When KPS Capital Partners purchased the business in 2012, Waupaca Foundry acquired more than its original name.
Local management was given greater control over the company’s future.
“For the last five years, we were basically a cash cow for ThyssenKrupp. They had no plans to really grow the company,” according to Gary Gigante, president and CEO of Waupaca Foundry.
Gigante said the new owners have put more focus on sustainable growth and new investment in technology at the foundry’s plants.
“The new owners thought highly of the management team,” Gigante said, noting that all the Waupaca managers have remained with the company since its acquisition. “This doesn’t normally happen when a private equity firm takes over a company. We are all happy, and the business is growing”
In 2011, Waupaca voted the foundry as the best place in town to work.
In 2012, members of the Waupaca Area Chamber of Commerce voted Waupaca Foundry the Large Business of the Year.
Gigante said the foundry has seen its sales grow by nearly 15 percent over the past year.
The growth has allowed the foundry to increase the number of its employees by about 200 more people than it employed two years ago.
Currently, the foundry employs a total of 1,626 people at its plants in Waupaca and a total of 3,700 at all its plants.
In addition to the three plants in Waupaca, Waupaca Foundry has plants in Marinette, Wis., Tell City, Ind. and Etowah, Tenn.
Gigante attributed Waupaca Foundry’s recent growth to an improving economy.
The foundry manufactures parts for four primary industries: automotive, commercial trucks, off-highway vehicles for construction and agriculture and industrial motor housings.
“Automotive has had the largest growth, and it has stayed strong,” Gigante said.
He estimated that auto production in North America has grown from under 10 million units to nearly 15 million units over the past two years.
The foundry has also come out of the recession in a stronger position as some competitors closed their plants.
“During the recession, about a million tons came out of capacity. The foundries that are left have more business,” Gigante said. “There is also less pressure from overseas now.”
In China, rising wages have made that nation’s industrial products more expensive in the global market and given Chinese people more buying power, which has led to more Chinese production going toward domestic markets.
“We had a significant amount of business that left the U.S., went to China and is now coming back,” Gigante said.
Established in 1955, Waupaca Foundry is now the largest producer of gray, ductile and compacted graphite iron in the world. The foundry’s plants melt more than 9,500 tons a day.
A key element in the foundry’s long-term success has been its commitment to continuous improvement.
In 1991, Waupaca Foundry introduced Kaizen training, a Japanese concept that brings together teams of five or six employees from different departments, who spend a week working together to solve a specific problem or find new ways to improve production.
Joey Leonard, the vice president of human resources, pointed to the foundry’s long-term commitment to sustainability.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy recognized Waupaca Foundry for its energy efficiency. The foundry reduced its energy intensity by 6.3 percent in 2011, giving it a cumulative improvement of 16.5 percent since 2009.
About 70 percent of the foundry’s byproducts are recycled into local projects, such as road and general construction and agricultural fill.
The foundry has also implemented a closed-loop cooling water system that has reduced water cooling demands by 80 percent.
Daily water usage has been reduced by 225.000 gallons.
“We have a goal to reduce our energy usage by 25 percent over 10 years,” Leonard said. “We’re using the waste-heat off our cupolas to heat our buildings. We use energy-efficient lighting and high-efficiency motors. About 90 percent of our sand and slag in Waupaca is recycled.”
Gigante said, “The idea is to have zero landfill and zero material waste.”
Currently, the foundry is in the early stages of developing a process to recycle some of its sand back into production.
“You have to reinvest back into the company and the community if you want to stay competitive and sustainable,” Gigante said.