- THE MAGAZINE
Fifty years ago, an electrician named Vern Riesbeck used an electrical transformer to apply a low-voltage current to screens to eliminate blinding from wet or damp materials. Today, screen heating and many other innovations developed by Midwestern Industries, based in Massillon, Ohio, are widely used in a variety of screening applications, ranging from brick and ceramic manufacturing to food, pharmaceutical and aggregate separating. The company's product line encompasses screening machines and replacement screens, as well as a number of screening accessories.
With a strong commitment to quality and service, as well as a staff of dedicated, knowledgeable employees, Midwestern Industries continues to fulfill Riesbeck's dream of being an independent leader in the screening industry.
Developing PartnershipsFrom the very beginning, Riesbeck understood that the company would need more than a good product to be successful-it would also need to develop problem-
solving partnerships with companies in the materials industry. One of the first such "partnerships" Riesbeck established was with H.C. "Curly" Wolfe of Wyandot Dolomite, an asphalt production and mining company located in Findlay, Ohio. The two men met in 1953, when Riesbeck began making rounds to managers, supervisors and CEOs of the quarry and aggregate industries to promote his new screen heating device. When Wolfe heard that blinding in screen applications from wet or damp material could be virtually eliminated with this product, he decided to try it in Wyandot Dolomite's facility-and became the first person to purchase Midwestern Industries' Converta-Screen heating unit. Over the next several decades, Riesbeck continued to work closely with H.C. Wolfe, then with H.C.'s son, Herk, as he took the company over from his father. During this time, Riesbeck frequently designed one-of-a-kind screening panels to ensure the integrity of Wyandot Dolomite's products. "Vern had a great imaginative mind, coming up with innovative solutions to help us out," commented Herk.
Many of Midwestern Industries' products began this way-as a customized solution to a difficult materials handling problem. "Vern was very much a ‘people person.' Rather than just relying on the uniqueness of his product to sell itself, he really worked hard at building relationships with people," said Barb Sylvester, president of Midwestern Industries. "His main goal from the beginning was to meet the needs of individuals in the materials handling industry."
Focusing on ProgressRiesbeck's desire to provide screening solutions led to a number of new product introductions over the years. Through an early partnership with Universal Vibrating Screen Co., Midwestern Industries saw its Converta-Screen heaters installed in a number of different applications in the 1950s. In the early 1970s, the company introduced its Gyra-Vib round separators and screens for dry or liquid-solid separating, scalping, dewatering, length grading, sizing and cleaning applications. Then, in 1984, Riesbeck bought Universal and merged it into Midwestern Industries, enabling Midwestern to add the company's products to its own growing product line.
The early '80s also saw the development of a new solution to enhance screening capacity in a limited space-the Multi-Vib rectangular screener.
"Where in the past, people made screens wider and longer to handle more screening capacity, the Multi-Vib proved you didn't have to do that. It was a real revolution in screening," said Harold "Chip" Painter, vice president of manufacturing. The parallel-arc configuration of the screen decks is designed to deliver precise, clean cuts of various-specification products quickly and efficiently. Each deck retains coarser particles while allowing finer particles to fall through to the next level, and the screens require up to 50% less structural support compared to conventional rectangular screens of similar capacity.
To complement the Multi-Vib, the company developed end-tensioned screens to make screen changes easier and less costly. "In the past, screens were tensioned down the side and were cumbersome and time-consuming to change. The end-tensioned screen takes what used to be a 11/2-hour screen change and turns it into a 15-minute screen change, saving both downtime and labor costs," Painter explained.
In the early '90s, the company introduced its MEV rectangular screening equipment for smaller screening capacities. According to Painter, the system packages the best features of the Multi-Vib-such as end-tensioned screens-into a machine that is very cost-effective for companies that might not be able to afford a large piece of screening equipment.
For Riesbeck, each new screening challenge was a new opportunity to help people solve problems. "As Riesbeck learned more about the materials processing industry-whether it be clay, brick, sand or stone quarry-he continued to find ways to make different products to solve various problems. That's how we evolved to where we are today," Painter said.
A Service MentalityThe evolution of Midwestern Industries didn't stop at products. In the early 1970s, the company expanded into a new facility in Macon, Ga., to better meet the needs of customers in that region. What started out as a small facility to manufacture replacement round screens and supply rectangular panels made at the Massillon plant soon evolved into a full-scale production operation. In 1988, Midwestern Industries built a new plant in Macon, and that facility continues to make round and rectangular replacement screens.
