PROCESS INNOVATION DRIVES MANUFACTURING SOLUTIONS
At 95 years in business, Oak Creek’s Superior Die Set Corporation prides itself as being among the oldest family-owned and -run companies in America. Founded in Milwaukee in 1923 by Polish immigrant, Kasimir Janiszewski, Superior Die Set moved its operations to Oak Creek’s Northbranch Business Park in 1965. Situated at 900 W. Drexel Ave., its manufacturing facility is recognizable to most passersby thanks to the trademark fountain in front of the building.
“We’re the ‘elder statesman’ of the business park,” notes Frank Janiszewski, the founder’s grandson and company’s current president and CEO. This is certainly true; Oak Creek was a young city – only 10 years incorporated – when Superior Die Set established roots in our community. Few other companies can boast that longevity in Oak Creek. But it’s just one of many reasons Superior has a reason to be proud.
When Kasimir immigrated to the United States in 1910, he was a blacksmith by trade. Motivated to help his family back in Poland, he became a tool and die maker in New York, and the rest, they say, is history. To this day, Superior Die Set relies on the same basic principles of metal working that it did nearly 100 years ago. They still cut, grind and machine steel like they’ve always done. But the company has evolved over time, introducing the newest technologies and innovations to their manufacturing process, allowing their speed and productivity to increase, and their business to grow and flourish.
The products made in Superior’s 120,000-sq.-ft. factory serve the needs of its nearly 2,000 customers across just about every industry, including automotive, medical and aerospace. Surprisingly, they rarely see the finished product; the work they do is at the very beginning of the production chain. In essence, they make the tools used to manufacture products across a vast range of industries, and almost everything is custom.
“We don’t make bottle caps . . . we make snowflakes,” Frank quips. However, his analogy is a good one. Every one of their products is made-to-order, and often one-of-a-kind, from the 4 million pounds of raw steel and aluminum alloy in their inventory. Even more impressive is the fact that they can do everything from quoting to engineering to manufacturing under one roof in Oak Creek.
Janiszewski admits that speed is the name of the game, and they measure their success on a rapid turnaround. With 200 employees on three shifts, most of their made-from-scratch products are completed in 3 to 5 workdays. With more than 1,500 work orders in the system at any given time, that is no small feat. Superior Die Set utilizes an innovative paperless system configured to make their operation both efficient and flexible. The system houses the specifications for each job, as well as keeps a real-time inventory, and allows them to schedule jobs in real time for maximum efficiency. In fact, they reschedule the shop three times each day, shuffling the work orders using the built-in logic of their system. Every workstation on the production floor has a computer screen, so the workers know exactly what they’re working on at all times.
To an untrained observer, the action on the plant floor could be described as orchestrated chaos. It is loud, with the clanking of metal and the sounds of machinery competing with music playing in most areas. Brightly colored pieces of equipment stand in contrast to dark sheets of steel and metal ground to an almost mirror-like finish. Some machines look antique, while others appear modern.
Janiszewski notes that some of the equipment in use has outlived the companies that originally manufactured them. Superior has resorted to making their own parts, in some instances, to keep the machines running. But other equipment, like the facility’s new water jet machine, have been added recently to increase the range of services they can provide to their customers. The water jet machine is an extraordinary thing to watch; high-pressure water and an abrasive agent, in this case, granulized garnet, are capable of making extremely intricate cuts, even in a 3-inch thick piece of steel.
There’s a quote that is foundational to Superior Die Set’s business philosophy: “Time without change produces only age.” From the company’s beginning in 1923 until now, they have proven that change combined with innovation and hard work is the formula for success. The company’s growth is undeniable. Over the years, as they have added services, the footprint of their Oak Creek manufacturing facility has expanded as well. The also acquired a small local company, Greendale Precision Services, a manufacturer of precision punches for the metal stamping industry. But perhaps one of the most poetic chapters of Superior’s story was the purchase of FCPK Bytów, a company in Poland in 1993, bringing company founder Kasimir’s dream full circle. Now with nearly 300 employees in two locations, this subsidiary gives Superior Die Set a global reach.
If you were to sum up the success of Superior Die Set Corporation in one word, it would be family. Frank and his brother are the third generation to own the company. Their children, the fourth generation of Janiszewskis, currently have roles in the company, and will surely carry on their great-grandfather’s legacy. However, the word family extends beyond the company’s ownership and management.
“Our employees are family,” notes Frank, “My brother and I have been running this company for many years, just like my father before, and grandfather before him. We have all passionately connected with our workforce.” This connection, he explains, is critical when the pace of the business is so quick.
Building a relationship also ensures their employees thrive and see a path to both personal and company success. Superior’s low turnover rates are a testament to the success of these relationships; job openings in the company often come from the retirement of long-time employees.
Frank’s father Casimir H., known as Casey, was born in September 1923, the same year the company was founded. He was active in the operation of the company for more than 50 years, until his retirement in 1990 when his sons Casimir J. (also nicknamed Casey) and Frank took the helm.
Although retired, the elder Casey remained actively involved in the company, continuing his role as chairman. For as long as Superior Die Set has existed, milestone company celebrations – notably large open houses and employee family gatherings – always took place in September, and served as a birthday party for Casey as well. When Superior Die Set celebrated its 95th year in business this past September, the most notable guest was missing; the elder Casey passed away in May 2017 at age 93.
“My father was larger-than-life . . . and it felt very different not having him there this year,” reflects Frank. There is no doubt, however, that his leadership and belief in the power of family will sustain Superior Die Set far into the future. We are proud of the lasting impact they have made on the Oak Creek community and beyond.
To learn more about Superior Die Set, or to apply for open positions in the company, please visit supdie.com.
Superior Die Set Corporation
900 W. Drexel Ave. • (800) 558-6040 • supdie.com