Groundbreaking on 40,000 st ft expansion April

History of BHE

Blackhawk Engineering originally began operations in 1974 with the purpose to design and build tooling, dies and special machines. The company primarily produced one-off projects and small quantity reproductions. It wasn’t until years later did BHE find its true niche.

“The company saw an opportunity to change and migrate from small one-piece machining jobs to larger production runs,” said John Oltman, general manager of Blackhawk Engineering. “It was the right time to take this obvious step.”

In the early 1990’s one of its largest clients, John Deere, made the decision to outsource some of its precision CNC work to BHE. John Deere sold some of its machines and equipment to BHE beginning the focus on production machining. The tooling, dies and special machine operation was shifted solely to Blackhawk Engineering’s location on Airline Highway.

In 1995, BHE hit its major growth spurt and completed its third building expansion in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park. BHE started exploring new and innovative ways to meet the needs of its growing industry. They scoured the globe for vendors to provide equipment to help them compete in the large production arena.  “We found a good partner in the Hitachi Seiki Company during the 90’s and we became the world’s largest user of their Hitachi Seiki Horizontal Pallet Changers.”

Nearly 10 years later, an opportunity arose to sell the Systems division to industrial park neighbor, American Pattern. Then BHE became solely focused on production precision CNC machining. Now, BHE has expanded and diversified to provide customers with the best precision CNC machining services available in the market.

“Our focus on customer service, competitive pricing, and on-time deliveries has kept us at the forefront of the CNC machining industry,” said Kurt Barker, sales manager with Blackhawk Engineering. “Our history is rich and it’s an exciting story to tell.”

1985 – Additional CNC lathes and mills purchased to focus on machining service/short-run production parts.

1988 – Purchased a large horizontal machining center for an agricultural differential housing.

1989 – Became the first recognized Certified Supplier to John Deere Waterloo Tractor Works for drivetrain casting machining.

1990 – Blackhawk Engineering Production Group and Blackhawk Engineering Systems Group split into two separate entities and facilities, allowing for our focus on production machining.

1995 – Completion of third building expansion, allowing us the needed space to focus on our expanding expertise in the horizontal mill usage for six-sided drivetrain-type machining. Also in 1995 we became the world’s No. 1 user of Hitachi Seiki Horizontal Pallet Changers.

1996 – Introduced the Ford Quality Operating System (QOS) used to drive and improve BHE business practices.

1999 – Achieved ISO 9000 registration.

2006 – Sold Blackhawk Engineering Systems Group to solely focus on production machining.

2009 – Certified to ISO 9001:2008.

2011 – 30,000 sq. ft. plant addition completed, build in response to high demand for our services.

2013 – Broke ground on a 40,000-square-foot facility, expanding our facility to 118,000 square feet.

2014 – 40,000 sq. ft. plant addition completed, providing space for new opportunities and for further diversification.

Pay for Skill

Blackhawk Engineering changed the way it handles employee compensation in 2007. It’s paying off, for everyone. Prior to implementing the ‘Pay for Skill’ platform, BHE gave employee raises solely based on seniority in a time-based compensation system. “We were finding it difficult to retain people,” said John Oltman, general manager. “Due to the area demand for CNC operators, they would stay for a while, but then get lured away for better paying positions elsewhere.”


Administrators took an objective look at what it would take to retain employees, especially once they had completed the training program. They built a Pay for Skill program allowing employees to be assessed and rated annually on progress to earn raises. A team of employees and senior leaders determined 20 skillsets required to be an outstanding CNC operator. Those skills make up the basis for rating each employee.


“We wanted to find a way to entice people to learn, instead of just putting in their time,” said Oltman. This program allows the employee to ultimately be in charge of their own wage scale. Employees are taught skills to make them productive and knowledgeable, which increases their value at BHE.


Many shining stars have emerged since the implementation the policy. Seven-year veteran employee, Jose Serna-Martinez understands the value of his hard work.


Martinez started as an entry-level Utility Operator with no experience and within his first year moved up the ranks to CNC Operator. He has advanced even further, currently holding the position as CNC operator set-up technician, one of the highest skilled positions on the shop floor.


When asked how the Pay for Skill program has benefitted him, Martinez was quick to respond, “I have been able to provide a better life for my family.


There’s motivation to learn more skills. “The more you pay attention and learn all you can, the quicker you can earn more,” He said.

Another employee seeing tremendous growth opportunity from the Pay for Skill program is Brian Finn. Starting as a fork truck driver three years ago, Finn has now advanced to the position of CNC Operator. “You’re more in control of opportunities to earn raises,” said Finn. “I’m now making more money than I ever would at my previous job.”


Originally, Aaron Janaszak took a pay cut to come to work for Blackhawk Engineering. “After six months of hard work, I was making more than I ever would have at my previous employer,” said Janaszak. Now in his second year with the company, he is thrilled to help build parts for various types of equipment that is used on a farm where he also works. “You get what you put into it. You could just do the minimum, but as they say, you reap what you sow.”


