History of Air-Lec
OPPORTUNITY KNOCKED, AIR-LEC OPENED THE DOOR
Schoelkopf Mfg. Co. (not Inc.) was the start of it all. Owned by Louie Schoelkopf, an early M.E. graduate of the University of Wisconsin with many business ventures:
Ford dealerships owner
Agricultural equipment sales
Founder of “Shelko” (a vast automotive parts distributorship)
Founder of an airline that merged into a national carrier
Builder of the Corben sport planes and kits that later formed the cornerstone for the EAA
Designer of hospital equipment
Builder of recreational campers on Model T Ford chassis
The idea of creating an automatic door operator was born of a need to let people drive into Louie's auto dealerships "automatically."
Louie had a quality that is rarely seen in engineers – he could design products that were simple and easy to fix. He wanted his products to be clean, flexible, durable and high-quality.
These tendencies spawned an organization of craftsmen who operated in the same way. The result was a skilled group that built door operators by the “select fit” method. The door operators functioned well, but parts could not be ordered and expected to fit. If a repair was needed, operators were returned to the factory. These methods prevailed after Louie’s death until 1959.
A NEW ERA: ENHANCED PROCESSES AND OPERATING PROCEDURES
Shortly before Louie’s death, the owners of Sanna Dairies decided to buy a small company and use their engineering and management skills to make and market a mechanical product. They asked John Lunenschloss, a sales engineer and friend, to help evaluate companies. After seeing an ad in the Wall St. Journal, they found Louie's plant, which was quite new and securely built of masonry and concrete. The product was well known, had an excellent reputation and the workforce was in place. It was more expensive than anticipated and the production equipment was outdated, but the offer was accepted.
John was asked to run the business. He contributed an equal share and in August 1959, the Board of Directors was established.
The transition was not easy. John discovered that there were no formal drawings of the product, and several variations of the same part existed with no indexing system. Many of the machines needed updating or replacement, and the sales representatives each had their own style and pricing ideas.
John brought in Hank Busse, a Director of Purchases with a much larger firm in Michigan. Hank had strong background in manufacturing, engineering and setting up orderly systems to enable proper manufacturing protocols. His procedures are still the basis of how we operate today.
NEW (BUT FAMILIAR) OWNER, NEW NAME
When the original investors decided to sell their food company to a large international conglomerate, they decided to retire from business and enjoy life. John bought them out and inherited the business's debt. He changed to Air-Lec Industries, Inc. to match the trade name.
These were caricatures of John Lunenschloss called the Air-Lec Doorman.
AIR-LEC'S PATENTED PRODUCTS
Although many different door operator ideas were tried but not marketed, the experimenting led to newly patented products. Most notably, a new line of sliding, folding and swinging industrial door operators made of high tensile aluminum was patented and remains the core of the business.
Gone is the “select fit” style of manufacturing. All operators are shipped with complete installation and maintenance information. Detailed views illustrate all of the components. Safe materials are used in all products. They are made on the latest CNC equipment (Air-Lec was one of the first manufacturers to use G&L NC equipment in production).
John Lunenschloss was not only a remarkable engineer, but an excellent salesman and sound businessman. Air-Lec Industries, Inc. grew into a successful enterprise whose products were known in manufacturing and food processing circles across the United States and Canada.
John’s efforts to convert the design and manufacturing process from “select fit” to employing standardization of the parts resulted in quick turn-around for orders and simple repairs with replacement parts. He and the staff refined the manufacturing process making use of light-weight, strong cast aluminum. Economical. Durable. Made in America.
TRANSITIONING TO TODAY
John Lunenschloss passed away in June 2013. Local entrepreneurs saw value in the product and purchased the company from John’s family.
Today, Air-Lec Industries, LLC continues to build Air-Lec Door Operators. We are opening new (and old) markets, telling the story of our past and creating the narrative for our future.
If I can personally be of any help answering your questions or brainstorming new uses for Air-Lec technology, call or write me today.
Manager, Air-Lec Industries, LLC.