Waukesha foundry finds new life with Renaissance Manufacturing Group

Made in Milwaukee

Renaissance Manufacturing Group   

1401 Perkins Ave., Waukesha

INDUSTRY: Foundry

EMPLOYEES: 260

ren-mfg.com 


The number of foundries in the U.S. has dropped by more than one-third since 2001, and employment in the metal casting industry has dropped by more than 40 percent.

The foundry now operated by Renaissance Manufacturing Group LLC in Waukesha nearly became part of those statistics in 2015, as Illinois-based Navistar Inc. considered shutting the plant down as part of a cost savings program.

Renaissance Manufacturing Group has invested in the Waukesha foundry since buying it in 2015

Instead, Navistar ultimately sold the facility, which has been in operation for more than 100 years, to Renaissance Manufacturing Group. Today, the plant is turning out parts for markets that include light and heavy duty trucks, construction, agriculture and railroad.

Like many manufacturers, RMG faces the challenges of finding labor in a low unemployment environment. While industry supporters will argue factory jobs are no longer dark, dirty and dangerous, RMG cannot make the same case.

Dealing with metals heated to upwards of 2,800 degrees is inherently dangerous, and the sand used to form molds creates plenty of dust. RMG is trying to do something about the dark part, investing in new LED lighting that is brighter than the yellow tinge of traditional lights.

Phil Knoebel, chief executive officer and co-founder of RMG, said at a recent roundtable that the company does not try to hide from the challenging aspects of the work. Instead, RMG is upfront about the challenges with new hires, places an emphasis on safety and training, and compensates for the hazards in wages.

“We’re not turn and burn equity guys; we’re here for the long run,” Knoebel said. “Our kids work here and it’s something we’re looking at building.”

RMG was formed out of the experience of Knoebel and his brother Paul Knoebel, who had worked as an independent sales representatives for Grede Foundries. When Grede went public in 2015, the company moved on, leaving the Knoebels high and dry. When Navistar approached them about representing the company’s foundries, the Knoebels didn’t want to find themselves in a similar position of building a company up, only to have the company move on.

Purchasing the foundry, however, was a different story and since the deal closed, RMG has moved to invest in the facility. A testing lab that personified dark and dirty was cleaned up. An area that had become the site of what Knoebel described as “maintenance sprawl” was repurposed for machining and warehousing work that Navistar had outsourced.

“We have a good core group of experienced foundry people within the organization. We were blessed to acquire that when we did the acquisition,” said Todd Martin, president of RMG and part of the ownership group. “They know the building, they know the machines, they know the process, so that’s helped us really be able to step in and not miss a beat.”

Randy Nasr, general manager of RMG, said having ownership on-site makes a big difference in operations.

“You need something, it happens right away. It doesn’t need to be delayed for months until you get the approval,” Nasr said. “The people see that and they know that we react fast, so that, I think, gave them a lot more confidence that this is a much better run operation than before.”

RMG has brought machining and grinding work back in to the Waukesha facility, using automation to be competitive while also dealing with talent challenges.

“You’re not going to find many people who want to stand on the grinder all day,” Nasr said.

RMG has also invested in other aspects of the business, purchasing a facility in Alabama to add vertical casting capabilities and recently acquiring Wisconsin Precision Machining Co. in Grafton to add to its staff.

“It really was a human resources acquisition as much as it was equipment,” Knoebel said of the WPM deal.

Adding more capabilities beyond the core foundry casting work is also helping RMG better serve original equipment manufacturers. While some services, like paint or heat treating, would be difficult to bring in-house, Knoebel said customers are looking for more of a partnership.

