Made in Dane: 25 products that help define local manufacturing

Dane County is not known as a hotbed of manufacturing, but its communities rely on a surprising number of blue-collar jobs. In that spirit, In Business presents its second annual Made in Dane feature, which touts unique products (and in some cases remade products) manufactured by businesses in Dane County, or companies headquartered elsewhere that thought so much of our local work ethic that they decided to locate a manufacturing facility here. 

Education, health care, life sciences, and information technology firms dominate the local business pages, and rightfully so. With our Made in Dane feature, manufacturing takes center stage. If the product was designed here, put together here, or both, we consider it Made in Dane. 


For more than 20 years, Automation Components in Middleton has been manufacturing HVAC performance sensors. The company’s most visually prominent offerings, the wall-mounted TUC2 and TUCH2 microprocessor-based sensors, allow people to customize their room environment on a keypad that indicates temperature, humidity, and fan speeds on a large, backlit LCD screen. Both the TUC2 and TUCH2 series control indoor environments in a wide range of commercial settings, including schools and hospitals, and independently report settings to building automation systems.


The automotive and marine industries, and their customers, have an aesthetic ally in Madison’s A-1 Auto Upholstery. By remanufacturing OEM seat covers, tops, and upholstery, the mom-and-pop shop can place a personal stamp on your vehicle or watercraft. A-1 creates custom interiors for all vehicle makes and models, and by re-covering seats or creating custom infant seat covers to match your vehicle’s interior, it makes one more for your baby, not just one more for the road.


Have you ever wanted to devour Minnesota? Or sample Wisconsin in a delicious way? Thanks to cast-iron, state-shaped skillets from American Skillet Co. in Madison, foodies can prepare a meal in pans shaped like American states. Alisa Toninato, proprietor of FeLion Studios in Madison, provided the artistic skill for these skillets in collaboration with cast-iron sculptors and artists. Given the creative possibilities for cooks, this is one artistic endeavor the critics won’t pan.


You see them in neighborhood taverns, restaurants, and casinos, but you may not appreciate that beverage management systems manufactured by Monona-based Berg Co. enable bartenders to make properly portioned drinks, speed up service, and therefore make more money for their establishments. Ingredients for cocktails like Long Island iced teas are available at the push of a button, and the product automatically measures the drink, records the sale, and rings the POS system or cash register. Cheers and cha-ching!


Thanks to its Hudson Bay Tobacco Firekit, Cash Manufacturing Co. has a lot of cachet with hunters, survivalists, and others. For more than 40 years, the Waunakee company has supplied the muzzle-loading industry and historical re-enactors with accessories like the Firekit, which comes equipped with a magnifying lens and all the components necessary to make a fire in the wilderness — using either the power of the sun or a flint and striker. With products like this, Cash Manufacturing lures clients like Cabela’s, Sportsman’s Warehouse, and the National Rifle Association.




The Sump Shark, manufactured by the Verona-based CECOR, can really take a bite out of sludge. It’s part of a broad line of high-suction industrial vacuums used to remove industrial fluids and solid waste that collect in tanks, sumps, and pits during various commercial and industrial processes. The Sump Shark is CECOR’s most popular model, in part because it combines powerful suction to remove the heaviest sludge with a unique design that allows operators to navigate tight spots and crowded aisles.


iCell Cardiomyocytes aren’t made with the help of a CNC machine, but they are among the human cells manufactured by Cellular Dynamics, the company founded in 2004 by Dr. James Thomson, a pioneer in human pluripotent stem cell research at UW-Madison. These human cardiac cells have both a health and business purpose — to aid drug discovery and improve the predictability of drug efficacy and toxicity screens, which allows pharmaceutical companies to weed out ineffective and potentially toxic compounds early in the research process, before significant time and money have been invested.


The Environmental Protection Agency has nothing on Hellenbrand, a family-owned provider of water treatment systems. With the Waunakee-based company’s ProMate 6.5 series of water softeners, homes enjoy water as nature intended — free of unwanted minerals. That’s better for your hair, skin, and nails, and gentler on household appliances and fixtures. Another thing the EPA (and cost-conscious homeowners) would no doubt approve of is that ProMates are designed to use less energy and require less salt than other brands.


