The iFiber broadband network is helping a 109-year-old Sterling company convey its products and ideas at
Silicon Valley-like speeds.
FRANTZ Manufacturing Company’s corporate office and two plants in Sterling (IL) have been a part of the iFiber high-speed broadband network for about one year. FRANTZ manufactures and markets conveyor system components and steel ball products used in a variety of applications.
FRANTZ began looking for network solutions late in 2016, when it received word that support for its old legacy phone system and inter-company data network would be discontinued. FRANTZ didn’t have to look far to find iFiber: “You were literally laying fiber in the road outside the plant at the time,” said company representatives.
Established in 2010, the Illinois Fiber Resources Group (iFiber) recently expanded its services to businesses and industries in northern Illinois through a network of private sector Internet service providers. Formerly, it exclusively served schools, libraries, municipalities, healthcare and other public and not-for-profit agencies.
Three key staff members at FRANTZ Manufacturing recently spoke with iFiber Outreach Team members about the conversion to iFiber. Discussing the network and its benefits were Brian Verdick, Information Technology Manager, Mike Lee, CPA & Controller, and Steve Gassman, Plant Manager.
Founded in 1909 in Sterling (nicknamed “The Hardware Capital of the World”), FRANTZ was one of several major hardware manufacturers in town producing a variety of hardware products, ranging from hinges to barn door track to hangers. One of FRANTZ Manufacturing’s original products was roller skate wheels.
Today, FRANTZ sets the standard of excellence in the conveyor component and steel ball market segments where it competes. Consultative, engineer-to-engineer working relationships with customers enable FRANTZ to provide solutions that solve customer problems and deliver value, rather than just sell product.
FRANTZ customers for the most part are OEM distributors; companies like the ones that make conveyors for product distribution centers like Amazon.
“We’ve been interested in the fiber broadband network since first learning iFiber was coming to the area,” said Verdick. “The timing was perfect for us because the phone system was not able to support our needs any longer.”
Prior to joining the iFiber network, FRANTZ used four T1 connections on leased copper lines for “point-to-point communication between the two manufacturing plants and the corporate office. iFiber building its network here was perfect timing for us. It allowed us to modernize our phone system and Internet services, working at speeds we never could have supported before,” said Verdick.
“Technology is moving so fast and now we can keep up because of the iFiber network. When I first started with FRANTZ in 1999, we had a very small number of computers and were using just a few dial-up lines. One of my first tasks was learning how to use a CD burner! That shows you how far things have come,” he said.
The speed and reliability of the fiber network allows FRANTZ Manufacturing’s sales team to work from anywhere in the world, which they often do, Lee said.
“iFiber allowed us to update our phone system to a new one that gives customers and our sales team more features. When people call they are always routed directly to someone who can help them. We were able to do away with fax machines and do everything through e-fax solutions. All of our staff can send or receive faxes from their computers,” said Lee.
FRANTZ Manufacturing has contracted with Aero, one of iFiber’s private sector Internet service providers, to provide Internet bandwidth and VoIP phone service. Verdick and Lee said they chose Aero after consulting with iFiber representatives and other businesses in the Sterling area.
“Aero has been very helpful in figuring out how to keep the intent of the technology we already had and transferring that to the new technology available with high-speed broadband. Aero knows the technology and was great about configuring the network and the phone system for us,” said Verdick.
“We have not had a single problem with the iFiber network or the Internet since we got fiber. Now, we feel like we can grow. Now, we can bump up the Internet speed as we need to. We’re at 50 Mbps now, but we can keep going up as we need to,” he said. “The technical support from Aero has been excellent. They monitor us and catch anything that might turn into a problem before it hampers communication or production.”
As they looks to the future, FRANTZ representatives said they are looking to use more cloud-based processes, which would allow them to eliminate a local server used for manufacturing processes. All of the sales and work orders could be cloud-based, as could a disaster recovery plan.
“We are exploring new manufacturing products and those that help us keep track of the consistency and speed of some plant processes, as well as employee work times,” said Lee.
“Going to the fiber-based technology has been very cost-effective. While we have invested in new equipment like the phone system, switches, cabling, and firewalls, those costs have been offset by operating [efficiencies] and [eliminating] costs associated with downtime on the antiquated system.”
Verdick added that having the fiber network has simplified FRANTZ’s IT operations.
“We used to have three different Internet services. Now, we have a centralized system. Before, if something went down, we had so many parts to backtrack to try to figure out how to fix it. Now, all we have to do is call Aero and they have it handled. Our equipment was so old that the phone company only had one guy who knew what things were and how to fix them. It was becoming a nightmare with old equipment and too many players between the phone company and Internet services, etc. Trouble-shooting is easier now; and we don’t have to do much of it,” said Verdick.
iFiber coming into Sterling was the catalyst for FRANTZ Manufacturing to get all new internal equipment to help modernize its plants, Verdick said. “Now, we have a big pipeline coming into the buildings. Everything is quicker and reliable; helping us keep pace in an ever-competitive world.”
For more information about FRANTZ Manufacturing’s history and current products, visit
Illinois Fiber Resources Group (iFiber) is a collaboration of representatives from Northern Illinois University (NIU), LaSalle County, North Central Illinois Council of Governments, the City of Rockford, Boone County, and Blackhawk Hills Regional Council. In September 2010, grant-lead NIU received a $46 million federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program grant to deploy an almost 900-mile network across northwest Illinois. The grant portion of the project was completed in December of 2013. Counties served are Boone, Carroll, JoDaviess, LaSalle, Lee, Ogle, Stephenson, Whiteside, and Winnebago. For more information, to request services, or to find iFiber near you, visitwww.ifiber.org.