Jeff Kober said it started with a talk he had with a chief engineer at the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority who was tired of the floors in his rail cars wearing out and needing replacement.
“He said I’m done with the old floors,” Kober remembered. “I’m sick of replacing them.”
Kober, who already had a background in using fiberglass to manufacture parts, took up the challenge to build a type of flooring that would last as long as the rail cars themselves. He formed a team that prototyped a new flooring type, and paid to fire test it. In 1997, they landed an order to build 122 floors for transit cars in the city of Philadelphia.
That first contract provided the spark that created Milwaukee Composites Inc., a company Kober is still growing to this day. Kober, who is president, said Milwaukee Composites has built the flooring for 14,300 transit cars in service across the world. He has 70 employees in the Cudahy facility, and an upcoming project will be to make floors for the downtown Milwaukee streetcar.
Kober decided to donate those to the Milwaukee project. On Thursday, he gave Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett a tour through the company’s facility. See the attached slideshow for a look at that walk-through.
The mayor’s visit cast a spotlight on a business that has run under the radar locally, even though it operates internationally.
“We do like it that way, because it allows us to stay focused,” Kober said. “If you feel you are getting into business to have your name on the front door or to get accolades, don’t start your business, especially in a manufacturing business. If you stay focused, you constantly innovate, you pay attention to quality and – the most important thing – you treat your workers right, there’s no end to what a collective team of people can do. It’s really been amazing.”
Kober and his team of six filled that first order for Philadelphia train cars making one floor set every two to four days. The Milwaukee Composites product is made from fiberglass and resin, offering advantages over the previous model of a stainless steel skin over plywood.
After that first order in Philadelphia, word got around. Milwaukee Composites got a call from Siemens Manufacturing inquiring about the product. That led to a deal to make floor sets for 62 transit cars for service in Puerto Rico, and then 21 in Portland, Ore.
“With a lot engineering work, and quick response, we found our second order,” Kober said.
Milwaukee Composites has since made floors for rail cars in Denver, San Diego, Minneapolis, Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and, soon, in Melbourne, Australia. The product has evolved — it can handle 300 pounds of pressure from a high-heeled shoe without puncturing, the force of a 16-pound bowling ball, and 14,000 degrees of heat.
Milwaukee Composites is now engineering the next generation of floors that will have components to heat rail cars. Another opportunity that could generate big growth is to start making doors, in addition to floors, Kober said.
“I believe this company can really innovate for years to come,” he said.
This article by Sean Ryan originally appears on https://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/news/2017/10/26/cudahy-company-donating-floors-for-milwaukee.html