Back in 1967 their operation amounted to a drill press in a garage, but Erie Pennsylvania’s ISM (Industrial Sales & Manufacturing) now happens to be one of GE Transportation’s most reliable cutting-edge parts suppliers. With GE’s unveiling Friday in Erie of its smartest, cleanest and most fuel-efficient locomotive yet, ISM is poised to continue that growth.
“We’re like a manufacturer’s buffet,” says Jim Rutkowski, Jr., son of ISM’s founder. “Our core competency is that we can machine, fabricate and assemble products under one roof, usually in a very short period of time.” That kind of vertical integration and quick turnaround time is part of what has made ISM invaluable to GE Transportation’s locomotive plant in Erie for some 45 years now. “They can call us up and we’re able to turn things around in one or two days,” Jim says, then adds with a laugh, “We’ve been GE’s guinea pig for some time.”
Jim Rutkowski Jr., Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett and Charlie Rutkowski discussing 3-D laser manufacturing at ISM.
A cutting-edge family operation
After working at GE in the drafting department of its design group, Jim Sr. founded the company back in 1963, operating first as a manufacturer’s rep. ISM has since grown to more than 125,000 square feet in three facilities, with over 160 employees, but it’s still very much a family operation.
Jim Jr. began delivering parts to GE as soon as he was old enough to drive. His sister Ann Marx is the firm’s accountant, and brother Charlie runs the manufacturing side. Jim Sr., now 75, still comes to the plant every day, and on payday he personally hands a paycheck to each employee. “It’s great to be able to be with your family,” says Jim Jr. “We try to treat our customers like they’re part of the family; GE included.”
The Tier 4 Push
Locomotives are at the core of GE Transportation’s Erie operations, and suppliers like ISM are integral as GE gears up to produce the newest evolution of the ecomagination-qualified Evolution® Series locomotive line, which is expected to be the first in the industry to meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stringent new Tier 4 emissions standards. Effective in January 2015, all new diesel locomotives will have to meet a 76% reduction in NOx emissions and a 70% reduction in particulates emissions.
In that effort, GE has already invested $400 million developing the prototype locomotive announced last week, with $200 million more slated for the next two years of honing the design and engineering. ISM is right on pace, having recently invested $175,000 into development of new cleaning systems to help meet the more stringent quality tolerances.
Just in case you’re passing through Erie, PA, consider dropping by ISM. Jim Jr. says his dad hands a gold dollar to every person he meets.