Wisconsin Engraving Co. is marking its 100th year in business with a new owner.
Pete Kambouris, the former vice president, bought the privately held New Berlin, Wis., company from his father, Chris Kambouris, and his father's partner, Bob Held, late last year.
The previous co-owners are "stepping back" and Pete Kambouris, 46, is now president of the company celebrating a century of engraving, polishing and texturing services.
Founded in March 1922, the business started out as Badger Engraving Co. after five partners put in $1,200 each. The original owners offered embossing plates and gold stamping dies for book and catalog covers, curved plates for printing on paper and wood boxes, and engraved rolls for the candy and cookie industry.
"All those crates you see at flea markets stamped Mrs. Smith's Apples 1925 — we made the hot stamps for those or the printing plates," Kambouris said in a phone interview.
These days, the company's services are used by the mold making and tool and die industries for mostly medical and consumer goods and some automotive parts. Rubbermaid and John Deere are among the customers.
For consumer goods, think of plastic containers with "BPA free" or "dishwasher safe" engraved on the bottom.
Kambouris sees electric vehicles as a new opportunity, and the automotive market is a place where Wisconsin Engraving can expand.
The company already does business with the semiconductor industry.
"We do some texturing for them for functional reasons," Kambouris said. "This goes back almost a decade. Everyone asked what kind of work can come from Silicon Valley. It turned out to be a good industry for us."
Also in the last decade, laser entered the landscape. The company invested in a five-axis laser but continues to do chemical etching, which involves programming and machining — the traditional means to texture a tool for injection molding.
Lasers eliminate seam lines and enable complicated geometrics but the jobs can take longer and cost more because of the expensive machine time involved.
While some shops offer only laser service, Kambouris said chemical etching still makes sense for a lot of engraving projects, especially when it comes to affordability.
"My competitors only have laser so that's what they push," he added. "Sometimes it's faster and cheaper, but not always. If I have a Ferrari, it doesn't make me a racecar driver."
When the pandemic hit, Wisconsin Engraving was busy. The management was concerned a shutdown was looming as state officials talked about what businesses were essential or not.
"We were able to carry on," Kambouris said. "Through our bigger medical customers I started getting letters [stating] that because we work for their suppliers that makes us essential."
Some of the new work was returning from overseas.
"A lot of people stopped offshoring because they were scared to travel and ships were stuck in the Suez Canal," Kambouris said. "Instead of sending it overseas, big corporations said, 'Let's try to keep it here this time,' so we did see an influx of business."