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A Bit of History & the Road Ahead
As the company grew, Howard Renner joined in 1997. Renner had just graduated from Northern Illinois University with a public accounting degree when his uncle reached out to him. “My uncle was Hi-Grade’s original owner. One year after a Christmas family gathering, he said he wanted to talk to me. I was surprised when he asked me to join the company,” Renner said. Renner took his uncle’s offer, and it was a perfect fit for both Renner and Hi-Grade.
At the same time, Hi-Grade took a big step to include offering sheet metal fabrication. The company’s growth demanded more shop floor space as the number of employees grew and investment in technology increased. When Hi-Grade moved to Elk Grove Village in 2000, they invested in their first laser machine, ahead of many of their competitors. “We are always trying to stay at the forefront of new technologies,” VP Frejd said.
Hi-Grade’s continued growth demanded yet another move in 2014, this time to the 76,000 square foot facility they currently occupy in Schaumburg. Most recently, Hi-Grade invested in a six-site automated welding cell. An investment like that may have caused employees concern at other locations, but not at Hi-Grade, Frejd said. While the welding robot successfully sped up production, Hi-Grade’s team has become more crucial than before. They would like to hire six to ten more welders immediately.
“Our guys embraced the welding robot,” Frejd said. “At first they said, ‘There goes my job,’ but now it’s different. Instead of spending so much time welding bigger pieces, our welders put together the parts, tack them and pass them onto the robot welder for the more time demanding jobs. Without that technology, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Automation Requires Skilled Team Members
Hi-Grade is likely to be much more automated as the company expands under new leadership, CEO Hillard said in an interview with TMA News Bulletin. While the number of skilled workers continues to be tight, the future for the next generation in manufacturing is bright, Hillard said. Automation will always need skilled team members that continue to learn and adapt to manufacturing’s technological advances – and necessary to compete globally. “I see significant consolidation for small, independent manufacturers,” he said. “Prognosticators say there will be fewer, but larger companies that have the capital to invest in automation, the management teams to lead, and the quality management systems to meet expectations that are ever-growing.”
Hillard says what the average manufacturer was doing ten years ago versus what customers demand now is dramatically different – and will be increasingly more challenging as technology plays a bigger role in manufacturing. “We’ll see more consolidation among US manufacturers in the years ahead,” Hillard said.
Hi-Grade Welding will continue to find solutions for their customers while constructing crucial components for MRI machines, transit system refrigeration vents and a myriad of other products.
“HL has been in business for nearly 40 years while Hi-Grade is this year celebrating its 50th year. We are both excited and confident these companies joining forces will pave the way for many more successful years ahead,” VP Frejd said.
About Hi-Grade LLC
Hi-Grade LLC is located at 140 E. Commerce Dr. in Schaumburg, IL 60173-5328 and on the web at www.higradeinc.com.
About – TMA: Founded in 1925, the Technology & Manufacturing Association (TMA) represents and supports manufacturers in the Chicago metropolitan area and surrounding counties in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, and southern Wisconsin. TMA has almost 1,000 members and represents over 32,000 employees and nearly 26M square feet of manufacturing in Illinois.