Liver resection is considered the gold-standard treatment for primary liver cancer; without this potentially lifesaving treatment, the five-year survival rate is less than 1%. However, even with it, the five-year survival rate is only 30%, and excessive blood loss has been identified as the primary culprit leading to increased rates of post-operative morbidity and mortality. To improve the odds, Medical Engineering Innovations in Madison is commercializing a group of surgical tools known as SwiftBlade, which promise a significant (up to 40x) reduction in blood loss. The technology was invented at UW-Madison and licensed through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. Following FDA clearance, MEI will begin selling SwiftBlade products in 2015. 


Specializing in computational fluid dynamics, a fancy way of saying it analyzes problems involving fluid flows, Convergent Science of Madison provides engineering software. Its software product, known as CONVERGE, is used in the biomedical, civil engineering, and clean-energy industries, but it really comes in handy in the automotive industry to optimize engine design, reduce emissions, and increase gas mileage. One way the software is used is to simulate a port fuel injector (photographed), which helps build a “smarter” engine with a smaller carbon footprint.




The Source Four Mini may be cute, but don’t let its diminutive stature fool you. Made by Electronic Theatre Controls in Middleton, this miniature fixture is a rugged lighting tool for professional installations where space is a concern. A mere 9 inches long and weighing less than 2 pounds, the Source Four Mini resembles its bigger spotlight siblings in that it’s user-friendly with crisp optics, but it’s also surprisingly bright. It’s been adopted by museums, theaters, and an assortment of venues where larger fixtures can’t go.


GAMMEX is a leader in laser-alignment systems and quality-control products for medical imaging and radiation therapy. The Middleton company has a suite of products, including a test object known as a “Phantom,” which is routinely used in medical imaging to simulate human characteristics for testing and quality-control procedures. The chest quality-control phantom (pictured) is designed for CT scanning, simulates human lung tissues, and contains different types of cancerous tumors. Such tools help medical professionals determine the lowest amount of radiation that can be delivered in an X-ray.


Designed and engineered at Fiskars Brands’ North American headquarters in Madison, the advanced design of the StaySharp Max Reel Mower offers an eco-friendly way to mow your lawn. Its technology might be patent pending, but it’s already been validated as easier to push, with more cutting power than standard reel mowers. It offers these advantages without the requirement of gasoline, oil, and charging, with a cutting system designed to eliminate the need for annual blade sharpening, and a grass discharge chute that throws clippings forward.


The husband-and-wife team of Tom and Susan Senatori make one of Dane County’s most popular candles, which just happen to be encased in sand from Lake Mendota. With Madison Candle Co., they make eco-friendly candles (with dye-free soy wax and phthalate-free fragrances) not in a manufacturing plant, but in a home studio on the west side of Madison. Tom is the designer, “sandman,” and creative director; Susan is the candle-maker and entrepreneur. In addition to Mendota Red, they handcraft a line called Seasons in the Sand (winter, spring, summer, fall, and holidays).




Showing good form is Plastic Ingenuity. With its plastic fly-fishing line, the Cross Plains-based packaging manufacturer helps sportsmen put certain species of fish in mortal danger. This particlar package includes a fishing line that spools between two pieces that come apart, so it’s easier to untangle the line during respooling, and a nesting feature helps users safely store parts during shipping. None of it would be possible without pulp thermoforming, an alternative to traditional plastic packaging that involves the conversion of paper or corrugated feedstock into a sustainable packaging material.


When you’re a thermoformer of custom packaging, you get to be creative. Sometimes, that creativity is honored with awards, in this case DuPont Gold and Ameristar awards given to Placon Corp.’s innovative Gillette Venus & Olay package. To win it, the family-owned company designed and thermoformed a so-called “blister pack” that allows consumers to apply light finger pressure to bend back the top of the package, without the need for scissors or other tools. The award-winning package also uses recycled “rollstock” from bottles and other thermoforms.


