Q&A with Mike McKernin

Sales Manager, Circle Gear & Machine Co., Inc.

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I know that Circle Gear been around for 53 years now, and that you’re located in Cicero, Illinois. Are you still at the original location?

No, Frank Reid purchased the company in 1967. At that time it was a small shop west of downtown Chicago. They ran high-volume production, mostly on fine pitch gears. Then, in 1972, the company moved to a south-side location with a total of 8,000 square feet and merged with a machine shop that Frank also owned. During the late 1980s the focus of the business changed as we sought more select projects such as reverse engineered products and breakdown projects, and in 1993 we heard that one of our vendors, Scot Forge, was selling its facility in Cicero. So we made a site visit and decided to purchase the property, and that’s where we’re still based. Our current location has approximately 45,000 square feet of manufacturing space.

I would imagine that you’ve filled that space over the past 11 years.

Absolutely. We’ve made a number of acquisitions that have really expanded our output as well as our capabilities. We’ve added over 100 machine tools since 1993, and we’ve continuously added equipment as our customer demands have expanded. In 2002 we bought the assets of Lee Tool, which was a gear tooth grinding company, and that added over 40 pieces such as gear tooth grinders and inspection equipment, which complimented our O.D. and I.D. capacities. This past year we purchased the machinery, tooling, and inspection equipment required for producing straight and spiral bevel gears, so we can now cut bevels from _” to 24″ in diameter. In 2003 we also purchased a company called Quality Reducer Service, which had been our customer for over 15 years. They specialized in gearbox rebuilding, so that acquisition allowed us to expand the services we provide to our clients. Integrating our experience with loose gearing with a rebuilding facility has been a phenomenal success. With this additional equipment we’ve become a one-stop shop for almost any type of gear work.

Circle Gear is known for its breakdown repair services. Exactly what does that entail?

One of the things that really sets us apart is our reverse engineering capabilities. A customer will basically come in with a broken part, which means their machine is out of service until they can get a new part made, and that’s where Edward Kaske comes in. Ed has been with the company for over 18 years, and he’s been in this business pretty much all of his life since he started working in the gear industry straight out of high school. So a person can bring in a shaft that’s completely wiped out, for instance, and Ed will know how to calculate the size, tolerance, and dimensions of the part. We also provide expedited service to get that customer back to work in no time. Plus, most of us have an engineering background. Al Knez is the owner and president–he’s the founder’s son-in-law, so it’s still a family owned business–and he can run every machine in the place. And Scott Reid, who is the founder’s grandson, has been involved in production for the past 22 years. So we’ve really got a solid team here, and we can rely on each other to step in and help whenever it’s necessary.

How about you? Do you have an engineering background?

Actually, I do. I’ve been with Circle in a sales capacity for 15 years, but I studied manufacturing engineering in college and worked as an engineer for two other gear shops prior to my current position. This enables me to make a site visit when a customer is having a problem and actually analyze the situation, make recommendations, and offer quotations on site.

Tell me about your customer base. Do you ship nationwide?

While probably 60 percent of our customers are found within 100 miles of Chicago, we also have customers from coast to coast. The great thing about being located where we are is that we’ve got everything we need within just a few miles of our facility–from heat treating to specialized machining, you name it. With the existing manufacturing capacity in Chicago, I believe this is probably the best place in the county to produce gears.

So what are your plans for the coming years?

The idea in business is that you grow or you die, so our eyes are always open. But our main focus right now is to polish, refine, and streamline the processes that are currently in place to make sure that we’re operating as efficiently as possible. We’re also working on ISO certification. Our plan is to have the entire program operating by the spring of 2005. Circle Gear is a gear manufacturing company, so our main focus will always be on gearing. But as changes occur within the gear industry, our goal is to flow with the changes and continue to provide our clients with the best products possible.

MORE INFORMATION  For more information on Circle Gear contact McKernin at (708) 652-1000 or (800) 637-9335. Send e-mail to mckernin@circlegear.com. Visit the company online at www.circlegear.com.