Staying the course

By Lynn Stanley

Above: An eccentric strap from a press is refurbished with new brass.

In a mature industry, customers find a wellspring of resources

January 2015 - World War II changed political affiliations and social structures across the globe. Its conclusion in 1945 also sparked an economic boom in the housing, appliance and automotive markets—all industries that developed an insatiable appetite for metalforming machines. 

William Heim had been machining parts to support the American war effort but saw an opportunity to expand his business when he bought the David J. Ross Co. in 1946. Along with its machine tool capabilities, it manufactured 5- and 10-ton mechanical punch presses under the Rousselle trademark. Nearly 70 years later The Heim Group—having built and delivered more than 60,000 Heim and Rousselle presses—continues to thrive.

One could chalk up the family-owned manufacturer’s longevity to high quality products and customer service, but statistics reveal there are other factors equally important to a company’s survival over the long haul—namely the people that run them. Family businesses account for more than 50 percent of the U.S. gross national product. 

Yet less than one-third of those businesses survive the transition from first- to second-generation ownership. Of that number, another 50 percent become casualties of the transition from second to third generation.


Passing the mantle

For The Heim Group, Chicago, propinquity played a large role in Katie Heim’s selection as its next successor. “She was the right age at the right time to take on this challenge,” says National Sales Manager Tony Mase of the third-generation company president and granddaughter of William Heim. Mase paints a picture of tumultuous events impacting the company when Katie Heim moved from office manager to vice president in 2002 and president in 2007.

“The country was regrouping after 9/11,” he says. “The Detroit Three requested bailouts. When GM declared bankruptcy, suppliers to the automotive industry had the rug pulled out from under them. The stamping industry was hit very hard by the Great Recession that followed. Like a lot of CEOs, Katie was faced with tough decisions, from employee layoffs and reduced work shifts to identifying ways we could effectively manage company assets through the downturn. We’re still here and we’re thriving, in large part due to her ability to navigate the company through rough waters.”

Katie Heim credits the company’s current upward momentum to “amazing mentors and dedicated employees. Without the team we have in place we would not have made it. That’s what truly makes a successful family business.”

The Heim Group is the only U.S.-owned and operated general purpose press builder left, she notes. “Technology isn’t necessarily what separates press manufacturers. The mechanical power press is a very mature product. The servo press is arguably the latest innovation, but the technology has been available for a number of years. We believe our survival hinges in part on continuing to provide a high quality, cost-efficient machine for the masses.”


Serving up choices

A large customer base continues to offer The Heim Group fertile ground for finding new ways to develop its service and know-how. “Unlike other manufacturers, we offer such a wide range of solutions from tooling to turnkey systems,” says Katie Heim. “We’re leveraging that expertise to be the one-stop resource for all of our customers’ needs.”

Enhanced aftermarket support and service has anchored the company, helping it to survive periods during which capital expenditures were curbed. “We feel our end users, remembering our ability to aid them during those times, have recognized our efforts with new machine purchases.”

During the last few years The Heim Group has seen signs of demand recovery. It has added employees and work hours.

“In an established industry like ours, companies are looking to survive and compete with offshore manufacturing and assembly,” says Mase. “Most end users have reduced or cut their maintenance staff and are now looking to us to bridge that gap. They expect us to fulfill the role of field expert not just for presses but for dies, feedlines, automation and turnkey system integration. 

“We’ve aligned ourselves with the industry’s top equipment providers in roll forming, feedlines, controls and other ancillary equipment. Stamping system components are delivered to us. We assemble and interface the system so the customer doesn’t have to,” he explains.

Customers are also being compelled to balance reduced capital equipment budgets with growing production requirements. This has opened a niche for The Heim Group, which can rebuild existing presses of any make or model and retrofit the equipment with technology enhancements that include stroke speed, shut height, clutch and brake conversions, lube systems, pneumatic and hydraulic systems, and press controls.

“Remanufactured and retrofitted presses have become a popular economical choice,” says Mase. “These machines are half the cost of a new press. Our knowledge and experience eliminates the risk for customers of buying a pig in a poke [without knowing the true value]. Remanufactured and retrofitted presses are a large part of our business.”

Heim single-point gap frame presses from 90 to 1,000 tons and Rousselle presses designed for punching and blanking operations (15 to 400 tons) make up the manufacturer’s standard product line. Press inspections, training and field service are part of the package.


The road ahead

“We assemble presses from individual shelf stock to meet customers’ exact performance requirements,” says Katie Heim. “With more than 140 models to choose from, we can tailor a press to a customer’s needs and deliver it in about two weeks. This way the customer doesn’t have to compromise by taking an as-is stock machine from inventory.”

Being a good listener is an important attribute of an effective leader, she says. With customers asking for tooling support, the company established a division dedicated to die design and development in 2010. The division builds blanking, drawing and progressive dies in a wide range of configurations for a variety of different industries. Dies are also test-run prior to delivery.

Press remanufacturing and die design/build services have been critical steps in the company’s recovery over the last decade, but Katie Heim feels the roadmap to the company’s future remains in building a quality product at a competitive price point.

“We take our business very seriously because our name is on our products,” she says. “We take great pains to offer the best possible value while maintaining an open door policy to our customers who can reach us on our cell phones at any time. 

“Maintaining fiscal health also relies on preserving a nurturing work environment, competitive wages and benefits to retain skilled employees,” adds Heim. “At the end of the day,” she explains, “it’s the people who are the lifeblood of the company.” FFJ



Company Profiles





Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters



Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.



Mazak Optonics Corp.


Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.




TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC


Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems


MTS Sensors



Bradbury Group


Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group EMH Crane Rolleri USA Nidec Press & Automation
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc.



Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial AMADA AMERICA, INC. Alliance Steel


Automec Inc.



Advanced Gauging Technologies MC Machinery Systems Inc. BLM Group
Mayfran International


SafanDarley HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.


Cincinnati Inc.


Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing


Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.


Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools


Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. DoALL Sawing



MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
Beckwood Press Co.


Savage Saws Strong Hand Tools
Triform Titan Tool Supply Inc.


T. J. Snow Company

TPMG2022 Brands