75 years of technology innovation: ATEK Companies continues growth
Jan, 28 2021
ATEK Companies is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021.
Written By: Theresa Bourke | Jan 27th 2021 - 7pm.
ATEK Access Technologies employee Steve Scofield (left) and General Manager Mike Berning check out a custom mat made in the Brainerd plant Wednesday, Jan. 20. The mat will be sent to O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
From electronic door switches to motorcycle and all-terrain vehicle parts to coolers, ATEK Companies has a hand in technology manufacturing across the world.
With three operating companies and five locations throughout Minnesota and Iowa — including Brainerd — ATEK is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2021.
That’s 75 years of technology innovation, 75 years of high-quality products and 75 years of community involvement.
“We’re pretty diversified in terms of technologies that we use and the markets that we serve,” co-owner and CEO Mark Osmanski said during a Skype interview Tuesday, Jan. 19. “Our products do go around the world, and we manufacture all of them in the upper Midwest.”
ATEK Companies includes ATEK Access Technologies, ATEK Metal Technologies and Solar Plastics.
The company grew from Acrometal, a metal stamping company founded in 1946 in Minneapolis. While running that business, Fred Bieber got the opportunity to buy it out. Today, Bieber’s son, Bill Bieber, is one of the three co-owners of the company, along with Osmanksi and Kay Phillips.
Bill Bieber joined his dad in the metal stamping business in 1965, and the two grew ATEK Companies from there.
“Bill was really the entrepreneurial spirit that grew this company,” Osmanski said.
Patricia Hennes welds a wall switch Wednesday, Jan. 20, at ATEK Access Technologies in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
In 1977, operations moved to Brainerd, and the plant in northeast Brainerd continues to run as manufacturing headquarters for ATEK Access Technologies.
“Inside this business it constitutes all of the proprietary products that we design, manufacture and sell to the end users. And we predominantly are into electronic devices of a variety of sorts,” Osmanski said.
ATEK Access Technologies
Products made at the Brainerd location include accessible wall switches that open doors, along with floor mats that do the same and regular custom floor mats for a variety of companies. During a tour of the facility Wednesday, Jan. 20, employee Steve Scofield showed off some of his recently completed mats, like one with “Do not enter” signs, set to be shipped to O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.
The company’s presence in the lakes area dates back to 1969, when it acquired the company Larco.
“That brand is pretty well known in the presence-sensing,” Osmanski said. “So these are pressure-sensitive mats that were originally used to open doors. And so we also offer a line of wall switches, very high end push-to-open wall switches. But most of the applications for Larco today are in industrial mats. So these are safeguarding mats that are used in industrial operations to protect a worker from robotics or unsafe areas. So it’s there to stop something from happening, or it will allow something to happen, depending on how you design the system.”
ATEK Access Technologies General Manager Mike Berning talks about products in the northeast Brainerd manufacturing plan Wednesday, Jan. 20. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Larco is the oldest of the ATEK Access Technology brands. In 2007, the business acquired a new technology called TankScan, which remotely monitors liquid levels in gas tanks.
“We sell that to a variety of different industries, but most applications are in the oil, gas and diesel area,” Osmanski said. “So if you have remote tanks with gas in them, you'll put our device on it so it'll automatically — through the internet — show you what the level is, and you can service the tank more efficiently.”
Another access technology piece is Datakey, a business acquired in 2010, which makes a ruggedized memory device comparable to a USB device, but without the universal element that the “u” stands for.
“It has a unique form factor, and it's also very rugged. You can drive the truck over our device and it will still work,” Osmanski said. “So these are used in heavy industrial and also military applications. I would say 50% of our sales go to the military. And it's for authentication data logging firmware updates, those types of applications. And so that constitutes ATEK Access Technologies as of today, but we're always coming out with new products, new product lines and growing the business.”
ATEK Metal Technologies
ATEK Metal Technologies is a low-pressure permanent mold aluminum casting operation.
“So we melt aluminum, and with very low pressure, we push the aluminum into a mold, pull it apart, open the mold, take it out and do some post-processing to it and then sell it to major OEMs (original equipment manufacturers),” Osmanski said.