“If someone is willing, there are always opportunities to learn,” said Finn. “The more you learn, the more valuable you are to the company and you get paid what you’re worth.”


In addition to the Pay for Skill program, the company has implemented a Suggestion Process where employees can suggest improvements for process changes, safety or quality improvements. If their suggestion is accepted, they will receive either cash compensation or extra flex time. Each employee is encourage to submit at least two suggestions per year.


Blackhawk Engineering continuously recruits for positions. The company offers competitive benefits, including health, dental and vision insurance; holiday pay, flex time and others. The best way to find out what positions are available is to check the careers section of




BHE Cuts Ribbon on Largest Expansion in Company History


For more information, contact:
Alyssa Connell
Connell Communications
(641) 330-2537



Community Tours New Plant Building, Open House Celebration

CEDAR FALLS, IOWA (April 17, 2014) – Blackhawk Engineering hosted the Cedar Valley community, customers and special guests at its Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Open House on its largest expansion in company history on Thursday, April 17, 2014 in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park. The Greater Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce led the ribbon cutting, alongside more than 100 BHE employees.

Blackhawk Engineering is a manufacturer of large and complex drivetrain-type parts made primarily from iron castings that are used in heavy equipment, agriculture, construction, mining, and government settings.

The new 40,000 sq. ft. expansion makes room for additional state-of-the-art equipment, expanded employee break room space, upgraded employee locker rooms, additional parking spaces and three new truck docks. The new facility is air conditioned and continues to provide a comfortable working environment for all employees.

“The growth strategy of Blackhawk Engineering has always been to quickly respond to the needs of our customers and the demands of our workload by creating an environment for success,” said John Oltman, general manager of Blackhawk Engineering. “Throughout the years, we’ve reached capacity in our previous spaces. Now with this new expansion, we’re positioned well for the future as this additional space also allows for diversification from our traditional product lines.”


As part of the $3.5M expansion, Blackhawk Engineering invested in four new 630MM horizontal machining centers which will allow the company to process current products more efficiently. The additional capabilities of the new equipment will further enable the company to process a variety of materials that provide opportunities to further expand its customer base.

“We’ve been working hard to develop new products and services,” said Oltman, “This new expansion and equipment will meet the needs of new and existing customers for years to come.”

The company has been actively recruiting for open positions and has now completed the first wave of new hires, hiring more than 16 qualified individuals. Additional career opportunities will continuously be posted on the company’s newly-updated website.

Blackhawk Engineering has been serving the Cedar Valley community for more than 40 years. “We have a lasting legacy of being good community stewards and believe our past recruitment and expansion efforts coupled with this latest expansion are ways we show our commitment once again,” said Oltman.

About Blackhawk Engineering

Blackhawk Engineering, founded in 1974, is a privately held company and a subsidiary of EXX Inc. The company began by designing and building tooling, dies, and special machines. Over the course of 40 years, Blackhawk Engineering has expanded and diversified to provide customers with the best production precision CNC machining services available. Blackhawk Engineering is one of the Midwest’s leading contract precision CNC machining facilities for tight-toleranced, multiple-sided parts.

Blackhawk Engineering received the Continued Investor Award in 2012 from the City of Cedar Falls and Cedar Falls Utilities.

For more information, please visit



Media Alert

Media Alert: Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Community Open House


For more information, contact:
Alyssa Connell
Connell Communications
(641) 330-2537


Community Invited to Tour New 40,000 Sq. Ft. Expansion


Blackhawk Engineering invites the Cedar Valley community to attend a Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Open House on Thursday, April 17, 2014 in the Cedar Falls Industrial Park. The Greater Cedar Valley Chamber of Commerce will lead the ribbon cutting, alongside more than 100 BHE employees. Facility tours will showcase the new plant addition. Refreshments will be served.

2:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Thursday, April 17, 2014 

Blackhawk Engineering
118 Blackhawk Lane
Cedar Falls, Iowa

Alyssa Connell
Connell Communications
Cell: (641) 330-2537

The new 40,000 sq. ft. expansion has allowed Blackhawk Engineering to add additional state-of-the-art equipment, expand employee break room space, upgrade employee locker rooms, and create additional parking spaces and three truck docks. The new facility is air conditioned and continues to provide a comfortable working environment for all employees.



Blackhawk Engineering Ribbon-Cutting and Open House

Blackhawk Engineering Ribbon-Cutting and Open House

Save the Date!

Blackhawk Engineering is getting ready to celebrate our major new expansion. Please mark your calendar to join us at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 17, for the ribbon-cutting on our new 40,000-sq.-ft. plant addition.

The ribbon-cutting will be followed by an open house. Refreshments will be served.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Please let us know if you plant to attend by registering here.

New Warehouse

New Warehouse