Manufacturing Success Spotlight

SK Hand Tools
(40 employees)

Sycamore, Illinois
 – manufacturer of high quality hand tools for the automotive maintenance and industrial sectors.


Seeking diversification opportunities, Ideal Industries of DeKalb County sought to acquire a company in a complementary industry. Ideal leaders learned that Chicago-based SK Hand Tools was filing for bankruptcy, and Ideal became the only United States company to make a bid for SK’s assets. The four other bidders, located in Asia, wanted to acquire the SK brand name and customer list and move the work offshore.

IMEC Solution

Ideal was ultimately awarded the bid and engaged IMEC to help initiate a start-up operation to build hand tools for the automotive maintenance and industrial sectors. Company leaders drew on IMEC’s strategic advisement to aid in the selection of a location, decision on adaptation of an existing facility vs. a greenfield site, and all aspects of the design, layout and optimization of a newly re-constituted SK Tools operation.

Here’s the catch: The entire process, from construction of the 130,000 square-foot facility to the acquisition of technology and the placement of equipment and set up of production cells, needed to be completed in 8 months in order for the company to win back work from existing SK customers.

IMEC’s innovative project team worked with SK Engineers and team members borrowed from Ideal Industries to develop the individual processes, work flows, cells, personnel requirements, square-footage calculations, kanbans, pull systems and, eventually, a full facility build-out and internal operational layout. The company manufactured and shipped its first product within the 8 month window.

As a result, a venerable U.S. brand is back in circulation, providing auto mechanics with the tools they need to maintain American autos, and the Industrial community with the tools they need to keep American factories humming.


  • New, 130,000 square foot manufacturing facility
  • 40 new jobs
  • $16 million capital investment
  • Met on-time ship deadline customer orders



Rockford Ball ScrewRockford Ball Screw
(47 employees)

Rockford, Illinois – manufacturer of linear motion devices, rolled thread ball and acme screw systems that help things move, from hospital beds, to RVs.


It’s no secret that the truly successful companies know how to focus. They concentrate on their core strengths or products, the things they do really well. Rockford Ball Screw (RBS) certainly subscribes to this philosophy. Even though the company’s products are complex, demanding tight tolerances and precise engineering, RBS leaders were wary of becoming commoditized and vulnerable to low-cost foreign competitors. The economic downturn was a wake-up call that perhaps the family-owned company needed to re-focus, not just its products services, but in the way it managed the business.

“We were successful, but may have become a little complacent,” said Linda McGary, President of RBS. “There were opportunities to grow and take the company to another level, but our culture needed to be confronted and we had to work together to affect a change.”

IMEC Solution

IMEC business growth specialists Mary Hallock and Steve Barnhart led the RBS management team through a strategic planning process to pinpoint their strategic priorities and develop the action steps to execute and re-focus on the things they do well. In one example of an outcome from the planning work with IMEC, the RBS team realized it had a differentiating asset it could exploit to win more market share and compete for new business. Already technologically advanced and aggressive in driving efficiency and quality, RBS’ small product portfolio enables the company to be innovative, partnering with customers to develop alternative design solutions that can save its customers time and money.

“We realize it’s not about just quoting on a blueprint or a spec, but selling a complete service,” said Rick Sonneson, Senior Vice President. “Collaboration increases our value to the customer and reduces the risk that we will lose their business.”


  • Obtained contract with large mfr of photo voltaic cells for solar market
  • Engange in R&D on new products for oil exploration
  • Launched internal and external branding campaign
  • Swift sales growth anticipate into the future.

Rockford Ball Screw Vision


alpha star success spotlight

Alpha Star Tool and Mold, Inc. (17 employees)

Crystal Lake, Illinois – manufacturer of high-end precision tooling and molds


Like other small manufacturers fighting to adapt to the economic downturn, Alpha Star knew diversifying its customer base was key to survival, but quickly learned getting in the door with large companies required the credibility only ISO 9001:2008 registration could bring. The company approached IMEC for help following recommendations from U.S. Representative Don Manzullo and McHenry County Economic Development Council President Pam Cumpata. The project had to be completed in just five months to take advantage of available grant money.

