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Kuhne GmbH, a German manufacturer of single-screw extruders, has hired three top sales and technical officials away from machinery giant Davis-Standard to establish a U.S. operation.

The operation will manufacture U.S.-made, single-screw extruders.

Privately held Kuhne, which turns 50 years old this year, is not well-known in the United States. Most of the company's exports go to other European nations and the Middle East, according to a company history.

``They're mostly known for their sheet and blown film extruders, and some pipe and profile machines,'' said Al Hodge, sales director at American Kuhne, based in Norwich, Conn.

Screw diameters range from 25-180 millimeters.

Kuhne has a small, loyal customer base in the United States, mostly for blown film equipment.

``They've had a sprinkling of U.S. customers, but they've always tried to service it out of Germany,'' Hodge said.

Kuhne of St. Augustin, Germany, raised its profile in the U.S. extrusion world in dramatic fashion with the selection of its first three employees. Hodge had been Davis-Standard's vice president of sales and engineering. Bill Kramer, American Kuhne's director of engineering and manufacturing, was technical director at Davis-Standard. Ed Steward, a veteran screw designer who becomes director of process technology at American Kuhne, had been Davis-Standard's chief process consultant.

Davis-Standard, based in Pawcatuck, Conn., is the Goliath of North American extruder manufacturers, holding more than 50 percent of the U.S. market for single-screw extruders. The company also makes blow molding machines, equipment for extrusion coating, cast film and sheet, and other types of plastics processing equipment.

The unit of Crompton & Knowles Corp. also has followed an aggressive plan to grow by purchasing other companies, making eight acquisitions since 1991. Davis-Standard racked up 1995 sales of $279.9 million. Through the first nine months of 1996, sales were $212.1 million.

By contrast, Kuhne employs about 200 people and has sales of about 50 million deutsche marks (about $30 million).

``Our mission here is to get them established [in North America] in single-screw extruders,'' Hodge said.

Hodge said American Kuhne will offer a U.S.-made machine, not simply convert machines shipped from Germany. American Kuhne plans to assemble machines from domestically sourced components and will do its own screw design.

``We're not going to bring German machines over and electrify them. We're going to actually manufacture here,'' he said in a Jan. 21 telephone interview from Norwich.

Details about Hodge, Kramer and Steward leaving Davis-Standard have filtered through the industry in recent days. Hodge said American Kuhne plans to issue a formal announcement soon, and will exhibit at NPE 1997. The company is leasing a 10,000-square-foot facility in Norwich.

``This was not a reflection upon Davis-Standard in any way at all,'' Hodge said. ``This was an opportunity for us for our future. Davis is a great organization, and will continue to be.''

Davis-Standard does not comment on personnel issues, according to spokeswoman Diane Beaulieu.