Wisconsin Oven hiring, seeking patents as aerospace work heats up
Wisconsin Oven is pursuing new patents for equipment used in the aerospace industry.
Wisconsin Oven Corp. says aerospace now represents about 40% of its business and it has also done well with ovens used in the production of commercial airliners.
The fuselage and body parts of aircraft and rockets are made from advanced materials processed in industrial ovens.
The largest oven the company has built was 300 feet long, 200 feet wide and about 100 feet tall.
“From the outside, it looked like a factory,” said David Strand, president of Wisconsin Oven’s parent company, Thermal Product Solutions.
“Because the size of our equipment is so large, you can imagine putting parts of airplanes and rockets inside an oven,” Strand said.
“These ovens are very long and very tall,” he said.
Wisconsin Oven, founded in 1973, serves a wide range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, energy and composite materials. In 2015, it was acquired by Pennsylvania-based Thermal Product Solutions, which had approximately $100 million in sales this year.
The company is pursuing three new patents for oven technology in the aerospace industry, and it’s developing “intelligent” ovens that can monitor what’s going on with various processes.
Industrial ovens cure composite materials that are very strong but very light in weight. Such materials are used to create a variety of products, from body parts on a sports car to the outer shell of a space rocket.
The giant ovens are built in East Troy. Then, after testing, they’re disassembled and shipped to the customer.
“It’s like a Lego on 42 flatbed trucks. … We bolt the sections back together and turn on the switch,” Strand said.
The company makes industrial ovens that play a role in making things we use every day, such as bedsprings, coffee cups and cellphones.
However, aerospace and automotive are the company’s strongest industries.
“We are in a good place right now,” Strand said.
Wisconsin Oven has about 150 employees and expects to add roughly 80 jobs over the next two years. The company has an urgent need for mechanical and electrical engineers, Strand said, and it’s often looking for help in the skilled trades.
“We have raised our starting wage … but everybody’s competing for the same labor pool,” he said.
The company says it promotes heavily from within.
Strand started 31 years ago as a floor sweeper. He then went to Gateway Technical College for welding classes and worked his way up through various positions, including equipment installer, plant manager and vice president of manufacturing.
He has been chief executive officer of Wisconsin Oven for 11 years and president and CEO of Thermal Product Solutions since 2015.
“They moved me along pretty well as we came up with some good patents,” Strand said.
At one time, he was majority owner of the company, but it has since been sold twice.
“We were then able to put on a massive expansion to allow us to get into some of these larger projects, more custom projects,” Strand said.
Thermal Product Solutions has plants in Pennsylvania, Michigan and California, in addition to Wisconsin.
The company said it chose to expand in East Troy after considering other sites throughout the country.
It’s a good location, Strand said, partly because it’s not a difficult commute from Milwaukee, Madison or even northern Illinois.
Under a contract with Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Wisconsin Oven can earn up to $375,000 over the next three years in job creation tax credits, if the company creates at least 85 jobs.
“The biggest challenge will be continuing to get the right skilled-trades people in and some good engineering talent. That is what we are aggressively going after,” Strand said.
The company also is eligible for up to $125,000 in capital investment tax credits. The actual amount of credits received will be contingent upon the amount of capital expenditures made by the company over the next three years.
Strand said he’s confident about 2018.
“Right now, we have the largest order backlog we’ve ever had,” he said. “We have spent a lot of time setting the groundwork, building our team, and getting the capacity to be ready.”