IMEC Solution

IMEC conducted a pre-investigation audit to determine Alpha Star’s ISO-readiness. Confident the company had the right processes and procedures in place, the two organizations worked together to fast-track the registration process, with a focus on updating Alpha Star’s paperwork to conform with ISO 9001:2008 procedures and mandates and teaching company leaders how to conduct internal auditing effectively. IMEC also conducted an all-employee meeting to walk the Alpha Star team through the process and answer questions, a key step in gaining buy-in. Alpha Star received its ISO 9001:2008 certification in July.


  • Successful registration to ISO 9001:2008 standards in just five months
  • Anticipated new business opportunities in next 18 months
  • Plans in place to pursue ISO aerospace registration
  • New relationships with local EDC and U.S. congressional representative

“We appreciated that IMEC didn’t come in and throw out what we’d been doing successfully for 20 years. Some consultants want to change who you are. IMEC took the time to understand our business and adapt their processes to us. They helped us do what we’re already doing even better.” – Matt Thurow, Vice President

Alpha Star Tool and Mold Success



Roesch Inc.

Belleville and Evansville, Illinois


Manufacturer of component parts for leading OEMs in HVAC, white goods, fireplace and barbeque markets and full-service supplier of Ice Maid® equipment and supplies to the packaged ice industry.


After losing two of its largest customers to off-shoring in 2004, times only got tougher for Roesch. Continued downward pressure on sales, increased material costs and reduced shop-floor productivity had the 95-year-old company struggling to define its identity and its future.

IMEC Solution

To create a prioritized strategy for growth, IMEC conducted a detailed assessment that included interviews with Roesch’s key customers, suppliers and employees, then put together a comprehensive plan to help the company execute improvements in everything from raw material ordering, equipment set-up and tooling to competitive messaging, sales planning and workforce training. These changes are helping Roesch eliminate unnecessary operating steps, take costs out of its processes, reach more prospects and offer customers more competitive pricing. For the Ice Maid business line, IMEC helped Roesch develop and implement a comprehensive marketing strategy that included a professional catalog, interactive website with 24/7 online ordering, targeted print and electronic mailings, and market segmentation plans.


1. Booked orders up 15% in first 5 months of 2011
2. Overall sales increase of 50% anticipated over two years
3. Inventory cost reductions of $1 million expected
4. Significant reductions in capital spending anticipated
5. Shop-floor productivity, efficiency and capacity improved

“I used to view IMEC as a technical resource. But after working together on this latest effort, I realize they are a true business growth and development resource as well.” – Debbie Voges-Schneider, Executive Vice President













Corrugated Metals Inc. (27 employees)

Belvidere , Illinois

Provides roll-forming and metal-corrugating products and services for the construction industry, OEM’s and the U.S. Military.


With a significant portion of its business coming from government contracts — particularly after the economic downturn slowed work in the building construction industry — Corrugated Metals decided to pursue quality, efficiency and safety improvements to make its products and services more attractive to potential customers.


IMEC Solution

IMEC spent two years delving into Corrugated Metals’ operations and training employees to convert the knowledge in their heads into documented processes and protocols. With a comprehensive, custom Quality Management System in place, IMEC encouraged the company to pursue ISO certification. Following successful ISO registration, IMEC helped Corrugated Metals achieve certification to the U.S. military’s Qualified Suppliers List of Distributors (QSLD) in record time, completing the typical 18-month process in just 60 days. IMEC also helped the company develop a best practices safety plan that authorizes any employee to stop any action in the plant at any time for safety reasons.Situation With a significant portion of its business coming from government contracts—particularly after the economic downturn slowed work in the building construction industry—Corrugated Metals decided to pursue quality, efficiency and safety improvements to make its products and services more attractive to potential customers.


1. Received a $30 million Department of Defense contract
2. Achieved certification to ISO 9001:2000
3. Named to the U.S. military’s Qualified Suppliers List of Distributors (QSLD)
4. mproved safety levels significatly

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