Walkerton Tool & Die began 50 years ago, when Harold Rizek started the business in his mother’s garage, performing second-hand drilling and tapping operations for Caterpillar. Now, his son Scott runs the company, although Harold remains a key part of the daily operation.
"He’s still day-to-day; he’s 76, and still here every day at 7 a.m. doing what he needs to do," Scott says of his father. "Just seeing what he can do at that age is great motivation, even for me. It doesn’t surprise me the company’s been going for 50 years because of the great work ethic he instills – and all the guys do, really."
Caterpillar remains the company’s largest customer — and all of its customers reside in the Midwest. While providing parts to Caterpillar has remained a constant part of the company’s business, Scott explains the industry has changed over the years.
"Back in the 1960’s, tool fixturing and dies were where the money was," he says. " Today, we really don’t do tool and die work or fixtures, it’s mostly short-run to high-production machining. You went from the highly skilled die makers and tool makers (to more tech-based production), but the technology is leaps and bounds ahead."
He adds that the economic decline in recent years caused the company to change how it operated.
"With the downturn, we saw volumes go down," Scott relays. "So we had to get more efficient. We moved machines into cells so one machinist runs two machines… and we invest in new equipment with faster machining times to help productivity. We were coping with lower volumes, but getting more economical to still turn a profit."
In the future, Walkerton Tool & Die will likely further diversify its capabilities to meet customer needs.
"Over the years, my father built the company to where we don’t specialize in one size of part," Scott offers. "We can run little parts off of bar feed lathe and we can go up to seven feet long; we’ve machined some big axels for bulldozers. So we want to keep diversifying our machine capabilities as far as sizes, and that will help us in the long run."
He adds that many patrons who come into the shop are surprised by how much activity goes on in the 17,000 square foot building.
"One thing people always tell me, whether it’s a customer, a salesman, or a new guy coming in, is that our shop isn’t super huge but when you get in here, everything’s organized, it’s a clean shop and it’s a lot of technology," Scott notes. "Everything’s compact in here and it makes us more efficient as far as moving parts from machine to machine. A lot of people say they’ve driven by here for years and can’t believe what it’s like inside."
All told, Scott looks forward to 50 more years of productivity from the Walkerton business, which remains a point of stability in an industry and economic climate that are sometimes precarious.
"In this trade, if you’re in business 50 years, you must be doing something right because it’s tough to stay in business nowadays," he concludes.