Palmer Johnson Power Systems in Sun Prairie designs and implements transmission and axle remanufacturing programs, producing products like this Remanufactured Funk Transmission (pictured). Such heavy-duty products are made at the company’s Madison headquarters for off-highway original equipment (OEM) manufacturers. Palmer Johnson’s business was built around the concept of keeping customers’ equipment up and running by minimizing unplanned downtime. Remanufacturing is an environmentally friendly repair option because the process reduces waste and minimizes the need for raw materials to make new parts. 


Matrix Product Development specializes in wireless sensors, measuring temperature, weight, and airflow in ovens, steamers, and chillers used by food-processing companies. The company’s family of Wyze Temp sensors can be customized to individual customer requirements, and the accompanying data acquisition software can be integrated into existing plant software. Built to meet Food and Drug Administration material certifications and calibrated to meet requirements of the National Institute of Standards, the end result is a finely tuned, high-tech instrument manufactured and shipped from Matrix’s Sun Prairie location.


Imagine warmth where and when you need it, especially during a winter like the one we’ve just experienced. Somebody else already imagined it, enabling homeowners to control heating and cooling in individual zones. With a special indoor air-quality thermostat that controls an HVAC system, Aprilaire’s Home Comfort Control and Zoned Comfort systems ensure that energy is used to maintain comfort in specific areas. Research Products Corp. of Madison provides Aprilaire indoor air-quality products, which also give homeowners control over air purity and humidity levels.




Geothermal heat pumps help homeowners and businesses tap into the solar energy stored in the ground. Dane Manufacturing and Q Energy Systems have engineered an energy-efficient line of geothermal heat pumps that circulate a solution (primarily water) through a series of plastic pipes buried in the ground, and they use a refrigerant engine to exchange energy for either heating or cooling homes year-round. However, the method is not the best part of the madness because each unit performs with a high degree of energy efficiency, reducing annual heating and cooling costs by 60% to 70%.


The Platinum Series Grain Trailer made by Stoughton Trailers is fast becoming a farmhouse name, as the trailer’s primary use is to haul grain from farms; it’s equipped with a roll tarp on top for grain to enter and two openings on the bottom for grain to exit. The trailer entered the market amid the economic crisis of 2008, leaving little freight to be moved. Now that the economy, including Wisconsin agriculture, has regained some traction, Stoughton Trailers plans to increase production in 2014.


Rowe Pottery Works in Cambridge has been handcrafting pottery for nearly 40 years, but perhaps no Rowe Pottery products are more appealing than the company’s sandstone glazed dinnerware. Produced with a two-step glazing process to give them natural rustic tones, these items were developed to make attractive artisan additions to any table or home, and they can even add a unique element of conversation at dinner or other events. Dinnerware isn’t the only kind of custom pottery made at Rowe, where clay is molded by local artists using traditional methods and techniques.


In manufacturing the Exradin W1 Scintillator, Standard Imaging of Middleton seeks to remain on the cutting edge. The scintillator is a new detector whose near-water equivalent characteristics produce a more natural dose measurement that helps medical professionals more precisely measure radiation for cancer treatment. The scintillator is placed in the beam of a linear accelerator (the device that delivers radiation) and helps determine the radiation dose. What makes the scintillator unique is that it’s virtually invisible to the beam, providing a more accurate measurement.


In these days of intense sanitary awareness, anything that prevents people from touching and infecting lids that other people eventually use can make a contribution to public health. The Vollrath Co. is headquartered in Sheboygan, but its Sun Prairie facility makes LidSaver units for restaurants, coffee shops, and other businesses. The units are actually part lid saver, part self-serve dispenser, but they allow consumers to see and select the right-sized lid rather than play lid roulette during cold-and-flu season.


Trachte Building Systems, a 113-year-old manufacturer based in Sun Prairie, designs and makes (and assembles) a full line of pre-engineered steel self-storage systems. The customized structures are shipped all over the country and include single- and multi-story versions, portable storage, interior partition and corridor, and boat/RV. As this property in New Castle, Del., proves, these are not just pedestrian-looking metal frames but storage buildings with decorative elements. Not settling for the same old, same old has given Trachte a competitive advantage in the self-storage industry.

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