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December 2017
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Hamilton Caster has mastered the key to longevity in business
– a combination of innovation and consistency. This year, the Ohio-based manufacturer of casters, wheels, carts and trailers marks 110 years in business.
Eileen Schmidt
Eileen Schmidt

Certain aspects of the operation remain the same as when it was founded in 1907. The business is located in Hamilton, Ohio with a decided focus on its roots in American manufacturing, the fourth generation of the founder's descendants are heading up the company, and an emphasis on hard work and the manufacture of quality products continues. However, today there is a decidedly major focus on engineering as the company has been awarded three patents in the past two years.

“My great-grandfather started the business out of his garage selling shoe rack casters,” said Mark Lippert, vice president of marketing, of founder John A. Weigel.

In the following generation, Hamilton president Ralph Lippert wrote - “The history of this business could be summed up in just two words: hard work.”

Currently, Mark Lippert and three other family members are in the fourth generation of company leaders, all having worked for the business for at least 20 years.

“We do have a family atmosphere. It's a fairly open environment, open culture,” Lippert said, explaining that this approach has helped provide stability and a low turnover rate.

After a start in the shoe rack caster business, Hamilton Caster eventually migrated to heavy industrial and large caster production during World War II. The changes the war necessitated proved helpful to the business, and the company has remained in the heavy caster sector ever since. A couple of years ago Hamilton designed and built four Colossus Casters with each caster rated for 100,000 lbs.

“We play in the very high end of the industrial marketplace, our sweet spot is 1,000 pounds per caster and up. We also sell quite a few medium duty casters,” said Lippert, noting products seen at retailers like Lowes or Home Depot.

Today, Hamilton Caster features two separate divisions; caster and wheel, and cart and trailer.

Lean manufacturing is a key component of company operations, with a focus on constant, continuous improvement. “Lean is pervasive throughout our corporate culture” said Lippert, who said Hamilton Caster employs a lean manager to help achieve goals similar to the original Toyota lean manufacturing model.

All of Hamilton Caster's operation remains in Hamilton, and Lippert stressed the company's commitment to American manufacturing. Dave Lippert, Hamilton Caster's president, recently co-authored a book on the subject - “Bringing Jobs Back to the USA: Rebuilding America's Manufacturing Through Reshoring.”

Recently the company began leasing an additional 20,000 square feet of space off site to manufacture industrial trailers for hauling up to 50 tons.

Hamilton Caster also has a history of innovative business practices. Long before Amazon's two-day shipping guarantee became famous, Hamilton was employing a quick ship service. “My father came up with that plan in 1967 as a way to create a win-win situation to appease customers who wanted products sooner and to stabilize production flow,” Mark Lippert said. “When we didn't have immediate customer orders, we could build orders for stock.”

The program continues to this day, now offering same-day shipping on standard products, or about 85 percent of the Hamilton line. It is something customers have come to rely on. “I would say 75 or 80 percent are counting on that fast service,” said Lippert, noting supplying to maintenance or repair operations as a large segment in need of this kind of service. As delivery times shorten and other standards become more demanding, Hamilton Caster has shifted with them.

The business is working on the installation of a new powder paint system. Hamilton’s entire forged steel product line will be powder painted starting this summer – and a website rebuild is in the works. “We will be publishing product test data on our website,” said Lippert, who added it will allow users to look up a caster, determine start-up force, maintenance force, load distribution or footprint. He said this will be a first in the industry.

In the coming years, Lippert said Hamilton will continue to focus on the practices that have helped build a successful 110-year track record, while also growing in new ways.

Eileen Schmidt is a freelance writer and journalist based in the Greater Milwaukee area. She has written for print and online publications for the past 12 years. Email editorial@mhwmag.com or visit eileenmozinskischmidt.wordpress.com to contact Eileen. 

 
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