From Elk Grove Business Journal, May 2018. To download a PDF of this article, please click here.Whenever Colin Schiewe walks down a jet bridge, he points out parts on the plane to his wife, the frame around the cockpit windows, the housing for the jet engines that were processed by Magnetic Inspection Laboratory, Inc. An aerospace special processor, MIL has been in his family for three generations. The company primarily focuses on non-destructive testing of parts, metal finishing and coatings, welding and brazing from its headquarters at 1401 Greenleaf in Elk Grove Village.
“A lot of what we do — help improve the durability, heat tolerance, corrosion and chemical resistance of parts that are part of people’s everyday lives — likely goes unnoticed,” Schiewe said. “We’re usually the last stop before a part goes into application or final assembly.”
Putting together an airplane requires everything to work in harmony, Schiewe said. Parts must perfectly fit together. “A big part of our job is following very rigid schematic specs given to us from our customers, a Boeing or Lockheed. These parts are very critical in terms of where they are going. If certain parts that MIL works on were to fail, it could threaten the health and safety of those on board or whoever is using the equip- ment.” Safety is top priority.
Global, local and national customers range from small machine shops to leaders in aerospace. Recently, MIL be- came a preferred Midwest supplier for SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company. Though heavily involved in commercial and military aviation, MIL also does work for the medical and power generation industries.
MIL has in-house environmental test- ing capabilities, a new department for shot peening — a process that improves surface strength of high stress areas on a part — and is skilled at masking, a method much like taping off a room before painting that allows multiple coatings and finishes to be applied to some sections of a part and not others.
The family-owned business has 310 employees and just acquired 25,000 square-feet of space next door to its headquarters on Greenleaf, bringing the total square footage of its three locations on the same street to 120,000 square-feet. Impressive for a business started by one man, Colin’s grandfather Robert Schiewe, from a garage on the north side of Chicago. His wife, Betty, handled the billing until they had children.
Robert Schiewe started MIL in 1942 by doing magnetic particle inspection, non-destructive testing of parts, for the military during World War II. Primarily focused on parts for tanks, war planes and weapons systems, Robert added processes over the decades that supported one another, allowing the business to become more integrated in the supply chain and ultimately, a one-stop shop. When Robert became sick in the 1970s, he pulled Bob, Jr. out of college for an aggressive succession plan. A year after Bob, Jr. joined MIL, his father passed away. Betty returned as chairwoman and eventually their other son Tim, now CEO, worked in sales.
One employee, Jay Gandhi, was instrumental in mentoring Bob, Jr. Gandhi himself learned on the job. Looking to earn bus fare home to Chicago, he walked into MIL off the street one day and asked Robert if he could work for a few hours. The senior Schiewe hired him and today, more than 46 years later, he is VP of Operations.
“Jay and my dad taught me to have a long-term vision, to be creative and think outside the box,” said Colin, the only third generation Schiewe on board now. From watching his late father, Colin learned to keep a sense of humor and remember how important it is, working in a technical field, to relate to customers on a human level.