STRONGSVILLE, OHIO — Sumitomo (SHI) Demag held a grand opening of a sparkling new Technology Center in Strongsville April 10, and 125 attendees also toured a press rebuilding operation for the scores of Van Dorn-brand machines running parts in North America.
The Technology Center, in a walled-off portion of the factory, houses seven Sumitomo Demag injection presses, all-electric, hybrid and hydraulic machines in clamping forces from 56 to 652 tons.
Visitors to the grand opening saw the new presses running parts. Customers will be able to do mold trials and get technical training in Strongsville. Out in the rebuilding area, they can check out the first-ever Midget Molder, a hand-operated press built at the old-line Cleveland manufacturer, Van Dorn Plastic Machinery Co.
The event highlighted the investment and support of Japanese parent Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd., said Sumitomo Demag CEO Tetsuya Okamura. Last year, he also became senior vice president and a member of the executive board of Sumitomo Heavy Industries.
The open house brought new attention to the sprawling industrial building in suburban Cleveland, where for years, hundreds of people worked to build Van Dorn injection molding presses. That manufacturing operation shut down in 2007, when Van Dorn, then called Demag Plastics Group, was owned by a German machinery group.
The following year, Sumitomo Demag was formed when the Tokyo-based conglomerate and injection press builder Sumitomo Heavy Industries purchased the operations in Strongsville, Germany and China.
A scaled-down Strongsville facility remained open the whole time, to handle U.S. sales and service. Strongsville introduced a retrofit controller package, called the VDU (Van Dorn Universal) to support its huge number of "legacy" machines. Then last spring at NPE2012, Sumitomo Demag unveiled its ability to rebuild used equipment in Strongsville.
Equipped with big industrial cranes and very high ceilings, the industrial building is well-suited for working on the 30 to 40 machinery rebuilds technicians expect to handle a year. And John Martich III, chief operating officer of the company's U.S. operations, said Strongsville stocks about 55 to 60 new Sumitomo Demag machines—about 40-50 of them all-electric presses.
Officials of the company linking machinery from Japan, German and the United States have worked to create a unified product line. At the same time, executives respect Van Dorn's legacy fleet, which Martich estimated at 23,000 presses operating in North America. About 7,600 of them are HTs, a popular line of toggle-clamp machines that the Germans discontinued a few months before ending U.S. assembly altogether.
Today, many of the employees in Strongsville's rebuilding and retrofit operation are veterans who helped build the new machines originally, Martich said.
Strongsville employs 57 people, up from a low of 40 during the recession. That's a far cry from 700 that toiled there in the mid-1990s, but "Van Dorn" is still well-known locally. The mayor of Strongsville stopped by during the grand opening.
Martich is a 26-year veteran of the Strongsville operation, now called Van Dorn Demag Corp. The machinery company now occupies 120,000 square feet, or about half of the total 240,000 building. Other companies are renting the rest as warehouse space.
The Technology Center portion measures 8,250 square feet.
Martich said the rejuvenated building represents the continuing integration of the global company. Strongsville, located next to the Ohio Turnpike and I-71, is a good location, he said.
"Take a broad product offering—all-electric, hydraulic, hybrid machinery. And bring that together in a new technology center, with our current after-sales solutions. Represent that in a single location in the heart of the Midwest, the home of the largest population of molders in North America," Martich said. "Customers come, they can see molding demonstrations, do hands-on technical training, mold trials, all of that here in our facility. Under one roof."
Okamura said Sumitomo Demag understands the years of expertise of the Van Dorn employees. "No one can do such a retrofit business," he said, calling the large installed base of presses "a very big asset."
He said that spare parts and service of Van Dorn machines are important, but rebuilding makes the company stay sharp: "We want to keep their technology, and the retrofit business is a good way to keep their technology."
Martich said the fact that Strongsville manufactured machines for decades is "a clear strength for us." Although Van Dorn Demag is outsourcing its machining work, the company has the engineering drawings and a complete understanding of the equipment, he said.
Martich ticked off the reasons. "The original configurations. The original software. The configuration of the hydraulic circuit. The way the machine functions, the sequence diagram of the circuit itself, not only the electrical/electronic circuit but also the hydraulic circuitry, the way it sequences. The valves you use. The type of components. I mean, it's huge. To do that if you were not an OEM, is an enormous task."
Steven Ross, aftersales and service representative, showed off the expertise during a tour of the rebuild area. He said the first remanufactured machine was a Sumitomo SG125. Employees rebuilt the toggle clamp and the injection unit, and married a VDU control retrofit to the original hydraulic system.
An aging press came from a customer who picked it up an auction. Engel and Milacron presses came from trade-ins.
The rebuild team works closely with the customer to plan the job. On hydraulic machines, the hydraulic cylinder gets reground to bring it back to like-new specifications. Crews tear apart the injection unit and can install new screws. They can replace all seals and bearings. Ross said that when they install new valves on a press, they rebuild the old valves, so the customer then has two sets.
The Van Dorn Demag team now has five years' experience with the retrofit VDU controller, which can significantly upgrade a used machine. Ross said the company has done about 300 VDU conversions at customers' plants so far, on Van Dorn presses with an average age of 12 to 17 years.
The Strongsville plant has remained open, through a series of owners and the economic recession. It's had a purpose. Now the U.S. market has rebounded for new injection presses. And companies continue to hang onto older machines.
"We have continued to be agile enough to move with the changing market conditions," Martich said.