20 years of growth
Advanced Tooling celebrates milestone, looks to future
By Mark Sherry
As an example of the precise work Advanced Tooling, Inc. of Mount Calvary can do, owner Tom Pankratz placed one of his hairs in a tweezers (at right) under a microscope and next to one of the smallest tools ATI makes—but not even the smallest tool. This is a .008-inch diameter tool, and ATI goes down to a .004-inch tool.

The past year has been a busy and successful one for Advanced Tooling, Inc., but the same can be said of the past 20 years for the Mount Calvary-based business.

Owners Tom and Lisa Pankratz are observing the 20th anniversary of the business this year. They are planning an anniversary celebration with details to be announced at a later date.

Asked if he could have envisioned what ATI would become when he started it in May 1996 in a 600 square foot garage, Tom said, “Not even close. I was hoping to have maybe a couple employees and three or four machines.”

Today the company occupies a state-of-the-art, 21,000-square-foot manufacturing facility at 210 Kommers St. They added 9,000 square feet about three years ago and now employ about 35 people.

Quicker response helps

“We’ve grown quite a bit,” Tom added. “I think we’ve gotten a little better with response. That was industry driven. We have the equipment and we have the employees that we can help those kinds of customers.”

For ATI it is all about providing high quality carbide cutting tools to its customers using highly qualified employees and at a competitive price. The company which Tom thought might have three or four machines now has more than 20 CNC grinders.

Tom said their growth has been customer driven. “We’re pretty diversified so I think that helps us,” he added. ATI produces tools primarily for distributors who then sell them to other customers.

Among the tools made by ATI are routers for use on aluminum, wood, and plastic, including large routers used on the production of motor homes by major manufacturers in Indiana. It makes molds for the auto and aerospace industries and does tooling used for making prosthetics and by orthodontists.

Expanding into medical uses

Tom said the company’s tools also have been used a lot more as of late in the medical field, including bone drills, bone reamers, and drills used in the suturing process. Once again, Tom said there is no way he could have imagined 20 years ago that the tools his company would someday produce would be used in such applications.

A big part of the reason why ATI has been able to crack those markets is its ability to manufacture and service cutting tools down to just a few thousandths of an inch in diameter, and its ability to hit the minute specifications demanded by the end customer. “We’re asked to hold a couple thousandths on a lot of tooling,” Tom said, adding that ATI has its own in-house inspection area. Coatings are applied to ATI’s tools where necessary by a New Berlin-based company.

Some of ATI’s tools bear the company’s name, while others do not. Either is fine by the company’s owners, who are justifiably proud that tools made by the relatively small company in little Mount Calvary wind up being used at such companies as Boeing, Goodyear, Caterpillar, John Deere, Mercury Marine, and Kohler, among others. Tom said they also attend a huge machining show each year in Chicago and see their tools being displayed there.

Honored by WMC

The quality of ATI’s operation has not gone unnoticed by Wisconsin industry leaders as the company was nominated for the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Manufacturer of the Year Award in the Small (1-99 employees) Division. Only 17 small companies were nominated for the 2015 award.

ATI was nominated by the Fond du Lac Economic Development Corporation. While they did not win the award— no first-time nominee has—Tom and Lisa said they enjoyed the awards program which included hearing Governor Scott Walker speak.

ATI also won the Entrepreneur of the Year Award last fall from Marian College in Fond du Lac.

Tom and Lisa acknowledged that winning awards is nice, but the real goal is to continue to produce quality products and see where that takes them. “It’s hard to grow at the same pace we have, but we have plans of expanding this year already,” Tom said.

Those plans include the planned acquisition of a small grind shop elsewhere in Wisconsin which would remain where it is but aid ATI’s operations.

Crucial to ATI’s continued growth and success is its work force. Tom said about a third of the company’s employees are from the “Holyland” area. In addition, in the past three years the company has added three tool grinders whom Tom called “very good” and who sought out employment at ATI from its competitors. That speaks well of the work environment ATI has created, both physically and otherwise. The ATI shop is clean, organized, and comfortable, all of which contributes toward an excellent end product.

The Pankratz family continues to plan for the future, and a key part of those plans is son-in-law Greg Schrage. He has been with the company for the past four years. With a background as a certified public accountant, Greg has been very valuable in helping to manage the financial aspects of the rapidly growing business, Tom said.