Rockford Systems celebrates 50 years in business in 2021. 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. And, thus, the Rockford Systems logo was born (power press icon in the shape of an “R”).
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. 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.
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.”To accommodate rapid growth and future expansion, Rockford Systems moved its headquarters into a new, larger facility located at 5795 Logistics Parkway in Rockford, IL. The relocation occurred in late December 2018 (almost exactly 47 years after its opening) and offered employees an improved, state-of-the-art workspace to deliver expanded training, manufacturing and customer support, while providing the company with operational efficiencies and a larger footprint for future growth in a thriving business environment. Established in 1971, Rockford Systems has operated continuously in Rockford for over 45 years and reaffirmed it commitment to invest in the local community. Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara expressed his appreciation for the company’s loyalty. “We thank Rockford Systems for its continued ironclad commitment to Rockford, Illinois, and for providing local employment, community leadership and fostering business growth.” 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.
In March 2019, Rockford Systems celebrated the opening of its multi-purpose HQ Training Center located within the company’s new headquarters in Rockford, IL. Launched in response to growing demand for the company’s popular machine safeguarding seminars, the new space supports education and training for safety professionals, plant managers and machine operators. The new Training Center measures 2,200 square feet, more than doubling the footprint of the previous center, and provides room to accommodate everything from a 60-person classroom style event to one-on-one intensive training. A state-of-the-art multimedia projection system has been added, along with a new sound system, task lighting, and customer-dedicated spaces, all to create the ideal environment to deliver the best training experience.unveiled its new HQ Training Center. At the same time, the training curriculum was expanded to include OSHA 10 General Industry, OSHA 30 General Industry, NFPA 79 and 70E, and OSHA Susan B. Harwood Machinery and Machine Guarding classes.
In April 2019, Rockford Systems launched a new Combustion Safety division that provides turnkey solutions for organizations that use thermal processes in their operations. This expansion enabled Rockford Systems to provide new and complimentary value-added safety solutions and enables traditional safeguarding customers the ability to grow their industrial safety focus with a trusted and reliable partner. Mr. Robert Sanderson P.E. was appointed to the position of Director of Business Development for the new Combustion Safety division. In 2020, the Combustion Safety division was rebranded “Rockford Combustion Solutions” and a new website was dedicated to the business.
In 2020, a year plagued by the global COVID-19 pandemic, Rockford Systems prevailed. The business was deemed essential under Illinois Executive Order 20-10 and employees continued to meet customers’ needs for safety solutions. In addition, the company launched two major new product lines: PROTECTOR Series Shields and GermBlock Cough and Sneeze Guards. Patent-pending PROTECTOR Series Shields are modular in design so that shield shape, size, mount, arm, offset, lighting, interlocking and safety monitoring can be configured to provide the best solution for even the toughest machine guarding challenge.
GermBlock™ shields limit airborne droplets resulting from coughing, sneezing or speaking from reaching a nearby person, therefore helping to mitigate possible COVID-19 infection.
“Rockford Systems is best known for providing turnkey machine safeguarding solutions that reduce risk and help prevent industrial injuries in some of the largest companies in the world,” said Joe Nitiss, CEO of Rockford Systems. “This makes our entry into combustion safety a natural evolution as we are able to replicate similar turnkey solutions for thermal-processing customers. Our trusted turnkey combustion safety solutions range from training, risk assessments and annual inspections, to the engineering and installation of customized fuel-management systems.”
Rockford Systems stands committed to the prevention of injuries and fatalities. We are here to help businesses large and small address industrial machine and combustion safety challenges and to remove the burden of managing inspections, conducting risk assessments and overseeing standards compliance through our trusted turnkey solutions.