“In the past if there’s an issue, you might have had the foundry and the machine house pointing fingers at each other,” said Dan Bruins, controller at RMG. “The end customer is just like, ‘I just want this issue resolved.’ Now they can come to us. If there’s a machine issue, foundry issue, you have one contact, one point of reference, so it’s a lot simpler for the customer.” ν

Renaissance Manufacturing Group   

1401 Perkins Ave., Waukesha

INDUSTRY: Foundry

EMPLOYEES: 260

ren-mfg.com 


The number of foundries in the U.S. has dropped by more than one-third since 2001, and employment in the metal casting industry has dropped by more than 40 percent.

The foundry now operated by Renaissance Manufacturing Group LLC in Waukesha nearly became part of those statistics in 2015, as Illinois-based Navistar Inc. considered shutting the plant down as part of a cost savings program.

Renaissance Manufacturing Group has invested in the Waukesha foundry since buying it in 2015

Instead, Navistar ultimately sold the facility, which has been in operation for more than 100 years, to Renaissance Manufacturing Group. Today, the plant is turning out parts for markets that include light and heavy duty trucks, construction, agriculture and railroad.

Like many manufacturers, RMG faces the challenges of finding labor in a low unemployment environment. While industry supporters will argue factory jobs are no longer dark, dirty and dangerous, RMG cannot make the same case.

Dealing with metals heated to upwards of 2,800 degrees is inherently dangerous, and the sand used to form molds creates plenty of dust. RMG is trying to do something about the dark part, investing in new LED lighting that is brighter than the yellow tinge of traditional lights.

Phil Knoebel, chief executive officer and co-founder of RMG, said at a recent roundtable that the company does not try to hide from the challenging aspects of the work. Instead, RMG is upfront about the challenges with new hires, places an emphasis on safety and training, and compensates for the hazards in wages.

“We’re not turn and burn equity guys; we’re here for the long run,” Knoebel said. “Our kids work here and it’s something we’re looking at building.”

RMG was formed out of the experience of Knoebel and his brother Paul Knoebel, who had worked as an independent sales representatives for Grede Foundries. When Grede went public in 2015, the company moved on, leaving the Knoebels high and dry. When Navistar approached them about representing the company’s foundries, the Knoebels didn’t want to find themselves in a similar position of building a company up, only to have the company move on.

Purchasing the foundry, however, was a different story and since the deal closed, RMG has moved to invest in the facility. A testing lab that personified dark and dirty was cleaned up. An area that had become the site of what Knoebel described as “maintenance sprawl” was repurposed for machining and warehousing work that Navistar had outsourced.

“We have a good core group of experienced foundry people within the organization. We were blessed to acquire that when we did the acquisition,” said Todd Martin, president of RMG and part of the ownership group. “They know the building, they know the machines, they know the process, so that’s helped us really be able to step in and not miss a beat.”

Randy Nasr, general manager of RMG, said having ownership on-site makes a big difference in operations.

“You need something, it happens right away. It doesn’t need to be delayed for months until you get the approval,” Nasr said. “The people see that and they know that we react fast, so that, I think, gave them a lot more confidence that this is a much better run operation than before.”

RMG has brought machining and grinding work back in to the Waukesha facility, using automation to be competitive while also dealing with talent challenges.

“You’re not going to find many people who want to stand on the grinder all day,” Nasr said.

RMG has also invested in other aspects of the business, purchasing a facility in Alabama to add vertical casting capabilities and recently acquiring Wisconsin Precision Machining Co. in Grafton to add to its staff.

“It really was a human resources acquisition as much as it was equipment,” Knoebel said of the WPM deal.

Adding more capabilities beyond the core foundry casting work is also helping RMG better serve original equipment manufacturers. While some services, like paint or heat treating, would be difficult to bring in-house, Knoebel said customers are looking for more of a partnership.

“In the past if there’s an issue, you might have had the foundry and the machine house pointing fingers at each other,” said Dan Bruins, controller at RMG. “The end customer is just like, ‘I just want this issue resolved.’ Now they can come to us. If there’s a machine issue, foundry issue, you have one contact, one point of reference, so it’s a lot simpler for the customer.” ν

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