Shiny blocks of aluminum and steel are delivered on pallets to the factory floor of Clinkenbeard where the metal is machined into gearboxes and motor housings.
Every facet of the finished product is precise because it has to be. Customers demand precision. And they want the product fast.
It's not easy. A gearbox for a truck engine or a motor housing for a jet airplane may have 500 or more measurable features. There is no room for error. Every measurement must fall within a tight tolerance.
"Our accuracy, our ingenuity — that's really been the history of Clinkenbeard all these years," said Ron "Reg" Gustafson, the Rockford company's vice president of business development. "When the other guys can't machine a part or they can't figure out how to do it, that's when the customer comes to us."
Clinkenbeard's reputation rests on its capability to rapidly manufacture complex metal castings and machined parts. Its products can be found under the hood of a race car, in the guts of a military jet and even on a space rocket.
The company has roughly 30 employees at its plant near Chicago Rockford International Airport. It is owned by Generation Growth Capital, a private equity firm based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Gustafson's father retired from Clinkenbeard in 2012 after serving as the company's president and, later, its senior adviser.
Just a few years ago, the bulk of Clinkenbeard's business was industrial and automotive. Today, aerospace is the name of the game. A pair of five-axis milling machines — computer numerically controlled tools that move and rotate in five distinct ways — allow the company to quickly manufacture parts out of metal by milling away excess material.
Routine investments in computer aided design software and metrology equipment allow Clinkenbeard to create virtual mock-ups that reduce time spent on production and testing. Physical mock-ups of jet engines and aerospace components made from exotic alloys, titanium and other metals are a big part of Clinkenbeard's business, too.
"The future is software," Gustafson said. "The parts we manufacture are very complex and the customer always wants it done faster."