MASSILLON, OHIO — National Feedscrew & Machinery Inc., an Ohio company best known for its single-screw rubber extruders and tire presses, wants to rejuvenate an old-line plastics nameplate — Welding Engineers extruders.
Last year, NFM bought the assets of Welding Engineers Inc. NFM renamed the business NFM Welding Engineers and moved it from Blue Bell, Pa., to NFM's Massillon headquarters.
NFM officials admit they're not well-known outside the world of rubber. But they promise to re-energize Welding Engineers' plastics lines of Toshiba twin-screw compounding extruders and Welding Engineers' own resin manufacturing lines.
Who are these guys?
The owners are three brothers, all toolmakers: Philip, Paul and John Roberson. Their father, Alfred Roberson, started a part-time tool shop in 1973, repairing screws and barrels. He continued to work at other full-time jobs, including a stint at vacuum cleaner maker Hoover Co. in Canton, Ohio, where he ran purchasing and shipping.
National Feedscrew was created in 1985, when the Robersons bought the metalworking equipment and assets of NRM Corp.'s feedscrew factory in Tallmadge, Ohio. Sales that year were $2.5 million.
Two years later they got into rubber extruders by picking up Monsanto Co.'s line of single-screw machines.
NFM moved both businesses to Massillon, where it purchased two giant industrial buildings. Then NFM bought Welding Engineers in 1998. Last month, NFM bought Iddon Bros. Ltd. in Leyland, England, a manufacturer of rubber equipment, such as calenders, roll mills and extruders. The 113-year-old company has been renamed NFM Iddon Ltd.
Other traditional NFM products include new and rebuilt tire presses and pin-screw extruders, which mix rubber for tires.
``We've worked on just about every type of machine since we started up,'' said Philip Roberson, president and chief executive officer, as he walked through the cavernous assembly hall.
Alfred Roberson died in 1997.
Since NFM began 14 years ago, the company has averaged 15 percent annual sales growth, reaching $14 million in 1998. This year, Philip Roberson said, sales should double, to about $30 million.
The 300,000-square-foot complex employs 170.
Buying Welding Engineers has changed NFM's profile. Now, sales are split about evenly between rubber and plastics equipment and screws.
Before the deal, rubber accounted for about 70 percent of sales.
To meet the technical demands of plastics customers in compounding and resin production, the company is investing $1.5 million in a new laboratory.
So far, the lab has three twin-screw extruders: two Welding Engineers counterrotating extruders and a Toshiba SS co-rotating extruder.
The company is hiring process engineers.
``We will offer all customers lab runs. We can work with customers to run any material,'' said Philip Roberson. ``We're going to end up more engineering-driven, science-driven.''
Customers of Welding Engineers also should notice a difference, said James Schak, director of marketing and sales for the plastics machinery.
Welding Engineers was an assembly house that bought machine components from outside suppliers. That sometimes led to delays for the Toshiba machines, Schak said.
NFM, on the other hand, is a full-scale equipment maker that machines its own parts, such as large die-plates, and cuts its own screws. Years spent designing special equipment, repairing screws and selling spare parts taught the Robersons to move fast.
``We respond in days, rather than months,'' said Paul Roberson, vice president of product development. ``That's how our company's grown, by responding to the customer, and always to respond as quickly as possible.''
The Welding Engineers/Toshiba extruder relationship dates to 1995. Japan's Toshiba Machine Co. Ltd. gave Welding Engineers exclusive North American rights to manufacture and sell its compounding extruders with co-rotating, intermeshing screws.
So far, Welding Engineers has sold 14 Toshiba machines, Schak said.
The Toshiba SS extruder competes in the fast-growing area of high-speed, high-torque compounding. It can run as fast as 1,500 revolutions per minute.
Koji Hagimoto, Toshiba's extrusion export manager, is happy with the new ownership.
``Welding Engineers was just only assembly, but now we can make parts and build machines,'' he said.
NFM will supply every part of the Toshiba SS machines except the gearbox, which comes from Japan.
The Massillon plant also may ship components to Toshiba, if yen/dollar exchange rates make that economical.
Since the acquisition, Toshiba and NFM Welding Engineers have been flying people back and forth between Massillon and Japan for cross-training.
Toshiba, which began making twin-screw extruders in 1952, now has a database of more than 5,000 tests.
The Ohio company also plans to upgrade and aggressively market Welding Engineers' line of counterrotating, parallel screw machines.
Resin companies buy these complex extrusion systems to do things like devolatizing, reactive extrusion, coagulation and drying, all in a single machine.
``Some of our weaknesses were their strengths and our strengths were their weaknesses,'' said Paul Roberson. ``You take the deck and you shuffle them together, and we have a much stronger, better company by combining the efforts.''
NFM has invested about $4 million to upgrade the two aging industrial buildings since moving in 13 years ago.
The assembly hall used to be a ball-bearing factory. Building No. 2, an old steel-casting plant, now houses NFM's machining operation that turns out crosshead and strand dies, gears and screws.
A 27-foot-long furnace for preheating and post-heating the screw means NFM can turn out some very large screws. Its biggest ever, measuring 51/2 inches in diameter, was used on a NASA project to make solid rocket fuel.
NFM buys bimetallic liners from Wexco Corp. of Lynchburg, Va., and makes its own standard barrels. The company operates an apprenticeship program for its machinists.
Like many manufacturers, NFM has grappled with integrating computers into its production. But the company has a leg up.
In 1993, NFM started National Computer Inc. in nearby Canton to set up its own computer network and an Internet site.
Now National Computer does work for other firms.
``It's helped our company tremendously. We've got some of the finest computer systems. It's state-of-the-art,'' Paul Roberson said.