When a visitor enters the main press room at Rockford Toolcraft, at 766 Research Parkway, ear protection is mandatory, but it doesn’t detract from the sensation in your body of the company’s 1,000 ton press in action. It vibrates your chest and shakes the floor.
The experience is just part of the job for owner Tom Busse and the 350 people who work for him.
Busse says he practically grew up at Rockford Toolcraft. His dad, Jerry, started the company in 1976 as a tool and die shop. The metal stamping department was formed about 10 years later. “[My dad] got us where we are today,” says Busse.
“Metal stamping can be [used for] anything from the fork and knife you eat dinner with, to the hood of your car, to the side of your refrigerator,” Busse says. “There’s [sic] little stampings in your smartphone, up to giant ones … that are the whole side of a car.”
According to one estimate, there are about 6,000 metal stamped objects in an average American household.
Busse says Rockford Toolcraft has 100 customers in roughly 10 markets: agriculture, heavy trucks, appliances, automotive, and commercial hardware.
Of the 350 employees who work at Rockford Toolcraft, about 300 are support staff for the machines. Busse says, “From the person who orders the material, to the person who unloads the truck, to the person who runs it in the press, to the person who checks it for quality, to the person who packages it for shipping, we have a lot of people involved in the process.”
Busse says the company feels very strongly about training his workers for precision and safety, and calls it his duty as an owner. For decades, Rockford Toolcraft has been putting people, right out of high school, into the toolcraft apprentice program. Busse’s son is currently enrolled.