Volume 12 | Issue 2 | Year 2009

Erling Rasmussen and Paul White, Jr. established Bismarck Tool and Die Co. (BTD) in Bismarck, N.D., in 1979 as a job shop to design and manufacture dies, fixtures and special machines. In need of additional space, the company eventually moved to Detroit Lakes, Minn., to better serve established customers in west-central Minnesota and eastern North Dakota.
While White retired in 1999, helping to see the company through 350-percent growth since its founding, Rasmussen stayed on as CEO until retiring three years ago. Today, the company they founded remains strong in several diversified markets and when one market is down, the ability to supply another keeps its momentum going. “The markets we supply parts for consist of recreational, such as snowmobiles, ATVs and utility vehicles; agricultural equipment for Case, John Deere and AGCO; lawn & garden and construction,” notes Jared Lotzer, sales manager. All of its work stays within North American borders – the company does not export outside of Canada.

The company remains committed to leading the industry with a wide range of capabilities including 45- to 880-ton stampings (short run and progressive) laser, turret and press brake fabrication, tube fabrication, machining and assembly. Along with in-house tooling capabilities, BTD can bring almost any metal project from prototype to production. As a complete one-stop shop, BTD also offers design, engineering, prototyping and short-run functions, metal stamping, robotic and hand welding, spot welding, finishing machining, riveting, assembly, plating, heat treating and special packaging.

The company is a subsidiary of Otter Tail Corporation, which has interests in diversified operations that include manufacturing, health services, food ingredient processing and infrastructure businesses: plastics, construction and transportation. Corporate offices are located in Fergus Falls, Minn., and Fargo, N.D.

BTD, still located in Detroit Lakes, also has three additional manufacturing facilities in Minnesota. Its sales totaled $115 million in 2008.

To keep ahead in the industry, BTD Manufacturing continues to purchase new technology to meet the demands of a growing customer base. In 2008 BTD invested $3.9 million by purchasing four new press brakes, two Trumpf 5000W lasers with full automation, a vertical mill, horizontal mill and hardware insertion machine.

The company furthered its competitive edge by acquiring two businesses in the past two years. In May 2007 BTD bought metal stamping company Pro-Engineering in Minneapolis. And last May BTD acquired Miller Welding & Iron Works of Washington, Ill. Miller Welding employs 120 people and generated annual revenues of approximately $26 million in 2007. Miller Welding is a custom job shop fabricator and finisher. The company manufactures parts, metal fabrications, machining, welding and painting for off-road equipment, mining machinery, oil fields and offshore oil rigs, wind industry components, broadcast antennas and farm equipment. Based near Peoria Ill., the company serves several major equipment manufacturers in the region and nationwide, including Caterpillar, Komatsu and Gardner Denver.

At the time the acquisition was announced, Chuck Hoge, BTD CEO and the manufacturing platform vice president at Otter Tail Corporation, said the acquisition will open up opportunities to expand in existing and new markets. “This is welcome news for the respective customers of BTD and Miller Welding. The complementing production capabilities greatly expand the scope and capacity of what both companies can now offer,” Hoge said. “And, while Miller Welding currently derives only a small portion of its revenues from the wind energy sector, it has the capabilities to expand significantly into this market.

BTD maintains a third subsidiary, Performance Tool & Die, which operates a 26,000-square-foot facility in Lakeville, Minn. The company specializes in mid to large progressive dies, ranging from .006 to ¼-inch-thick material. Its on-site team of dedicated tool designers, die makers, and CNC and EDM operators build a consistent, high-quality product that meets customer needs.

Responding to demanding customers is one thing BTD does not take lightly. “Our responsiveness to our customers’ needs and a genuine interest in our customers’ success and products has kept us ahead of the competition,” says Sales Manager Jared Lotzer. “Our people and culture have enabled us to make strides in our industry while taking care of what we do best. To keep our customers happy while producing the best products, we’re continuously investing in new technologies.”

One of BTD’s main markets is the agricultural sector, which Lotzer says “has grown in leaps and bounds. Being diversified in the agricultural market has helped us get through the tough times.” Additionally, BTD employs a cost improvement team that helps to increase efficiencies while driving down costs. A “green team” discusses and implements ways to further cut waste.

Proof of the company’s commitment to providing value to its customers’ operations is in testimonials BTD has received. In one case, a customer requested BTD to redesign a welded assembly to drive out labor costs. Utilizing robotic welding, progressive die stampings and tube laser technology BTD delivered and accommodated the client’s purchase price expectations by retooling its product, eliminating several pieces by communizing brackets and combining parts. In turn the customer’s sales grew dramatically by offering a more cost competitive product to the consumer.

In yet another scenario a customer needed an aesthetically pleasing, strong corner support without sharp edges. BTD worked with the customer’s engineers and developed this part, which exceeded the strength and the look of the customer’s original expectation. The tooling that BTD produced for the ADGIE Dynamic 8 tube bender contains the tube both on the inside and on the outside to maintain a smooth flowing contoured radius. This is a product, the company maintains, “that the customer today proudly displays on its finished product.”

“One thing about our company is that our ownership allows for growth,” Lotzer says, referring to Ottertail Company. “With our overall capabilities, either stamping or fabricating, we can offer total solutions through one company; customers can come to us and get a painted assembled product – the whole gamut right here.”

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