Back in 1979 gas was 88 cents a gallon, a newspaper would set you back two dimes, and you could buy a 1971 used Ford Pinto for $750.
Also in 1979, Swiss Precision Machining, LLC was founded by Mike Haupers with two machines and two employees. Mike had grown up in the business. His father was a dental instrument maker who had “magic hands” and ran a machine shop out of their basement. When Mike started SPM, he had been machining dental tools since he was in the seventh grade. He says, “SPM began in the basement of a house on Sayre Ave. in Chicago, IL. That’s where my love for machining started.” Today, the company has grown into a 2nd-generation, industry-leading manufacturer serving clients worldwide.
Like so much of 21st century technology, precision machining was birthed during the mid-20th century as the needs of World War II gave way to the wants of the post-war generation. The acumen that produced submarines, military aircraft, and rockets also gave us state-of-the-art automobiles, affordable air travel, and modern medicine.
Today’s medical and transportation advances, such as surgical robots and autonomous vehicles, require component parts where precision is measured in ten-thousandths of an inch. The precision machining industry grew due to the extreme competence needed to produce these parts. SPM has stayed at the forefront of the industry as it has grown.
The Early Years
In the 1980s, “very few shops had computers or software designed for CNC programming…so once the manual program was calculated and written, the programmer had to type it into the CNC one character at a time.” CNC Swiss screw and CNC vertical machines have been in a state of continuous improvement since, mirroring SPM’s own growth as a company.
The growth began quickly and has not let up through the years. In 1981, after only two years in business, five members of the Haupers family joined forces at SPM. In 1984, the business grew into a second building, with 25 employees and 22 Cam actuated screw machines. A decade later in 1994, it moved into a 29,000 sq. ft. facility in Niles to make room for 50 employees and over 40 machines. The Niles move marked a turning point for SPM. They expanded beyond the dental market to aerospace, automotive, sports, music, and technology machining.
In 1996, the company acquired its first CNC Swiss machine and CNC vertical machine center and began making its mark on the machining industry. By 2001, SPM had grown its team to 98 employees. In that same year, they achieved ISO 9001 certification. ISO 9001 defines the criteria for a quality management system that allows a company to consistently provide products that meet specific quality standards.
Most recently, SPM made another leap into a larger 82,000 sq. ft. facility — bringing on even more machining staff, technology, and equipment — and achieving ISO 13485 Certification. SPM maintains a stringent audit and inspection process which meets or exceeds all ISO 13485 requirements.
The Haupers are often asked how they have been successful in a competitive industry with such a high capitalization cost. They credit their focus on manufacturing the highest quality products, on their customers, and on their employees.
Focus on Quality
One of the things that set SPM apart is that they aren’t afraid to invest in anything that will help them improve the quality of their products.
Quality Control Manager Jennifer Haupers explains, “Quality control is a way of life. We want to ensure that what we’re sending to our customers is exactly what they want. That it’s precise. That it’s at the standard that they are looking for. It’s something we’re very passionate about. We’re proud to put our products in front of people and say, ‘This is what we make.’”
Another thing that differentiates SPM is its focus on aesthetics. Even when aesthetics aren’t on the blueprint, they know the instruments need to be beautiful because doctors and dentists want something that looks nice. In this way, they produce parts and instruments their customers can’t get anywhere else.
This attitude has always been woven deep into the fabric of the company culture. Founder Mike Haupers says, “We were never afraid to take on a challenge. Any company that goes stagnant dies. Period. You gotta keep going. Our customers trust us, and they keep coming back. My best salesperson is word of mouth. It always has been.”
Focus on Customers
Joe Haupers, brother of Mike, has been with the company for 36 years and has been the Head of Sales for much of that time. He deeply understands the customer and can describe many instances where SPM went above and beyond to ensure their success.
“Through the years I have unloaded steel bars from trucks, operated the machines, scheduled the plant, purchased items for jobs, put together quotes for machining work, made deliveries, and cleaned the machined parts. I’m glad I evolved in the business this way because it has helped me to be more effective in sales given my understanding of the precision machining business.”
SPM sets its customers up for success by working with them during the design phase to ensure that their parts are cost-effective for them and for the company. Design for manufacturing (DFM) practices allow SPM to collaborate with customers during the early stages of product development when it’s easy to make changes for ease of manufacturing.
Joe says, “We truly aim to make every relationship with our machined parts customers a genuine partnership. If they succeed, we succeed. To be truly successful, we believe you have to listen to your customer, understand their needs, and understand their product. Every employee at SPM understands what they’re making and the importance of it.”
Focus on Employees
Cultivating and fostering relationships has also played a big part in the company’s success, but it’s not only the relationships with their customers, the relationships SPM has built with their employees are equally important.
Mike explains, “We were able to surround ourselves with good people from the get-go. Some have been with the company for 30 to 40 years. We don’t have a lot of turnover at SPM Swiss, and it’s because we care. I think the most important thing is who you surround yourself with and who you trust. You have to let your people do their job.”
SPM employees are smart, ambitious, and experienced engineers and machinists who have worked over the years to make the manufacturer a trusted supplier of the highest quality precision components. Veteran employees guide and mentor newer team members so they can be masters of their trade. SPM is what it is because of the employees who work there.
About two-thirds of the work is for the medical and surgical industries. “By 2025 the global medical device manufacturing market is expected to exceed $600 billion, driven by the aging population, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, technological advancements, and other factors.”
They know they are ready for it. Their 82,000 sq. ft. facility is home to 90 of the latest CNC machines which are kept running six days a week on two shifts. The CNC machine shop includes 11-axis CNC Swiss turning centers that can machine multiple features simultaneously and drop most parts complete, sometimes needing only minor deburring. The Willemin precision machining center efficiently produces extremely complex parts such as the surgical grippers used in robotic surgical systems for minimally invasive surgery. It holds 48 tools and has a maximum spindle speed of 42,000 RPM which allows it to manufacture complex parts with perfect surface finish and the 3-dimensional accuracy that is required by the medical industry.
Looking to the Future
SPM’s focus on quality, customers, and employees has built a strong foundation for success as the company moves into the middle of the 21st century.
They are known for their forward-thinking approach to machining and manufacturing. Customers bring their concepts and they develop them. They expect to be successful in the future in the same ways that they have been successful in the past: by staying on top of advances in technology, by investing in the next generation, and by feeding their relentless drive for precision.
Technology is growing rapidly and it never slows down. Micro-machining, nanotechnology, 3D printing, smart manufacturing, and artificial intelligence are all on the horizon. SPM is paying attention to these developments and is confident in their new generation of machinists and engineers to help them navigate those paths.
The torch is being passed from the founding generation. The second generation of management is in place and operating at a high level.
As Jennifer Haupers says, “My favorite part of working at SPM is knowing that what we’re producing here does make a difference in the day-to-day world. Knowing that our parts are physically going into the human body and helping save a life. Some things that we make are for enjoyable uses such as musical components, cars, things like that. Anywhere you look, our parts could be in something. So knowing that it is making a difference and that people are using our product is incredible.”
2019 marked SPM’s 40th year in business — machining four decades. Over the years as the company has grown, their mission has stayed the same — to machine perfect quality component parts through industry leading technology & genuine experience.
“What we do makes a difference. We’ve been here 40 years and are planning on being here another 40 years.”
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