Mennie Machine Co. Well Prepared for Future With Newest Division

Image courtesy of the News Tribune
Mennie Machine Co. is easily recognized by the style of its’ facility located along Route 71 in Mark. Inspired by ancient Greeks and Romans, it looks very different from the typical manufacturing company. But while the outside celebrates the founder’s love of history, the inside has been taken into the future by his family.

H.J. Mennie, previously a tool and die maker at Westclox in Peru, began his business in his garage in 1970. According to his son, David Mennie, vice president of sales and marketing, one of his first and largest accounts was with Mid-American Growers, now Color Point, in Granville. H.J. helped the founder with machining the pieces of the highly automated and revolutionary greenhouse systems.

“He did not like to knock on doors; he believed if you had a good rapport with customers and they appreciated the work you did, the business can go forward that way,” David said of his father.

By the early 1970s, Mennie Machine Co. began to get government contracts.

“He was making track adjusters for tanks, steering arms for airplanes, postal contracts, all kinds of small stuff. We started going to large manufacturers but couldn’t get into the big names because we were still small, so we began to help companies with smaller fabrication demands which included making hydraulic pieces for agricultural and heavy equipment.” David said.

In the late 1970s, Mennie Machine employed about 30-35 people. Today they employ roughly 235 in their 250,000-square-foot, highly-automated facility.

H.J.’s sons joined the family business in the early ‘80s when, according to David, there were approximately $3 million in sales a year.

“By the early to mid-’90s, we were going to the companies that made raw castings for big companies like Ford and GM. They were simple parts but high volume. My brothers and I kept growing the business that way, and by 2004, we were at about $30 million in sales a year.”

He described how the company has adapted over the years, saying, “We changed our portfolio about 12 years ago. Companies are looking all over the world and moving anywhere. The market is totally different now; simple components don’t stay in the states. So we’ve had to move into more complex components that have a high tolerance and a high quality. Otherwise, the work isn’t here. The tariffs on imports, if any, are so small you can’t be competitive. All of our business is in critical components. There are no simple components left; they’re all done overseas where labor is cheap.”

He credited the success of the transition to the dedication of their employees and said that success t was because of their attention to detail, ability to change, and their willingness to learn how to work with computerized equipment, robotics and the complexity of the machine components.

“They’ve done an excellent job keeping up with training in operating the equipment as well as learning the critical characteristics our customers demand. A lot of companies just want a button pusher, and we’ve never been structured that way,” he said.

Mennie Machine Co. now makes critical parts for Ford, GM, Nissan, Cummins, Allison, Caterpillar, Polaris, Kawasaki and more. They’ve also launched a successful new division, MMC Armory, which makes a line of semi-automatic rifles.

The latest division which will soon be launched is ProHold. The ProHold division will design and build a range of work-holding fixtures for use on machine tools, as well as hydraulic power supplies and any necessary auxiliary equipment needed to integrate them into complete systems.

“These are products we’ll be building for the manufacturing industry,” David said. “It gives us a product line to offer the industry, a standard product that’s a catalog item. We’ll be launching through distributors in North America in the first quarter of 2017. It’s a product line the company has always wanted to go into.”

He also described how the Illinois Valley has changed. He said the area has grown a lot with both existing manufacturers and new ones, which is good for the area, but that growth has made it more difficult to find good employees with a background in manufacturing.

Mennie also commented on what he thinks the state of Illinois could do to help the business environment.

“We need the state to be a better work-friendly state. The enterprise zone was a huge advantage for tax breaks and sales tax savings when building or expanding your plant, but what the state does not offer is tax breaks when we put in a manufacturing line, as we’ve done in the past two years at a cost of more than $3,000,000. They need to give companies a tax break for capitalizing and adding jobs. You may not be expanding square footage of a plant, but there are always equipment expenses for product lines,” David said.

Along with the MMC Armory and ProHold, Mennie Machine would like to begin expanding their manufacturing capabilities to move from single components into full assemblies.

“Rather than just making components, I want to start building complete modules for our customers, a complete assembly,” David said. “You can’t just be a job shop punching holes anymore.”

Source: Putnam County Record