SYCAMORE – Machine production has been in Dan Jensen’s family for a long time. When he was in seventh grade, he built his first go-kart at his dad’s machine shop in Sycamore.
Now the owner of Jensen and Son, which was started by his great-grandfather, Jensen is celebrating 70 years in business. It’s a family business in every sense of the word. Helping Jensen out with running the business is his son, Dan Jensen, his daughter, Nicole, and his wife, Toni.
Both Dan Jensens – customers refer to them as either senior or junior – grew up around family businesses.
“I came down as a kid,” said the younger Dan Jensen, to which his dad quickly added, “Same as me.”
“I basically grew up down here,” continued Jensen “Junior.” “I worked summers down here when I was younger. It seemed like something I wanted to get into. It looked fun.”
The older Jensen explained how the family runs the business.
“We have employed anywhere from six to 12 in two shifts,” he said. “At this point, just the four of us have been pretty successful in keeping five machining centers running. It certainly helps keeping the cost down.”
Jensen said they used to specialize in plastic injection molds, making the plug heads for cords people plug into the walls. But when the mold business started to move overseas, Jensen said they had to diversify.
Jensen said they started using computerized numerical control – big machines that automatically create parts for production machining. Jensen’s business has six of them.
“We program offline,” Jensen said. “We bring up our geometry, we write our cutter paths, it goes onto a three-and-a-half inch floppy. The floppy goes into the machine, and we set the machine up with the right tools. And when the machine shuts off, you have the part you need.”
Jensen said it has been a good year for his business, characterizing the past 18 months as really good.
“They always say machine shops, small machines shops ... is the first barometer that shows that things are changing in the economy,” Jensen said. “And despite our [Obama] administration, things are still getting better.”
The future of small manufacturing companies lies in whether they can keep up with technology, which he has done, he said.
“Because we’ve been in business for so long, we have a good foundation,” Jensen said.