Meet Sue Nordman of Obsidian Manufacturing Industries, Inc.
Sue Nordman looked out her office window at Obsidian Manufacturing Industries in Rockford Illinois to catch the glimpse of a forklift hauling a steel table across the company parking lot. She wasn’t expecting the sight, but the same unusual scenario played out several times during the early days of the COVID pandemic.
“You would see a lot of steel going in and out of here,” Sue told TMA News Bulletin. “During the pandemic we ground a lot that was to be made into feeder tables. The tables were made to vibrate and sort pills.”
The work was urgent and essential. The steel was being forklifted from a company in the industrial park down the road.
That was just one instance of how Rockford area manufacturers like Sue’s adapted to the emergency facing the state, nation, and world during those intense days in early 2020.
As time went by, things became a little less hectic and materials became harder and harder to find – something that is stifling for a small company that does industrial grinding, repairs grinders, and makes and sells massive work holding and lift magnets; and during an expansion period just as the pandemic hit in early 2020.
But Obsidian Manufacturing survived the COVID global emergency and is thriving two years later, Sue says.
That’s saying a lot for a small manufacturer that provides income for twelve families and had just undergone major changes – including a company location move in 2019.
Sue became president of Obsidian Manufacturing in 2018. She is a Belvidere Illinois native, and as is often the case, she spent time during high school helping her father, Don Blachford, with office paperwork in his manufacturing business. Sue studied accounting while in college and then landed a job in an accounting firm that had several local manufacturers as clients.
While raising three young children, Sue’s interest in manufacturing and accounting continued as her husband David worked for her father’s grinding business as a machinist.
When the opportunity presented itself, David bought MagnaLock USA and started his own company in 2007.
After her youngest child left home, Sue turned her energies towards expanding the family company including four brands associated with industrial manufacturing: Arter Precision Grinding Machines, Magna-Lock USA, MagnaLift and PowerGrip, as well as Obsidian Manufacturing Surface Grinding.
“In 2017, we decided that David needed to get back out on the shop floor. He missed all of that and didn’t like all the administrative as much. We decided I would come back to work full time and soon after we changed the company name, and it became woman-owned,” Sue said.
Two years later, Obsidian Manufacturing moved to a location that housed two of the largest Mattison grinders in the region. The company expanded their services with the additional grinders and continued with the other brands they had accumulated over the years.
Then 2020 came along and all the challenges the pandemic brought along with it. It was something Sue really didn’t want to spend time reviewing. These days, she just wants to think more about Obsidian’s future.
Challenges she faces as CEO of Obsidian are more from outside Obsidian’s walls than within, she said.
“You know, the supply chain and supplies, that type of thing,” she said. “Right now, we’re having a really hard time acquiring aluminum, and that’s an important raw material we use in our vacuum chucks.
“I think we’re all feeling the ripple effect of the shutdown. Not so much ‘we,’ but the world. I don’t think there was enough supply before, so when everything shut down, if we could get what we needed, we were good. But then, when things started opening back up and bringing workers back, our customers wanted things made right away because the supply was down so low.”
Unfortunately, Sue thinks the supply chain issue could be a challenge long term – something she and other manufacturers will need to learn to deal with, as they do most obstacles.
“If you have spent any amount of time in manufacturing, you develop a resilience and a strength that is hard to describe,” she said. “But you adjust…”
And Sue and her company have adjusted. She’s personally
adapted from being a fulltime mom to presiding over a critical grinding business – something that she enjoys doing every day.
“I actually get excited about coming to work. I like my job. I like solving our customers’ problems, like when a customer says they can’t hold a workpiece, or can’t figure out how to machine it, that type of thing,” she said.
“We help. That’s what we do with Magna-Lock. We help with a lot of that. I like seeing our engineering team and our sales team working together and coming to a solution for our customers. It’s probably one of my biggest rewards at Obsidian: a happy customer.”
Sue’s service team is often led by her husband David, whose years of experience as a machinist, along with his knowledge of products and the industry, are crucial, and often includes two of the Nordman’s three children that work at Obsidian.
Those people and their skills will work together to see Sue’s vision for the company in five years become reality. They will, along with the U.S. manufacturing industry, she says.
As Sue writes on her company’s website blog:
“The U.S. manufacturing industry is presently booming but so many struggles stand in our way to making it flourish, from supply chain issues, lack of skilled workers, and all the longlasting effects of the pandemic. Can you imagine the boom we would be experiencing if so many of these hurdles were not in our way? It is truly a time for the United States manufacturing industry to join together because we must make it through this, so we will. United we will make it.”
Obsidian Manufacturing is located at 5015 28th Avenue in Rockford,
IL 61109 and on the web at www.obsidianmfg.com .
First published in TMA’s Jan/Feb 2022 News Bulletin. By Fran Eaton.