The company also opened a small test lab in the '70s in its Massillon plant to help customers solve screening problems-and it has never charged for its testing services. "Even if a company hasn't purchased anything from us yet and is still in the process of making a decision about what equipment to buy, we will test their product at no charge to show them that our equipment will do the job. The only thing we require of them is that they send the sample to us freight pre-paid. But beyond that, if they tell us what they want to do with the sample, we'll see if we can do it," Painter said.
In the early '90s, the company expanded its test lab into a new 10,000-square-foot building near its Massillon plant to enable it to run full-scale tests on nearly any product. "The lab contains the full line of equipment that we make-including an MEV screen, a Multi-Vib screen, several different diameter sizes of our round separators, the Universal line of rectangular machines, our low-profile separators and a small porta-sifter-and we set everything up to be as flexible as possible," Painter said. "It helps reassure potential customers that our equipment is capable of doing what they expect in terms of quality and capacity."
Midwestern Industries also uses the lab to assist existing customers with material handling problems. "We often have companies come to us and say, ‘We need to change the mesh a little bit on this process,' or ‘We need to check to see if we can do this,' or ‘We're trying to do something a little different.' They might not be planning to buy any new equipment from us, but we'll still test their sample and tell them what they can do with their existing equipment. And we don't charge for that," Painter said.
Such services are a big part of the company's commitment to customer satisfaction. "We want to ensure that customers get the best possible product for their application, and our test lab helps us do that," Sylvester said.
Investing in the FutureWhen Riesbeck passed away in 1995, his succession plan enabled Midwestern Industries to continue as a 100% employee-owned company. Following in Riesbeck's footsteps was a challenge, but the employees quickly proved that they were up to the task.
"When Vern passed away, a lot of customers wanted to know how we were going to react. Everyone thought we were going to be bought out by some big corporation and become a division of this place or that place," Painter said. "We had to make sure our customers knew that we were still going to continue to meet their needs."
Over the next several years, the company introduced new products such as its cloth-edged screens and low-profile separators, and it improved its existing equipment by adding more automation and user-friendly features. It also began investing in its own facilities and the equipment used to make its screens and machines.
In March 2003, the company installed a new grommet-attaching machine in its Macon facility for the production of its cloth-edged sifter screens. In the past, inserting the grommets in the screens was primarily a slow, manual operation that was sometimes prone to human error. The machine simultaneously punches the hole in the screen and installs the grommet, which significantly streamlines the process and increases the quality of the finished screen.
In May 2003, the company installed a new wire electrical discharge machine (EDM) in its Massillon facility. The machine enables Midwestern Industries to quickly make new crimping dies for its wire-woven screens in a variety of wire sizes and openings. "Manually making a set of dies used to take us about four weeks; this machine can make a set of dies in approximately 30 hours, which enables us to offer faster turnaround even on complex custom projects," Painter said.
The company also replaced its manual lathes with a new computer numeric controlled (CNC) lathe in June 2003, which increases the efficiency and accuracy of making parts for the company's screening systems. And by mid-December of this year, Midwestern Industries plans to install an 8 x 20 ft. Cincinnati laser cutting machine-one of only five lasers of its size in the world-to enhance the production process for the company's Multi-Vib and MEV screening equipment.
"In today's market, you either have to keep up with the times or get left behind," Painter said. "All of this new equipment gives us the ability to develop new products on a faster basis, and it's also going to help us make our existing products even better. It will also make our overall production process a little faster so that we can continue to offer a high level of service to the people who have come to expect that of us."
According to Sylvester, these types of investments, along with the myriad other ways in which the company has continued to meet-and exceed-its customers' expectations, have helped ensure that Riesbeck's legacy will live on for many years to come. "We've proven that we are here for the long term," she said.
Fulfilling a DreamAs Midwestern Industries passes its 50-year milestone and enters the next phase of its operations, the company remains committed to fulfilling Riesbeck's dream of being an independent leader in the materials screening industry. "Our goal for the future is to continue to provide quality screening products, along with an unmatched level of service," Sylvester said.
"We still have a lot of new things on the drawing board. We're going to continue to develop the business and bring new things to the screening world," Painter added.