Motorcycle riders may have made use of this metal technology, as ATEK provides cylinder heads for large motorcycle retailers.
ATEK Access Technologies employees work on a variety of products at the northeast Brainerd plant. Submitted Photo
ATEK’s most recently acquired company is Solar Plastics, which has two client bases. The first are major construction, farming and mining equipment companies, which make use of ATEK’s rotational molding technology for fluid tanks.
“It may contain water, it may contain hydraulic fluid, or maybe it’s diesel fuel or maybe a type of chemical,” Osmanski said. “It just depends on the application for the customer.”
These tanks are also produced for steamrollers and hydraulic drilling machines.
While the first side of Solar Plastics makes components that end up as a larger piece of a final product, the other side produces standalone consumer products, like coolers and aftermarket parts for ATVs.
Growing a successful business
Today ATEK employs about 400 workers, with other locations in Delano; Davenport, Iowa; and New Hampton, Iowa, and corporate offices in Eden Prairie. Though the locations are concentrated in the upper Midwest, ATEK products make their way all around the globe.
Since 1946, ATEK has acquired 18 businesses, sold 11 businesses and founded 14 companies.
“We take great pride in what we do, so that’s important to us,” Osmanski said. “And what excites the ownership team about ATEK Access Technologies — aside from the solid proprietary brands that we have today — is really a growth in the market in an area called IOT, or in our case it’s IIOT, which stands for Industrial Internet of Things.”
The TankScan technology is one example.
“We take a device, we put it in the field in a remote location, and it communicates cellularly or via WiFi to an internet portal that we host,” Osmanski said.
Customers then get alerts on their phones and computers, notifying them of the level of service their tanks need.
Jonathan Larson, an employee at ATEK Access Technologies in Brainerd, explains the inner workings of a 120-ton machine that produces plastic receptacles. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
ATEK is working to build that technology in other areas.
“While it hasn’t achieved everything we had hoped to by now, we still believe that there’s great growth, particularly even with this pandemic going on because people are now needing to do things in a remote fashion where they before wouldn’t,” Osmanski said.
Fortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t impact ATEK as much as others, though there was a sales disruption, especially in the casting operation. Motorcycle companies saw reductions in demand, Osmanski said, which then affected ATEK.
“We did have to go through some organizational realignment,” he said, “but I’m pleased to announce that by 2021, we’ll be up to where we were pre-pandemic.”
Robin Sauer cuts lengths of rope Wednesday, Jan. 20, at ATEK Access Technologies in Brainerd. The ropes will eventually be used as handles on coolers. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Osmanski is proud of the team ATEK has assembled and said the company is in great shape.
Much of that success has a great deal to do with the faithful employees who work for ATEK. Mike Berning, general manager of the Brainerd facility, said there are some employees there who have been with the company for more than 40 years and several who are in the 15-30 year range.
Stephanie Maust has been with the company for about 28 years, working in various facets. Though she got laid off during the big economic crash around 2007-08, she eventually made her way back to ATEK.
“They called me back here, and I didn’t even think twice about it,” she said.
Berning and the owners attribute that longevity to a thorough screening process and the positive culture ATEK strives to create at all of its locations.
“We want to make sure that (candidates) want to be on our team, that they’re going to fit in well with our organization, with our culture, and that they’re going to want to have a career here, not just a job,” Osmanski said.
Berning described the culture at ATEK as very family-oriented, with outdoor cookouts every couple weeks in the warmer months.
ATEK Access Technologies General Manager Mike Berning talks about his role at the manufacturing facility in northeast Brainerd Wednesday, Jan. 20. ATEK Companies celebrates is 75th anniversary in 2021. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
“In the seven months I’ve been here, I’ve enjoyed listening to the history of ATEK and Acrometals and the people that have worked here over the years,” Berning said.
Community involvement is an important part of that culture as well. In Brainerd, that means donating to and working with groups like the Salvation Army, food shelf, Toys for Tots, Northland Arboretum, Chamber of Commerce and Kinship Partners.
“At every location we do engage with the local community because we are a part of their community,” Osmanski said. “We have a responsibility to be a good partner with them.”