to progress within the company as far as their ambition takes them. The company is on a constant hiring and training cycle to keep up with the speed of manufacturing and its own upgrades, and it always attracts high-caliber employees with a culture that is encouraging and friendly.
Production Salesperson Karl Mayle observes that the staff members are willing to perform different manufacturing techniques at all points in the customer cycle, and executive leaders are always researching new opportunities in myriad industries to expand manufacturing. Although the company has traditionally been a turning house, adopting high-speed computer numerical control (CNC) machines and mills in recent years has brought in a new customer base.
“Humility and a willingness to expand and support new stuff is key,” Vice President of Operations Marc Moran explains. Swiss Automation looks to one day become a one-stop-shop in its sector of the market. This is bolstered by the fact that the company is known as the training house for these parts in the Chicagoland area due to its relative complexity compared to other businesses and areas within the machining sector. He believes that employees should know how to do everything within the company’s purview.
The ability to attract high-quality workers is a trademark of Swiss Automation’s operations and has allowed it to grow in areas that other companies are unable to, such as offering a workplace with a skilled and diverse workforce comprising women and people of many nationalities in high positions. Being a company that manufactures to a customer’s needs whenever possible, there is always a desire to try different solutions; for example, the company routinely replaces its machines after roughly ten years if processes or products emerge that allow it to operate faster or better. This is relatively early into a lifecycle but by adopting this quick turnaround, it can get more products to its customers and the market overall, a more advantageous situation for everyone.
Employees report high levels of satisfaction with the empowering and close atmosphere, and this contentment translates to a superior product at all stages of the process. Moran says that the goal has always been to treat employees not as a number on a sheet but as part of a tight-knit group of industry experts.
Swiss Automation has experienced continued success and development in the past few years, but an unfortunate wrench was thrown into its processes with the advent of COVID-19 in 2020. Being deemed an essential business in the early days of the pandemic, the company followed all CDC guidelines and did everything possible to keep its workers safe, Moran reports. Mayle adds that no workers were laid off or furloughed.
Despite a spike in cases over holiday 2021 with the Omicron variant, it continues to do all it can to promote safety and employee wellbeing while still delivering the products and customer service its customers have come to expect.
Like many industries currently, manufacturing is seeing a labor shortage, further fueled by the ongoing pandemic, and that is felt here as well. To assist in hiring efforts, the company touts an apprentice program that has been an area of growth even in more difficult times.
It also casts its eye on younger potential team members as it involves itself with both physical and virtual tours of its facilities for high school students, an initiative that Moran refers to as ‘Manufacturing in Your Backyard.’ He finds that it is better to teach from a bottom-up approach, and this has led to both younger employees joining the company, as well as people wanting to break out from their current employment and get a start in manufacturing.
He also is concerned with the current state of inflation in North America and how it will continue to affect the manufacturing sector. “Everything is so expensive that people will stop spending money,” Moran predicts. “Interest rates will raise, as will taxes, and the economy will slow.”
Mayle also adds that there has been a more recent pushback against outsourcing overseas as the cost of this approach in manufacturing has effectively quadrupled, and the prevailing attitude is that it is better to pay extra for products made in the United States. Although inflation may continue to push America toward outsourcing labor to other countries, companies like Swiss Automation have observed a counter push toward reshoring manufacturing—especially in the height of COVID—so as not to worry about potential delays or shutdowns.
For 2022, the company is currently putting up a 28,000-square-foot addition to its Cary facility to fit fifty to sixty more machines and provide more jobs to the area and products to customers. The process is moving ahead at a good clip and a June 2022 opening is expected. Moran also notes the recent donation of Swiss Automation machines to Carey Grove High School and Elgin Community College, the latter to be delivered in February 2022. These charitable actions are done to help young people get into manufacturing and to continue spurring on recruitment within both the marketplace and in the ranks of the business itself.
With these new additions and exercises, Swiss Automation will seek to keep growing and create jobs while taking care of its customers to give the best product with the best technology available. “Customers love our quality, and we want to maintain that and keep building confidence with [them],” Moran says, as the business draws closer to celebrating sixty years as a trusted name in manufacturing.