American Kuhne Inc.'s new headquarters in Ashaway is smaller than its former digs in Norwich, Conn., but it's a major improvement for the single-screw extruder maker, employees said during a recent open house.
The Norwich plant measured 34,000 square feet; the new one is 25,000. ``It was bigger, but it wasn't nearly as well laid-out or organized. It was a very disjointed building that had been expanded upon, and it didn't have nearly the efficient work flow as the new building,'' said sales and marketing director David Citron.
About 85 people attended the open house Oct. 7-8 at the Ashaway factory, near the Connecticut border.
American Kuhne moved to the Rhode Island building in July. Most of the 21 employees live in the area. ``The average commute went from 20 or 25 miles, to five miles,'' Citron said. The facility is less than half an hour away from the airport in Providence, R.I.
Located next door, also in its own new building, is ProSystems LLC, American Kuhne's controls supplier.
The American Kuhne factory, set on a picturesque wooded lot, has a large and open manufacturing space, so the company now can build longer turnkey lines and test them before shipment. During the open house, employees were finishing up a 165-foot-long medical tubing line. The high-speed extrusion line one of two produced for an unidentified customer can run up to 450 feet of flexible PVC tubing a minute.
Even with the larger work space, the extra-long production line had to be arranged so that, for the final runoff, the tubing made a sharp turn to double back toward the extruder.
``There was no place in the old building, as large as it was, to do what we did with those two lines,'' Citron said.
Workers also were building a sheet line, with the extruder mounted on rails, as well as other machines. American Kuhne extruders come in screw diameters ranging from a half-inch to 12 inches.
The company now has an expanded laboratory with four extruders, including a modular extruder that can quickly change screw sizes. ``Most of the lab equipment is dedicated for new screw designs,'' said Gary Siy, regional sales manager.
Screw design has always been a strong selling point for American Kuhne. Veteran screw designer Ed Steward and Bill Kramer left Davis-Standard Corp. in 1997 to start the new company. They went head-to-head against mighty Davis-Standard, by far the biggest U.S. maker of single-screw extruders and just down the road in Pawcatuck, Conn. At American Kuhne, Kramer is president and Steward is director of process technology.
``It takes a lot of convincing,'' said Citron, who joined American Kuhne in its third month of operations. ``People have to be confident that we're here to stay. There were a lot of people that wouldn't touch us in the early years, who today are loyal customers.''
In August, officials announced the sale of the company's 1,000th extruder part of a two-extruder order from Nexans Electronics Cables of Elm City, N.C., which makes insulated wire and cable for military, ships, automotive and industrial markets.
The machines are Nexans' first American Kuhne lines.
Peter Kuhne, the president and owner of German extruder maker Kuhne GmbH, is a major shareholder and helped get the U.S. business started, but American Kuhne is not a subsidiary of Kuhne, Citron said,
``We operate independently financially,'' he said. ``They of course gave us the money to get started. That's the key. There is some technology exchange, especially in the area of grooved-feed extruders, where they have some strong technology on the European side.''
During 12 years in business, American Kuhne officials have grown the company in a deliberate, conservative way, according to Citron. A lot of business still comes from word-of-mouth. Also, often a customer will buy a replacement screw, and then later order a full extruder.
``We wanted the business to build organically. It could've exploded on us and we wouldn't have been able to handle it. When you think about ramping up a business from zero, it was something that we did very carefully. We never had any pressure to sell more volume than we could handle, or to sell products and technologies that we didn't have complete command of,'' Citron said.