A well-educated workforce is bringing manufacturing—and jobs—back to Antigo from China.
Due in part to a renewed commitment to the latest in employee training, Johnson Electric Coil has regained a large transformer contract from one of its key customers and is returning that production to its Antigo plant.
Appleton-based Miller Electric Mfg. Co., which has been doing business with the locally-based company for years, decided late last year to have Johnson Coil once again build the components that it had outsourced to China several years ago.
Miller is the world’s largest manufacturer of arc welding and cutting equipment designed for manufacturing, fabrication, construction, aviation, motorsports, education, agriculture and marine applications. Its trademark tagline, “The Power of Blue” is inspired by the color of its equipment
Johnson Coil President Bill Bockes explained that Miller switched to Chinese-made transformers in 2007, but returned the contract, which he termed as “significant,” here in December after Johnson Coil made a number of significant advancements in its plant and employee training.
“This represents a sizable portion of business and they wanted to bring it back to the United States,” Bockes said.
It’s one of a series of positive signs for the company, which relocated to Antigo from Illinois in the early 1970s. Bockes said that production is up 30 percent and the fiscal year that concluded on Sept. 30 was the most successful in Johnson Coil’s history.
Between 2009 and 2012, Johnson Coil has added 28 jobs and $600,000 in new equipment, It has also made over $200,000 in building improvements.
“We really have transformed physically and culturally,” Bockes said. “It’s all about making continual improvements.”
“In these economic times, we had to change to be more competitive,” Julie Berndt, Johnson Coil’s operation’s manager, added. “It’s a new way of thinking.”
There are many reasons for the resurgence in business at the long-established manufacturer, including its involvement in a series of training programs focused on the latest in lean manufacturing skills.
Last week, Johnson Coil held an appreciation luncheon for the employees who completed two of the most ambitious programs, the SPARK program through Northcentral Technical College and training through the Northwest Wisconsin Manufacturing Outreach Center. Both are federally funded.
“It’s a big commitment for these employees to go back to school,” Berndt said, adding that the presentation acknowledged that work.
SPARK is designed to recruit and retain individuals for manufacturing careers, with advanced opportunities to work on industry-specific skills in welding, machine tool or wood technology.
Johnson Coil employees earned certification in three areas: critical core manufacturing skills, quality manufacturing skills and manufacturing fundamentals. Students learned critical skills as well as specific study in areas such as precision measuring, quality standards, process improvement, lean manufacturing, production design, process planning and even plant layout.
The on-site outreach program focuses on transforming the manufacturing practices in small and medium-sized industries. Its goals are to improves company cultures and employee involvement, reduce lead time, enhance the bottom line and grow the top line.