ITW Heartland division was founded in 1976–what’s the story?
ITW Heartland is a division of Illinois Tool Works, Inc. (ITW), of Glenview, Illinois. ITW was founded in Chicago in 1912 and eventually became involved with manufacturing cutting tools for machining gears. In 1936 ITW saw the need for accurate, reliable equipment for the measurement of gears and developed a full line of gear inspection equipment. The ITW Heartland division located in Alexandria, Minnesota, continues that tradition today, building both manual and high speed functional gear inspection equipment primarily for the automotive industry. In addition, ITW Heartland builds equipment that is used for either the manufacture or application of other ITW products. The Manufactured Products division of ITW Heartland–which is also located in Alexandria–makes all the parts that go into the machine build. For this reason we produce a product that’s truly made in the U.S.A. ITW Heartland currently has 110 employees.
What other equipment does ITW build for the gear industry?
During the 1960s ITW got into gear burnishing equipment. This proved to be a natural fit with the inspection equipment, as a final process in the manufacturing of gears to remove defects and improve the surface finish of gear teeth.
I understand that ITW Heartland has representatives based all around the globe.
That’s correct. We have sales offices in Germany, Korea, and China, and I spend a good deal of time over the course of a year traveling to those locations to meet with our representatives and our customers. I’ve just gotten back from China, in fact, and I’ll be headed to Europe in the next few months.
How long have you been with the company, and what’s your own background?
I’ve been with ITW Heartland for 23 years, and before that I was involved in the aerospace industry as an engineer. I studied mechanical engineering at Southwest Minnesota State University.
What’s new on ITW Heartland’s horizon?
Right now we’re completing the engineering work for a new style of gear burnisher. It’s going to be a very flexible, semiautomatic machine that’s designed to handle a wide variety of gears. It can be changed over very quickly, and it’s intended to appeal to smaller gear shops. Historically, a great deal of our business has involved the automotive industry–very high volume-type operations with inline, automatic cells. And that’s still a large part of our business. But we see a market need out there for some of the smaller gear shops, using the same gear-burnishing technology that’s worked well for our larger customers. But their needs are different. Smaller shops often don’t need an inline, dedicated machine. They need a piece of equipment that’s very flexible and can be changed over quickly, so we’re actually building such a machine, and we’ll be introducing it at the AGMA Gear Expo show in October.
This unit will make a great addition to our existing line of gear burnishers, including our new spiral gash burnishing dies, and also to our gear inspection equipment. In addition to custom-designed turnkey systems, that line is made up of automatic inline models, semiautomatic machines, and in-process inspection equipment. So we’re constantly working to stay at the leading edge, both in terms of technology as well as quality innovation. I’d say that’s the reputation we’ve built over the past 69 years.