(Adapted from article in Management Today Magazine) — Back in the days when machines were simple, precision was a luxury. When people relied on a single stone wheel to move things, a few rough edges weren’t a big deal. Today, however, the complexity of the machines we build demands exacting precision and components that are as perfect as possible. The slightest imperfection can create unwanted friction that could create overheating or an imbalance that could literally shake the machine to pieces.
That’s why Allis Roller has remained in business for more than 50 years, according to President and CEO Dave Dull. He says the company has become renowned for its unwavering dedication to precision machining and fabrication for OEMs that need to have complete confidence in their components.
The company was founded in Chicago, but later moved to Milwaukee and currently occupies resides in Franklin, Wis. Allis Roller specializes in contract machining and fabrication for customers including major agricultural OEMs such as CNH and John Deere.
“The majority of what we do is related to rollers, but we also do other types of weldments and machining for a variety of customers,” Dull says. “They’re not all rollers, but they’re usually the more complex fabrications and machined parts.”
Although agriculture remains a significant focus for the company, Dull says Allis Roller is looking to the future and diversifying its offerings. By entering into the printing and oil and gas markets, the company not only will broaden its customer base for the immediate future, but also provide the foundation for sustainable success for its next half-century. Dull says the company’s expertise, skill and ability to work with its customers will make it successful no matter what market it serves.
Dull says the company’s success begins with the reliability of its components, and the company’s experience in rollers demonstrates how seriously it approaches its work.
“Our specialty in rollers is really our niche because when you’re making a product that is turning in a machine and sometimes at high speeds … there has to be very precise machining and balancing,” he says.
Allis Roller works off drawings submitted by customers, so it’s important that the company’s engineers mesh well with the customers to ensure that everything is done to specification and potential problems are ironed out in advance.
“One [key strength] is our ability to work closely with the person in engineering at the OEMs, so that when they start communicating with us and showing us their drawings, we’re very good at communication as far as seeing things on the drawing that we can improve,” Dull says.
“Every time we put something into production, we are thinking about how we are going to improve it down the road,” he adds.
The company’s engineers also are quick to provide customers with a quote based on their designs, something Dull says not every contract machining firm in the industry is capable of.
“It’s amazing how many companies don’t do that very well,” he says.
Two of the biggest trends affecting Allis Roller today are the lack of qualified labor and manufacturers returning to American-made components. Dull says the company has found it difficult to hire skilled workers lately, focusing instead on hiring those with partial experience and training them up.
However, Dull also has taken a long-term approach to the problem by joining the board of directors at Milwaukee Area Technical College. (Read more about how Allis Roller has expanded their involvement with MATC.)
“As a board member, I’m certainly going to be in a position to have more influence to get young people involved,” Dull explains.
“Hiring people as we’re growing 20 percent a year is our major challenge,” Dull continues.
A lot of that growth stems from the fact that many OEMs are returning to U.S.-based suppliers after going offshore for components in the previous decade. Although they went to shops in China and elsewhere for low-cost components, many of them have discovered that the lower quality of those components has cost them much more in the long run. Dull says he’s seen a number of big-name manufacturers return to sourcing their components from U.S.-based shops in the last year or two.
With the company growing 20 percent a year, it won’t be long before Allis Roller needs a new facility, and Dull says that is going to be the company’s primary focus in the near future.
The company already has more than 60,000 square feet of space between its two plants, but by designing a new facility from scratch, Allis Roller can design in the efficiencies it needs to better serve its customers now and in the future. With this new facility, if Allis Roller winds up being twice the size it is now in the next few years, Dull says he wouldn’t be surprised at all.