Posted on: 2016-04-04 04:55:49
by Arthur Thomas
April 04, 2016, 1:00 AM
Sometimes a company will change its name to signal a desire to move in a new direction. In the case of MIRO Manufacturing Inc. – formerly MIRO Tool & Mfg. – the goal was to let people know about a shift that had already taken place.
“Although we didn’t turn our back on tooling, we wanted to shed the perception that all we did is build tools,” said Dave Sucharski, MIRO sales manager.
MIRO Manufacturing offers a wide variety of services including welding, tool and die work, metal stamping, laser and water jet cutting.
Waukesha-based MIRO was founded in 1988 by owner and president Jeff Brown. Things went well in the early years and Brown found himself moving from location to location in Waukesha. He eventually decided to buy a 4,000-square-foot facility on Sentry Drive in the early 1990s and more than doubled it with an addition.
Today, the company occupies 50,000 square feet, encompassing three buildings on the site and some rented space nearby. Space is one of MIRO’s biggest challenges, and Brown said another 30,000 square feet would help. The company serves a number of markets, including lawn and garden, safety and electrical, and strives to offer short lead times.
“Most people are expecting very quick deliveries nowadays, far quicker than it was five, 10, 20 years ago,” Sucharski said. “You better have raw materials and you better have parts, and both of those things take up space.”
Eaton’s Cooper Power Systems division has quickly become one of MIRO’s major customers in recent years. Mark Komp, Cooper Power’s global sourcing commodity manager for metals and fabrications, said the company needed someone with press capacity and tonnage, but also a technical understanding of tooling. MIRO met both criteria and Komp said Cooper Power quickly felt comfortable with the company.
“As soon as MIRO started using our dies and making our parts, our quality of the parts improved tremendously,” Komp said, adding MIRO’s proximity and understanding of Cooper Power’s requirements has made it “an extension of our own production departments.”
The journey to get from early tool and die success to contract manufacturer specializing in metal stamping, fabrication and machining wasn’t all smooth sailing. Increased foreign competition, economic uncertainty and changing manufacturing processes have hurt the tool and die industry. The number of tool and die businesses nationally fell 36 percent between 1998 and 2010, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report.
Jeff Brown, MIRO Manufacturing owner and president, with his son Aaron Brown, an employee at the company. The company name comes from the names of Jeff Brown’s two daughters, Miranda and Robin.
“In that period of time, we looked at it and said, ‘We have to do something a little bit different, other than build tools,’” Brown said. “You know we’re tradesmen, we’re craftsmen, but we needed something to keep the lights on.”
The transition didn’t happen all at once. First, Brown purchased a machine for laser cutting, opening up some fabrication opportunities. Then, employees in his die department pushed him toward the purchase of a press. The company later added a water jet to help with building dies and production.
“It’s really the tooling that brought us into the manufacturing,” Brown said.
Despite all the investments moving the company toward production, MIRO was reluctant to declare itself a manufacturer instead of just a tool and die maker. Part of the concern was potential customers on the tool and die side could see the manufacturing production as competition.
“We rode that fence for years,” Sucharski said.
The company decided around 2010 to fully commit to what it had become – –a metalworking contract manufacturer with expertise in tool and die. Making a commitment to production has paid off with the addition of several major accounts and double-digit growth in sales.
Those successes were followed by the name change in late 2015 and a new website to help tell the company’s story.
Brown said that while a shift toward automation has made some things in the industry easier, the workforce behind the machines is critical.
“It’s still about people, it’s still about talent,” he said.
For that reason, he’s made training a priority, maintaining apprenticeship programs even during recessions, when the company’s future was uncertain.
“The question has to be, do you want to invest in the talent?” Brown said. “There are good people who want to learn out there.”
Photos courtesy of Arthur Thomas – BizTimes Milwaukee