FRANKLIN PARK, IL - Next time you run to the mall to pick up a new shirt or a birthday toy for the kids, take a quick glance at the shelving and displays that attract you as a shopper. Those shelves, that display, that unique presentation may be courtesy of Sureway Tool in Franklin Park, Illinois.
From metal pressing to assembly, Sureway Tool does work for "point of purchase" retail display companies.
"We're a custom metal fabricator for the display industry, but we're continuing to pursue manufacturing to draw in other clients for more steady work," Berger said.
Sureway just bought a new 64,000 foot display and assembly fulfillment center in nearby Melrose Park.
When Berger started with Sureway three years ago, the company was at $12 million annually. Last year, they reached $24 million and their goal for 2015 is $30 million.
Berger says there's a boom in manufacturing in the Chicago area.
"I hope other companies are telling you the same thing, but we're seeing a revivalism here in manufacturing," Berger said.
While there was a time when most of the metal-working was sent overseas, some of it is returning to America. Clients tell Berger that Chinese manufacturing isn't as cheap as it once was as their labor costs have gone up and costs for transporting have soared. That's in addition to the amount of lead-time demanded for overseas work.
"Automation here has cut costs of our work. And we can provide the speed they need to get their products," Berger said. "Speed, quality and overall cost have brought the work back home for us."
Berger, 44, has been in the display industry for 17 years, and has been Sureway's Director of Operations for three years. He went into the industry after obtaining his mechanical engineering degree form the University of Wisconsin in Madison. He's married with three children, the oldest in college.
Sureway Tool began as a tool and die shop in 1962. The current owner, M. Richard Tetrault bought the company in 1996. He focused the company on custom metal products and production of hard-tooled parts. That led to specializing in retail display manufacturing.
There are two challenges that Berger deals with in his job at Sureway Tool: space and personnel shortages. Their new building in Melrose Park has helped provide room needed for projects the company takes on.
"Space is an issue. We can help by adding a third shift, running six days a week," Berger said. "We've had a second shift for 10 years, including Saturday."
But the new facility will help when big projects come that have short deadlines, Berger said. The company has space now to bring in 100 to 150 temporaries, if needed, for hot jobs.
The second challenge is one many other manufacturers in the Chicago area share: finding workers.
Berger said, "We pay a decent salary, we pride ourselves on that. It's a clean place. We invest in technology and safety. But it's still a challenge to get good people."
Sureway has a staff of five engineers, a programmer, project manager and coordinators and one estimator, besides their eight quality department members and two permanently staffed toolmakers.
However, much of the work at Sureway is not skilled and they're willing to train, Berger said. The company is searching for applicants with at least a high school education, the ability to measure and read some blueprints, as well as read and speak English.
In his job overseeing Sureway Tool's operations, Berger pointed out new technological advances the company has added.
Among their laser cutting machines, Sureway's new Trumpf TruLaser 5030 Fiber with BrightLine Fiber can cut up to 1.25 inch steel, up to .75 inch aluminum or .375 inch brass and copper sheeting. The machine was recently featured in the Metal Forming Magazine.
Sureway has nine punch presses and coil lines with progressive dies to help eliminate costs of secondary forming operations. They house 17 press brakes, 3 electric press brakes and a fastener insertion system. They also have two Pullmax turrets that can exact metal sheets up to 60"x 120". Their largest Pullmax turret was featured in The Fabricator magazine.
"We making monster snow plows for municipalities, including some used in Alaska," Berger said. "We're getting more into the OEM products. Our president acquired a snow plow company a year and a half ago, and we're being told this business could double over the next few years."
And as the company acquires the machinery, they provide training for employees to run the machines, upgrading their skills and certifications.
"The fun part is that I didn't know much about metal work at my previous job although I did operations," Berger said. "I enjoy working here and hope to be around for while.
Sureway Tool is located at 2959 Hart Drive in Franklin Park. Their new fulfillment facility is at 1950 N. Mannheim Road in Melrose Park.