Rulmeca Corp. is growing substantially with conveyor drive systems for bulk and unit handling, and its new facility will ensure this growth continues.
By Staci Davidson, Managing Editor, Knighthouse Media
With more than 55 years in its history, the Rulmeca Group of Italy has grown to be a leading partner to the global materials handling industry. The U.S. base of the business hasn’t been around quite as long, but it still maintains the company’s dedication to delivering the “Rulmeca advantage,” which is going “above and beyond the call of duty” for its customers, according to Rulmeca Corp. President Mike Gawinski. As a result, the North Carolina-based operation delivers on its mission to provide timely sales, applications engineering, local assembly and service at a reasonable price to operators that can benefit from Rulmeca’s motorized pulleys.
Gawinski explains he and Director of Operations Jay Graham were approached by Rulmeca in 2002 when they were working for another provider of material handling solutions, asking if they were interested in starting a new company. Gawinski and Graham would be able to continue selling motorized pulleys for bulk and unit handling conveyor systems, and Rulmeca would gain some localized capabilities. This would keep the company competitive in the U.S. market, Gawinski says, because each of Rulmeca’s motorized pulley models can be made many different ways and a local footprint would eliminate inventory hurdles.
“In 2003, we turned on the lights and bought a container to be the shop,” Gawinski says. “We moved to a larger facility in 2005, which gave us 5,400 square feet of space, and then we continued to expand and had 12,500 square feet of space. In the summer of 2017, we approached the owners to relocate completely because of the needs of the assembly shop.”
The new building opened in October and was built specifically for Rulmeca. It provides advantages the U.S. operation has not had before with a larger shop, larger warehouse and more offices. The company expects to be able to assemble more than 1,000 Rulmeca motorized pulleys each year with this 20,000-square-foot facility in Wilmington.
“We built a four-by-four-by-four pit, which helps the guys be so much more efficient when they are putting together a pulley that is extra-long,” Gawinski adds. “The U.S. operation’s revenue is about $10 million annually now, and 25 to 45 percent of that can be produced locally. That business is growing, which was a good reason for moving.”
Graham explains this will be enough space for about another five years. “We bought another 100 feet of overhead cranes, and now we have two 1.5-ton trolleys and hoists, which cuts down on forklifts running back and forth,” he says. “The pulleys we make can weigh from 100 pounds to up to 5,500 pounds, so we needed this space.”
Thriving with Ideas
One of Rulmeca’s motorized pulleys moves hamburger buns along a conveyor so they can be sliced, and another moves 4,000 tons of iron ore an hour in a harsh environment, but the new facility allows the company to continue meeting a wide range of applications with quality solutions. The opening of the new facility in October was in conjunction with the international group’s annual two-day sales meeting, so the Wilmington operation hosted dozens of colleagues from 20 countries.
Gawinski explains the Wilmington operation is relatively small, but by focusing on motorized pulleys to the exclusion of any other product, its expertise is extensive. “Our director of operations is repairing a pulley today and our administrative assistant is placing orders,” he says. “Some of our engineers are improving our returns program, and anybody with ideas can thrive here. We know that however we can help our customers get better, we will do that – it’s part of the Rulmeca advantage.”
Rulmeca’s IP69-rated sealing system is valued by food processors, he notes, because when facilities are washing leafy vegetables or moving sticky dried cranberries, the pulleys with that seal that can handle high-pressured washing. Another customer processes hogs and bacteria are not allowed, so the seal on Rulmeca’s systems helps that facility to run reliably. The internally driven feature also keeps the people safe who work around the conveyor.
“We have pulleys that have been working in sewage plants – everything that’s environmentally challenging we gravitate toward because those old-fashioned exposed systems aren’t great in these environments,” Gawinski says. “Our systems are hermetically sealed, so our systems can work in salt mines, moving salt from the mines to the surface to go on trucks. Abrasion is the enemy in iron mining and corrosion is the enemy in salt operations, so our sealed systems fit the bill.”
The ROI for Rulmeca’s systems is attractive because of the additional benefits they offer. “Our product keeps clients’ safety rating high, which keeps their insurance low,” Director of Sales and Marketing Brian Vrablic explains. “That helps manufacturers and food producers maintain the best level of insurance. Our systems also keep their downtime really low. Downtime hurts any operation, and we offer the lowest total costs of ownership.”
Growth and Perseverance
Much of Rulmeca’s growth is in food processing and unit handling at this time, although the U.S. operation has traditionally focused on the bulk handling market. Gawinski explains the food processing industry is more technically challenging, and requires positive-drive belts with a motorized pulley that fits like a cog in a wheel, but Rulmeca has the flexibility to meet those needs.
“We entered the food processing market in 2013, and when you spend time there, you see that food safety and hygiene is becoming more and more important,” Vrablic says. “Our product dramatically reduces the risks because it’s sealed, it’s easier to clean and it has a smaller footprint in the clients’ buildings. We have a customer in central Washington that is committed to replacing its entire plant with our systems because they are convinced there are more food-safety requirements coming that will require products like ours to mitigate the risks. As small as we are, we are becoming a resource, rather than just a source.”
The growth in unit handling is allowing Rulmeca to be able to add another CNC machine to its operations. Gawinski notes Wilmington will remain a local assembly center – Rulmeca has a large plant in Germany to do the major production – but its capabilities allow it to be a resource to other Rulmeca global offices.
“When we opened this facility, we got to show off the new building and our great team to colleagues from around the world,” Gawinski says. “In some areas, they haven’t begun local assembly but now we can help them. We can bounce ideas off each other to help optimize what everyone else is doing.”
The grand opening of the Wilmington facility gave the U.S. operation another reason to celebrate – it has just come out of the effects of Hurricane Florence on the area in September. Gawinski explains one employee lost their home, every employee had damage on their home, the new building was damaged and Rulmeca lost production for five business days. There was no power, no internet, no one could get to the facility because the roads were closed and it couldn’t send anything to customers.
So, Gawinski lived in the conference room for a few days and the new facility’s owner came in to help him bail water. A mason came to help modify the facility and repair damages, and Minnesota-based Jasper Engineering, one of Rulmeca’s distributors, sent two of its top technicians to help the company catch up on orders once it was running again.
“Once people could come in, we caught up on production that we had fallen behind on – people came in on Saturdays to help us catch up, even though their homes were damaged,” Gawinski says. “Jasper helped us at their own expense. We really saw people’s characters and it was great. We only lost one small order, and we hate to have a customer be disappointed, but the guy had to go on with his business. One customer asked us to ship them nine large motorized pulleys from inventory once the roads reopened and that was so big. They did that — ahead of their own production schedule — in order to help us with warehouse space and cash flow. I will never forget those kindnesses as long as I live.”