FRANKLIN, Ky.—Proximity to a customer base is crucial for any manufacturer, and that is exactly what pushed the Northern Ireland-based Smiley Monroe Inc. to begin a conveyor belt manufacturing operation in the Bluegrass State.
Operational for about six months now, the 65,000-sq.-ft. production center in Franklin marks the first foray into the U.S. for family-owned Smiley Monroe. Plans to establish the facility first were disclosed at a Las Vegas industry convention in 2017 and were driven by demand from manufacturers of processing equipment as well as strong industry forecasts, the company said.
"So manufacturing 'in America, for America' was a natural strategic move for us—and having a base in Kentucky means we can offer just-in time delivery to our American customers, whose customers are end-users in industries such as quarrying, road construction and waste," said Tim Monroe, marketing director for Lisburn-based Smiley Monroe. "It wasn't really a demand spike that pushed us forward into the U.S., but rather the fact that we needed to be closer to our customers."
The company manufactures its patented Zip Clip replacement belts and hot vulcanized Endless conveyor belts at the location, which employs two people currently with the expectation of hiring four more in January.
"The pandemic affected our startup plans earlier this year," Monroe said. "Zip Clip has been a great success and is proving very popular with customers, so if the business continues to grow month-on-month at its current pace, we'll need to look at increasing employee numbers again in quarter three next year as we ramp up production."
Smiley Monroe currently has 150 employees between the U.S., United Kingdom and India.
The company's U.S. operation is headed by Plant Manager Morgan Walker, who has held a number of leadership roles since joining the business as a site service team leader. Ryan Wright, who serves as international sales manager, remains responsible for North American sales and business development.
The company said it settled on the existing facility in Franklin after reviewing a number of U.S. options.
"It had everything we need as we grow, from internal offices and ample warehousing space, to an LED-lit factory floor and multiple loading bays. But we're not ruling out a purpose-built facility in the future," Monroe said.
The centralized U.S. location, the skilled manufacturing work force and the tax assistance offered by the state of Kentucky all were draws for Smiley Monroe.
"We're the 10th international company to locate in Franklin city, but apparently we're the first United Kingdom-based company to locate in Simpson County, and we're happy to call this community home," Monroe said.
Tough times demand tough belts
It should be no surprise that transporting crushed rock, concrete, steel rebar and jaw- and impact-crushed construction and demolition materials requires a tough conveyor belt, a specially engineered belt that stands up to wear, impact and cut resistance as demanded by manufacturing process equipment customers.
Many times, replacement belts need to be installed by a specialty service contractor, which causes downtime and a loss in the bottom line. Smiley Monroe said its core product belt, the Zip Clip, solves these challenges by being friendly to most conveying components and maximizing operational time.
Made from a combination of natural and synthetic rubber, and produced through a calendering and vulcanization process, the Zip Clip belt (as well as the Endless conveyor belt) can be used in every application where vulcanized jointed belts will suit—namely the crushing, screening and recycling spaces.
"In Zip Clip, Smiley Monroe is bringing fresh thinking and something genuinely new to the American market," Monroe said.
"Our 'Made in Kentucky' Zip Clip belts are the result of listening to our U.S. customers talk about the problem of machine downtime and the amount of time and money wasted waiting for vulcanizing crews and spare belts to arrive to site, particularly in remote locations."