Sliver of light V: Illinois manufacturer invests in laser cutting technology

At a time when too many U.S. manufacturers are struggling to keep their doors open, one small company in a once-thriving Midwestern manufacturing mecca has opened a new door to more business in 2009.

At a time when too many U.S. manufacturers are struggling to keep their doors open, one small company in a once-thriving Midwestern manufacturing mecca has opened a new door to more business in 2009.

Rockford Toolcraft Inc., a tool and die builder/heavy-gauge stamping operation in Rockford, Illinois, responded to a foundering economy by investing roughly one million dollars in an Amada LC-F1NT series flying optic laser cutting system. A risky move? Far riskier NOT to make this capital purchase and expand the 33-year-old company's capabilities, asserts Vice President Tom Busse.

"This past year was tough, no doubt about it. But our sales were up, we still made a profit," Busse says of the two-plant operation that employs 240 skilled professionals. Purchasing the 6000-watt LC4020 laser has enabled Rockford Toolcraft to enter a whole new arena: the market to cut thicker parts, which the company previously could not produce. The LC4020 can cut steel up to an inch and a quarter thick and has repositioned Rockford Toolcraft as a fabricator that can address all aspects of heavy-gauge fabrication, from long production runs of stamped parts to short runs of laser cut parts.

"The new laser has tripled the amount of thickness we can produce. Since its installation, we've seen more quotes come across the table, and if things start going really well we may need to expand our staff to keep pace," adds Busse.

Speaking of staff, Busse is quick to credit Rockford Toolcraft's success to its skilled employees more so than its continual re-investment in technology and equipment. In 2008, the company was recognized by Daimler Trucks North America (DTNA) as a "Masters of Quality" supplier, the highest recognition that DTNA bestows upon its North American suppliers in appreciation of providing superior quality parts. Only a select few suppliers in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico that provide components for DTNA's Freightliner, Sterling and Western Star truck brands receive this prestigious award—an especially meaningful honor to a company as small as Rockford Toolcraft.

"Our staff is highly skilled and technically oriented, but the fact is we wouldn't be around today if we also hadn't watched our costs so closely," Busse points out. He cites an example of battling for the best price when buying steel and then passing those cost savings along to Rockford Toolcraft's customers.

To learn more about Rockford Toolcraft Inc., call 815-398-5507 or visit www.rockfordtoolcraft.com.

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