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MasterLock: A New Lock Every 2.1 Seconds


MasterLock received international attention in early 2012 when President Obama lauded the Milwaukee-based company for creating 100 new jobs there, rather than at their production facilities in China or Mexico. The President’s remarks came in conjunction with an event he hosted called the Insourcing American Jobs Forum. In addition to MasterLock, manufacturers highlighted included Ford Motor, Rolls-Royce, Chesapeake Bay Candle Company, and Keen Footwear, among others.

For MasterLock, the choice to expand production and create jobs in Milwaukee was made possible by industrial automation investments at the Milwaukee facility that have helped it stay price-competitive with the company’s international plants.

The production of a combination lock today is extraordinarily automated. At the impressive Milwaukee plant, parts are placed in an advanced machine, which then churns out a fully assembled new lock every 2.1 seconds. That means a single machine can make about 1,740 locks in a single hour. Before the automation, it took about 20 employees to make each lock. Now it requires a fraction of that total to program, manage and maintain a machine. The factory now produces twice as many locks as it did in 2009, when it commenced its technology upgrades, even though it employs fewer workers. Many of the newer jobs require advanced computer-related skills.

MasterLock has re-engineered many of its products. For example, bicycle locks are more effective and versatile than those from a generation ago. Similarly, at a web URL called, commercial and industrial purchasers can choose the keying, weatherability, size, and laser engraving options best suited for their unique security applications. MasterLock also provides software products for uses like locker-room management.

The company, which has been a subsidiary of Fortune brands since the Sixties, is investing in network systems to allow sales data from stores to be transmitted directly to plants in real time, providing detail such as the type, size, and color of locks being sold. This data will allow sound production decisions to be made more quickly. To build the durable network needed to generate, track, and safeguard the data, MasterLock has partnered with Rockwell Automation and Cisco Systems on routers and ports that can withstand high temperatures.

Since its founding in 1921, MasterLock has, in a sense, been a part of American culture. Harry Houdini posed in a MasterLock in 1925. Three years later, their locks were used in enforcement efforts during Prohibition. The company exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933, and introduced its first combination lock two years later. Its staff worked 24-7, seven days a week, to support the war effort in the early Forties. The three-foot cable lock was introduced as customers became more mobile in the Sixties. Its products were used on the U.S.S. Wisconsin battleship in 1988, and the company implemented an assertive environmental plan in 1991. In the context of that history, the recent investment in industrial automation is just another example of the innovation that has helped MasterLock become an iconic brand with manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and abroad.