AKRON, OHIO — Under Ralph Jacob's ownership, Vulcan Machinery Corp. evolved from a two-man job shop serving Akron's tire factories to a 28-employee equipment maker that ships to plastics firms worldwide.
Now Vulcan is preparing to move to the next stage, of offering a full line of customized and commodity machinery, perhaps by acquiring another company. Also, Ralph Jacob has turned Vulcan over to his sons, twin brothers David, company president, and Bradley Jacob, engineering manager.
Vulcan's equipment is the stuff that goes right after the extruder: mainly automated winders for profile and tubing and winders and stackers for sheet. Vulcan also builds pullers, cutters, saws and cooling tanks — products often considered commodity equipment, according to David Jacob. Sales were more than $5 million in 1998, and he expects a 35 percent sales gain this year.
Vulcan tries to make those items as standard offerings at a low price, he said. But customers often request changes.
``What we find is, we have to put value-added components on our machines,'' Jacob said. That drives up prices.
Vulcan officials want to become the Henry Ford of equipment such as pullers and cutters — each one the same, at a good price.
Jacob said the company will either add a standard-products operation at its Akron factory, or buy another company that has a standard line. An acquisition could happen in the next three years, although he said no deals are in the works now.
He stressed that Vulcan always will be able to meet special requirements. About one-third of its employees are engineers.
``The one thing that we will not do is sacrifice our business and our existing customers for the sake of getting bigger,'' he said in an interview at Vulcan.
Throughout its history, Vulcan has adapted to changing markets. Vulcan's 33,000-square-foot plant sits in the shadow of Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.'s headquarters in Akron. Years ago, Vulcan, like dozens of other local shops, was totally dependent on Akron's tire plants. The small shops turned out custom equipment and did repairs. Today most of the shops are long closed. The Rubber City doesn't make tires anymore.
``Akron was just beat bad in the '70s and '80s,'' David Jacob said. He credits his father for moving into plastics machinery before the tire meltdown started.
Ralph Jacob's background was in tires. After working in tire development at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, he moved to General Tire & Rubber Co. in Akron, where he helped develop the bias-belted tire, an interim step before radial tires. He moved to Owens-Corning, taking a position in New York pushing the idea of glass fibers in tires.
In 1966, he returned to Akron and bought Frank Eddy Machine Co. (The name later was changed to Vulcan.) A few years later, Jacob sold his first piece of machinery for plastics: a scrap-roll winder produced for Akron extruder maker NRM Corp. NRM, in turn, sold it as part of a package to Rubbermaid Inc.
Jacob started to build the company's plastics equipment business. He added sheet stackers.
Meanwhile, other tire job shops expanded quickly as Akron's tire plants retooled for radial production. Jacob stayed conservative. He continued to diversify into plastics equipment, adding a high-speed coiler for medical tubing.
The firm also expanded internationally. Today, exports generate about 20 percent of sales.
David Jacob said his father's foresight saved the company. Ralph Jacob passed ownership down to his sons in mid-1998. Retired, he still comes in regularly.
``He is very much the lifeblood of Vulcan,'' said David Jacob.
Vulcan has started to beef up its staff for sales and moved a senior project engineer, Bryan Friend, into a new post as technical sales manager. Friend said he is recruiting manufacturers' representatives.
Friend said Vulcan has introduced two new machines recently — a coiler for strapping tape and a machine that removes water from strands of resin in compounding.