Rockford Systems was founded on December 15, 1971 in Rockford, Illinois by two pioneers in the science of machine safeguarding, Dick Provi together with his business partner Dennis Ebens. From a modest office in Ebens’ basement, a business was born that has gone on to prevent countless traumatic injuries and deaths in the workplace.
The waves of the Occupational Safety & Health Administration being established by the Nixon administration were still rippling through the metalworking industry when Rockford Systems introduced its first product. Manufacturing plants and machine shop owners, who struggled with how to safeguard their machines to meet new OSHA regulations, needed both guidance and tools. To meet these needs, Provi and Ebens quickly brought to market a complete package of easy-to-install components that converted unprotected punch presses to machines that fully complied with OSHA requirements, a concept that revolutionized the safety industry and put Rockford Systems on the map.
To sell their conversion package, Provi and Ebens worked with their in-house sales team and a network of small distributors who they taught to become experts in OSHA machine safeguarding standards. Once they learned what to look for on a shop floor, they could enter any machine shop or manufacturing plant and pinpoint OSHA violations that required a Rockford Systems conversion package. This method became a cornerstone of the company’s marketing success and is still practiced today. As a result of this winning sales strategy, the company moved its now six employees in 1972 to a larger facility at 610 7th Street. Only one year later it began construction of its current home at 4620 Hydraulic Road in its hometown of Rockford.“Our early distributors were all smaller, highly specialized sales operations who we could teach what we knew about OSHA regulations so they’d be experts in this new field,” said Provi. “There was very little competition in those days, plus we offered excellent sales incentives which made a good number of our early distributors loyal partners for many, many years.”
In the late 70s and 80s, Rockford Systems successfully expanded its package concept from full revolution punch presses to part revolution punch presses, hydraulic presses and press brakes. It later added similar solutions for turning machines such as grinding machines, milling machines, drill press machines, and engine lathes in an effort to live up to the company’s motto of “ten new products a year.” At the same time the company began to define its value proposition more broadly, reaching beyond just reselling other company’s tools and becoming a manufacturer in its own right by introducing today’s familiar Rockford Systems line of machine controls.
Rockford Systems’ history parallels that of the evolution of OSHA and, over the course of its history, the company has worked to dovetail its products to OSHA’s developing regulations. In the 1990s, for example, the company came out with its first OSHA approved machine barrier guards that meet such high demand that a separate building was needed solely for their manufacturing. Moreover, the company began to share its wealth of OSHA knowledge with customers by conducting machine safeguarding seminars. These three-day seminars were first taught by Ebens, and later, Roger Harrison who handles the responsibilities to this day.
“Conducting the seminars signaled a change for us becoming a services directed company,” recalls Provi. “For decades, Rockford Systems was viewed, and we viewed ourselves, primarily as an equipment company selling to machine shops and manufacturers — something we have always done very well, and continue to do very well today. However, the seminars led to new service avenues such as onsite machine surveys, risk assessments and ongoing compliance validation that greatly benefitted our customers.”
Rockford Systems entered the international arena in 1990s by selling its popular electrically interlocked shields into the US, Mexico and Canada. Multi-national companies also began to take notice of the importance of machine safeguarding as both a means of preventing accidents and a proven way to enhance overall safety, employee morale and profits. Honeywell became a trendsetter customer in the early 2000s, followed by Bell Helicopter, John Deere and many others ranked in the Fortune 500.
Rockford Systems also entered the digital age in the early 2000s by selling safeguarding products and services on their eCommerce site, as well as other sites such as Amazon.com and Google.
In March 2014, Rockford Systems was purchased by The Randolph Group in Chicago, Illinois. The Randolph Group has invested substantially for growth in the company and continues to be a large supporter of business in the Rockford area. When Dick Provi retired, Brian Arn was appointed President. In 2016, Arn retired from Rockford Systems and Joe Nitiss was named CEO.
When asked at his retirement in 2014 what he was most proud, Dick Provi replied: “I’m most proud that we’ve saved so many American workers from the trauma of losing hands and fingers. Each of our employees has contributed to the prevention of countless terrible injuries and deaths. I’ve seen the devastation of injuries leading to the loss of employment, self-esteem and families. That I played a role in stopping it has made it all worthwhile.”
Today the company’s original motto of “You Name It, We Can Safeguard It” continues. Rockford Systems’ innovative leadership can be found across an line of over 10,000 machine safeguarding products and services. As it nears its 50-year anniversary, Rockford Systems looks forward to continuing to support risk management, health & safety, and plant operations professionals in critical industries — agriculture, automotive, aerospace, defense, electronics, manufacturing, oil & gas, and more — by delivering a broad array of solutions that reduce worker risk, increase compliance and productivity, and improve organizational profitability.