Innovation is by no means exclusive to startups. Innovative technology can be found in companies large and small, old and new. It can even be found in a 44-year-old maker of industrial ovens.
Wisconsin Oven, located in East Troy, manufactures large ovens that use a patented heating technology that has played a role in creating a wide range of products, from bedsprings to wrinkle-free shirts to cell phones. Founded in 1973, the company spent its early days providing ovens for printing press-users like Fuji, but as the rise of digital technology came along, Wisconsin Oven needed to evolve with the times.
Today the company sells its large industrial ovens—some as big as a football field—to mostly automotive and aerospace companies. In fact, the aerospace industry now makes up about 40 percent of Wisconsin Oven’s business and is growing fast, CEO David Strand said. Aerospace companies use Wisconsin Oven to cure rocket parts in order to meet the demands that are placed on vessels as they enter space. As the next generation of space travel begins, flights will be made possible by rockets that are processed by Wisconsin Oven, Strand said.
“The space travel industry is getting very competitive,” Strand said. “We’re working with some of the largest players in that industry.”
The company has three patents filed related to its aerospace work, and three more in process.
Wisconsin Oven counts Boeing as a client, but Strand declined to name other aerospace customers, citing non-disclosure agreements. On the automotive side, the company’s customers include Ford and General Motors.
Companies use Wisconsin Oven for a wide range of applications including aluminum aging, composite curing, heat treating and powder coating. As both automotive and aerospace companies develop new, lighter-weight materials, Wisconsin Oven is used to cure parts.
Wisconsin Oven was acquired by Thermal Product Solutions (TPS), a larger industrial oven maker, in 2015. TPS does about $100 million in annual revenue, with between $40 million and $45 million coming from Wisconsin Oven, Strand said. Wisconsin Oven has around 165 employees at its East Troy campus.
As the company continues to grow and add more people to its team, it’s launching a new initiative to find and train skilled workers. In June it plans to launch “Wisconsin Oven University,” where the company will pay kids out of school to take a training course, and then hire them if it’s a good fit.
Going forward, Strand expects aerospace to continue to be a major part of the company’s business as companies are ramping up efforts to get people into space.
“Today we find ourselves as the largest manufacturer in this industry, supplying to all the big aerospace companies,” Strand said.