In hosting its first-ever International Mixing Seminar, HF Rubber Machinery Inc. wanted to show off its new addition, a 5,000-sq.-ft. building, to customers.
More importantly, the U.S. subsidiary of German machinery maker Harburg Freudenberger Maschinenbau GmbH wanted customers to see how much the site and the company itself have developed in recent years.
The program at the seminar was built upon a series of 11 technical presentations on an array of mixing-related topics, including silica mixing technology, preventative maintenance, controlling wear, rotor concepts, mixer controls and looks into the past and future on mixer developments. Speakers from Harburg Freudenberger and HF, as well as rubber industry partners, presented the papers during the two-day event, held Nov. 8-9 at HF's expanded plant in Topeka.
The parent company has hosted its own seminars in Germany, and they served as a model for HF's version in the U.S. But when the idea for an event in Topeka was discussed eight months ago, he ``didn't know what to expect,'' said Fabian Schmahl, HF executive vice president.
The seminar attracted about 100 people, about 70 of whom were guests-primarily managers and officers from current or potential customers-and Schmahl said HF officials were pleased with how the event was received and attended.
The attendees came from various corners of the industry, including pharmaceutical, technical rubber goods, custom compounding, roofing, tires and additives-a veritable ``Who's Who,'' Schmahl said.
He said he believes the company will hold a similar seminar again, but likely won't hold it every year. ``We want the presentations, the information, to be new.''
While having the customers in-house gave HF a chance to demonstrate its operations, it also allowed the company to get feedback from those attendees on how it is doing. ``We want to know what our customers want from us,'' Schmahl said. ``We think we've put ourselves in a position to do the best we can for them, and we value their opinions.''
HF has gone through many changes in the last few years, starting about 3½ years ago when the unit, then known as ThyssenKrupp Rubber Machinery Inc., went through management changes, Schmahl said. Then, the ThyssenKrupp global rubber machinery business was sold in 2005, leading to the name changes to Harburg Freudenberger and HF Rubber Machinery.
The real positive results of the changes have been a trust in the management at HF and a willingness to put capital expenditure money into the business, Schmahl said. In 2005 alone, the company has invested about $1.2 million in new equipment.
In addition to the new building, HF installed a surface grinder at the Topeka site about six months ago, and within the last month implemented a new CNC horizontal boring mill and a large engine lathe. The expansion will house the company's Engineering Field Services group, with areas for storage, pre-manufacturing and job set-ups and materials returned from previous projects, according to Schmahl.
Field and support services are a big part of what HF is trying to accomplish within its market, said HF Sales Manager Pete Glasser. The new dedicated area means better preparation for installation, shorter down times and an extra benefit for customers, Schmahl said.
``We used to work wherever we could find some free space,'' EFS group manager Paul White said, adding that the new building has been needed for a long time and that the field service people will appreciate it.
Schmahl said that, in addition to the changes in the building and the business' growth, he's proud that HF is looking to maintain and add jobs in Topeka where some competitors have done the opposite. HF employs about 55, and a good number of them have been added in the past three years.
``We'll know in the near future if we've made the right decisions, but it feels very good now,'' he said. ``We're working together with our German plants and have the opportunity to use the (research and development) resources there. We also think it's important to have a strong production site here and we plan on continuing to grow.''