by Rob Mullner, Chief Enthusiast-JC Whitney
Photos by the Author
Nestled in America’s Dairyland on the site of an old farm, a state of the art manufacturing plant specializing in the ultra-competitive lighting business is thriving. J.W. Speaker is creating lighting solutions for a host of domestic and international companies in the Automotive and Powersports sectors, just to name a few. This company has a truly American story to tell; founded by an immigrant, shaped by World War II and multiple changes in the Auto aftermarket; it created its own path to success. Today J.W. Speaker is operated by the third generation of the Speaker family and led by the grandson of their patriarch.
Their newest factory is simply beautiful and embodies the stunning and functional designs the company is known for. We had the opportunity to tour the J.W. Speaker Germantown, Wisconsin plant and were very impressed with the technology, people and processes we witnessed.
Our guides Jason, Mike and Gary took us through the facility and showed us the elements that make J.W. Speaker a unique manufacturer in a space crowded by overseas sources that import lower quality product and much larger “established” lighting brands serving OE and aftermarket clients.
J.W. Speakers’ Germantown plant specializes in low-volume, high value production and has designed its facility for easy change overs of tooling and materials to maximize machine up time while producing the highest quality lighting systems.
From its Photometric test station where light rays are measured to the production of its own circuit boards to ensure durability, and on to its in-house mold maintenance department, the J.W. Speaker philosophy permeates the building. The team members we met are completely focused on making great products for brands like BOSS Snowplows as well as high end luxury automobiles while complying with the latest manufacturing standards including FMVSS 108 for vehicle headlights.
We particularly enjoyed visiting the “Wall of History” where J.W. Speaker archives all of its lighting designs-it’s rare to see the evolution of lighting on a handful of shelves. The J.W. Speaker team has engineered, designed and manufactured lighting that combines their rugged circuit board designs and LED technology with state of the art materials to produce innovative designs for their clients.
The J.W. Speaker backstory is even more inspirational-as an immigrant from Austria the Speaker patriarch John Walter landed at Ellis Island seeking a better place for his family and business. Speaker set up operations near Milwaukee and products included vulcanizing tire patches and mirrors for the nascent auto industry. As WWII took over much of the manufacturing capacity, J.W. Speaker started producing compact tin openers for the military, which is still produces today as a reminder of its roots. Over its 75 plus years in business the company expanded into many other auto accessories and found a niche in lighting that has become its core product.
We finished the tour of the new plant in the lab where J.W. Speaker product is tested for RF signal interference in their anechoic chamber. It only looks like a Time Machine!
From the Germantown plant we took a quick ride to Plant 2 which specializes in Aftermarket lighting like the Model 8700 Series headlights and Model 279 taillights fitted to our JC Whitney Jeep. Once again Plant 2 was neat, clean and orderly; it could just as easily be a medical device manufacturing plant as a lighting manufacturer.
As we concluded our J.W. Speaker tour we came away very impressed with the people, technology, client roster and the 500 employees who create some of the highest quality lighting in the industry; and the family that is committed to building the brightest way forward.
To see all of the J.W. Speaker lighting products on JC Whitney please visit: http://www.jcwhitney.com/jw-speaker
To learn more about the J.W. Speaker Company please visit: http://www.jwspeaker.com/