Family-run Morton Grove manufacturer finds success in motor parts
Juan Vargas measures for tolerances of a recently punched piece that will be wound with copper wire and used in a motor at Sko-Die Inc. in Morton Grove on Thursday, Jan. 10. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 11:55AM
MORTON GROVE — One of the first things people tend to ask Patrick Steininger is whether his company, Sko-Die Inc., used to be in Skokie.
He patiently explains that the area of Morton Grove where it has been located since it was founded by his grandfather in 1947 used to be generally known as Skokie Valley. But no, it’s never actually been in the Village of Skokie.
Sko-Die, which manufactures parts for motors, brakes and other devices, is what anyone would call a success story.
That’s what Fox Business Network called it recently when the channel recognized Sko-Die with a video, naming it a “Manufacturing Marvel.”
The third-generation family business, at 8050 Austin Ave., specalizes in custom steel laminations, heavy gauge metal stampings, tooling and assemblies.
The firm, Steininger said, started as a small die shop run by his grandfather and two partners. In the mid-70s, the partners sold out and it has been run by the Steininger family ever since.
“I believe that my father started working here when he was 19 years old. He worked until 2002,” Steininger said.
“I’ve been here since 1985. I’ve been president for 10 years.”
Steininger said he initially wasn’t that enthusiastic about following in his father’s footsteps.
“In the beginning, I can’t say I had a strong passion for metalworking,” he said.
But the more time he spent working with his father, the more he got involved.
“It became very natural for me to come to work here,” he said.
Today, as he walks though what has grown into a large plant taking up what had been a half-dozen buildings, he says hello to the company’s 55 employees, explaining the different kinds of work they are performing.
Large, 200-ton punch presses stamp out thin metal sheets that are stacked and welded and eventually become parts for electric motors, running everything from a small Segway to large motors that will power an oil rig.
Sko-Die makes the dies needed to stamp out the parts, does the stamping and welding and uses a computer-operated lathe to create the axel than runs through the center of the motor.
Those parts are then sent to the company that makes the motor to be assembled, Steininger explained.
Similarly, the company makes parts for aircraft brakes for Honeywell, the company that actually assembles the brakes and sells them to aircraft manufacturers.
Since taking over, Steininger said he has put an emphasis on finding new business instead of relying on word of mouth. A company website also has helped, he said.
As a result, sales have grown from about $9 million when his father left to $18 million.
“I try to spend more time with customers,” he said.
Which is not to say there haven’t been some tough years. Steininger said Sko-Die was hit hard after the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center, when air travel declined and so did aircraft manufacturing.
“2005 was a very rough year. But the hardest time was after 9/11 for us,” he said. “The majority of our products went to aerospace. All of our orders dried up for aerospace parts.”
Even today, with the company doing well, Steininger said it’s always hard to decide what kind of technology to invest in. Much of the work done in the plant involves computers such as a robotic welder.
Currently, he’s considering expanding into an adjacent building Sko-Die owns, but leases to another firm.
The decision comes down to either buying the equipment and then finding customers or waiting until he has customers lined up and then buying new equipment.
“It’s a chicken and egg kind of thing,” Steininger said.
Steininger said that for the most part, Sko-Die as avoided competition from or China and other countries that has so hurt some American manufacturers. That’s mainly because his company does smaller jobs for domestic companies, he said.
“We’re not into such high-volume work,” he said. “We definitely have a niche.”