Manufacturing solutions take priority with new Hi-Grade ownership

Schaumburg's Hi-Grade Welding and Manufacturing, LLC is celebrating its 50th year specializing in complicated weldments, custom sheet metal fabrications, CNC machining and assembly.

Hi-Grade started a new chapter in June 2019, when it partnered with a new sister company, HL Precision Manufacturing, that has facilities in Champaign and Fisher, Illinois. The two companies joined under a common parent company now known as H3 Manufacturing Group, LLC.

Steve Hillard, president and CEO of H3 Manufacturing Group, leads the newly-combined companies. Mr. Hillard is now president and CEO of Hi-Grade and HL Precision Manufacturing, a company he has owned for the past 13 years. Hillard is focused on expanding both companies' emphases on providing an even broader set of complex precision solutions.

"As consolidation continues to occur in the industry and discerning customers desire fewer suppliers providing more solutions, Hi-Grade and HL have proactively taken the strategic decision to join forces to better position both companies to successfully meet these demands," Hillard said.

"By combining the complementary capabilities of HL and Hi-Grade, we will create a substantially broad range of in-house solutions for complex and precise manufacturing requirements. Together, this very solid team will seek to further enhance both companies' culture of solutions-first support of our diverse customers and opportunities for our employees."

The two companies come together with no overlap of customers and very little overlap of industries - making the pairing even more expansive together than they were individually before. Hi-Grade has 115 employees currently and HL has 70, while the combined companies' facilities comprise a total of nearly 170,000 square feet.

"We don't see any changes ahead in personnel - just expected growth," Hillard said.

Two out of three of Hi-Grade's previous leadership team remain - Vice President & General Manager Jon Frejd and CFO Howard Renner. Concurrent with the new combination, Hi-Grade's former president and CEO Bill Downey chose to retire after a successful 25-year-plus career with the company.

Frejd and Renner come alongside President and CEO Steve Hillard, together with two others on Hi-Grade's new leadership team - Christine Juretzko-Suma as Vice President of Sales and David Flack as Operations Manager.

Jon Frejd joined Hi-Grade in 1992. He came to the company experienced and talented in CNC machining and moldmaking.

"I didn't want to sit behind a desk, so I pursued training and began working for a different company as an apprentice," he said. "Then one day the CNC operator who was mentoring me said he was going to quit and gave me a week to learn all I needed to know."

Frejd worked for a while in the field before joining Hi-Grade, just as they expanded from offering mainly welding into also offering machining.

As the company grew, Howard Renner joined in 1997. Renner had just graduated from Northern Illinois University with a public accounting degree when his uncle reached out to him.

"My uncle was Hi-Grade's original owner. One year after a Christmas family gathering, he said he wanted to talk to me. I was surprised when he asked me to join the company," Renner said. Renner took his uncle's offer, and it was a perfect fit for both Renner and Hi-Grade.

At the same time, Hi-Grade took a big step to include offering sheet metal fabrication. The company's growth demanded more shop floor space as the number of employees grew and investment in technology increased. When Hi-Grade moved to Elk Grove Village in 2000, they invested in their first laser machine, ahead of many of their competitors.

"We are always trying to stay at the forefront of new technologies," VP Frejd said.

Hi-Grade's continued growth demanded yet another move in 2014, this time to the 76,000 square foot facility they currently occupy in Schaumburg.

Most recently, Hi-Grade invested in a six-site automated welding cell. An investment like that may have caused employees concern at other locations, but not at Hi-Grade, Frejd said. While the welding robot successfully sped up production, Hi-Grade's team has become more crucial than before. They would like to hire six to ten more welders immediately.

"Our guys embraced the welding robot," Frejd said. "At first they said, 'There goes my job,' but now it's different. Instead of spending so much time welding bigger pieces, our welders put together the parts, tack them and pass them onto the robot welder for the more time demanding jobs. Without that technology, we wouldn't be where we are today."

Hi-Grade is likely to be much more automated as the company expands under new leadership, CEO Hillard said in an interview with TMA News Bulletin.

While the number of skilled workers continues to be tight, the future for the next generation in manufacturing is bright, Hillard said. Automation will always need skilled team members that continue to learn and adapt to manufacturing's technological advances - and necessary to compete globally.

"I see significant consolidation for small, independent manufacturers," he said. "Prognosticators say there will be fewer, but larger companies that have the capital to invest in automation, the management teams to lead, and the quality management systems to meet expectations that are ever-growing."

Hillard says what the average manufacturer was doing ten years ago versus what customers demand now is dramatically different - and will be increasingly more challenging as technology plays a bigger role in manufacturing.

"We'll see more consolidation among US manufacturers in the years ahead," Hillard said.

Hi-Grade Welding will continue to find solutions for their customers while constructing crucial components for MRI machines, transit system refrigeration vents and a myriad of other products.

"HL has been in business for nearly 40 years while Hi-Grade is this year celebrating its 50th year. We are both excited and confident these companies joining forces will pave the way for many more successful years ahead," VP Frejd said.

Hi-Grade LLC is located at 140 E. Commerce Drive in Schaumburg, IL 60173-5328 and on the web at

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