Roscoe, IL’s Custom Gear knows how to adjust to new circumstances. In an industry that never stays the same for long, this has served them well. Mike Rasmann and his partner, Dave Patterson, started Custom Gear in 1994 out of a small, 15000 sq. ft. building right in the middle of Rockford, IL. Patterson recalls some of the growing pains felt in the early years.
“We bought an old, dilapidated building and worked on it for six months before it was ready to use. I probably installed 400 windows.” Patterson laughs, “I got pretty good at it!”
Even if the building wasn’t quite ready, the work was, so they stored work in process outside during the day and inside at night. In the morning, they would move it all outside and start the whole process over again.
“We knew we wanted to specialize in gear grinding and gear cutting, so we guided most of our resources in that direction,” says Rasmann. “By 2011, we had attained $25,000,000 in sales, and we’re getting bigger. We’re doing some expansion right now for inventory management and, as always, looking for new customers. We’ve bought so many pieces of equipment over the past few years that we’re starting to cramp our floor space. All in all, some pretty good growth.”
Today, Custom Gear operates from a 45,000 sq. ft. shop designed to fit the flow of their product, from start to finish. With a new addition planned, the shop is expected to grow to 52,000 sq. ft. Rasmann says the company puts great emphasis on a clean, streamlined operation. “You start at the back of the building, and by the time you get to the front, you’ve got a finished product.”
Custom Gear is constantly trying to improve the work in the shop. Efficiency is paramount, not just in their production systems, but in actually handling the product. Operating through a turnkey shop, the process begins with forgings or bar stock. Custom Gear does about 20% of their turning operation in-house. The rest is outsourced to a vendor down the street. Good news for Roscoe, IL. “We have a big effect on the local economy. We employ 75 people in our company, but there are plenty more in the community who have jobs because of us,” says Rasmann. Patterson goes on to say, “It’s a nice little town. Everyone is helpful. So we try to keep heat treating and everything else local.”
As for Rasmann and Patterson, their working relationship spans nearly 20 years and is still holding strong, which Patterson credits to mutual responsibility. “(Mike) takes care of his stuff, I take care of mine. Some partners have knock-down, drag-out fights, but we get along really well.”
Custom Gear uses 23 different pieces of hobbing equipment, eight shapers, two shavers, and seven gear grinders. They recently purchased a Hofler 800 machine for gear grinding. Dave Patterson, in particular, is excited about it:
“The Hofler 800 has been a great investment,” says Patterson. “Most gear grinders will only grind around a 12-inch face width. We can grind up to a 4-foot face width. It has a large grinding capacity, which is great for us, because 90% of the gears we make are ground. We’ll grind gears after heat treatment to take care of all the distortion.” The machine has the capability to grind an external gear up to 800mm, and an internal gear up to 600mm. With an extended over-arm, Custom Gear can grind shafts up to six feet long.
Times haven’t always been great for Custom Gear. Early on, one of their big customers went bankrupt and they were stuck with an $800,000 debt. It took them five years to recover – they never missed a payment. The company also endured two major floods in 2006 and 2007. Economic changes in 2000, and again in 2009, meant the company had to double their efforts to stay in the game. Even in the last few years, things have changed.
Always optimistic, Custom Gear is doing better than ever these days, according to both partners. They are planning for doubling their business within five years. Right now, without even purchasing more equipment, they have the capacity to attain a 40% growth. Custom Gear’s mechanical growth mirrors its growth as a member of the gear community, blossoming from a two-man operation into a company known for meeting the needs of its customers: Good product, good quality, and fast turn-around.
“We are able to produce spur and helical gears up to 40 inches in diameter, 54 inches long, and up to an AGMA class 15. Our gear grinders can grind straight, crown, or tapered gear leads along with tip and root profile modifications. Our Reishauer and Hofler Gear Grinders are capable of grinding gears 3 to 4 times faster than conventional gear grinders. All gears are inspected on state-of-the-art Klingelnberg gear inspection equipment.”
Whether supplying products to the agricultural, machine tool, printing, construction, oil, mining, food services, or the many other industries they supply, Custom Gear strives to meet the needs of each and every one of their customers, and the result is quality, says Rasmann.
“Superior products are the result of stringent quality control inspections. At Custom Gear we ensure that our products maintain the maximum level of quality for each and every job. Our products are checked and double checked by a system of first piece inspections, in-process inspections, and final inspections. Data is charted and an inspection report accompanies every outgoing job.
“We have achieved Quality Certification from all of our key customers and have obtained ISO-9001:2008 status since 2002. Our combination of skilled quality control personnel and technologically advanced equipment ensures consistent excellence in every Custom Gear job.”
Their focus is simple, according to Rasmann. “We concentrate on making high-class gears.”