Investing In Ceramics<br>Movin' and Shakin'
Operations continued in New York for some time with very little change. In the mid-1980s, however, the company experienced a flurry of development activity, with new separator products for the ceramic, toners and powder metals industries being introduced. The need for larger facilities to accommodate the increase in product offerings, along with the rising costs and safety concerns associated with the New York area, prompted Russell Finex to relocate to Charlotte, N.C., in 1991.
Product InnovationsThat same year, Russell Finex developed and patented a new screen deblinding system-the Vibrasonic. According to John Edwards, president of Russell Finex Inc., that development changed everything. "The Vibrasonic gave us access to a whole different range of the market," he said. "When that product was introduced, it just went gangbusters."
During the screening process, static or moisture in the material can result in blinding-or blocking-of the screen. Traditional methods to reduce blinding involve the use of deblinding disks or balls, which bounce against the bottom of the screen and clean the material from the wire. However, this process is extremely noisy and causes undue wear on the screen and related equipment.
The Vibrasonic probe is an acoustically developed transducer. Through a velocity transfer plate, the Vibrasonic applies an ultrasonic frequency to the screen and breaks down the surface tension. Since there is no surface tension, blinding is eliminated. (For additional details on this process, see "Ultrasonic Deblinding" in the November 2002 issue of CI, pp. 17-20.) The result is a more efficient screening operation, with better quality end materials and higher throughputs. The system also enables manufacturers to screen to finer mesh sizes, down to as low as 20 µm.
Innovation didn't end in the '80s, however. Of the company's 210 worldwide employees, 10 are involved in product development. "We are continually modifying and changing our product mix," says Edwards. "We spend a lot of time on new products and developments. We will come out with one or two new products a year."
For example, the Finex Separator, which was named Best in Show at the 2002 Powder & Bulk Solids show, enables manufacturers to increase their production throughputs by 50% or more while significantly reducing noise levels, according to Edwards. While the castings for conventional separators are mounted on springs, which can be very noisy, the Finex Separator uses rubber mounts to achieve operation at 70 decibels (dBA); most standard separators are 85-90 dBA.
Additionally, a new version of the Vibrasonic is set to be released soon. Typically, weights on the bottom of the unit distribute the product around the screen randomly, and the customer's settings dictate how quickly the product comes off. With the company's new SpiroKlene, product is worked in a spiral pattern around the screen slowly so that all of the on-size product goes through the screen and only oversize material goes off. "We've developed a way of using a spiral to control the flow of the product on the screen and allow more of the minus to go through the screen because it's dwelling there longer," explains Edwards. "We're cutting down on the amount of good product that comes off with the oversize. It's a totally different departure from what's out there right now."
And if one of the standard pieces won't exactly fit a customer's needs, Russell Finex can design and build a solution specifically for their application. "We bend over backwards, truly, for the customer," says Edwards. "In fact, we'll do whatever it takes to get a customer running. If we've got to tear a new machine apart and ship someone parts off of it-that's what we'll do."
Facing ChallengesThe economic climate over the last several years has been especially trying for equipment manufacturers, but Edwards has cause for optimism, as Russell Finex has continued to enjoy 10-15% growth per year. Edwards credits the company's ability to target new geographic areas and new industries for its continued expansion. "Last year was difficult on everybody," he admits. "But this year has been a great year; we're considerably above plan right now. It is still extremely difficult out there, though, and everyone is very pensive about what's going on."
Despite uncertain times, Russell Finex built and moved into a new facility in July of last year. The new facility features 35,000 square feet of manufacturing space, a substantial increase from the 16,000 square feet in the previous building. "What we're trying to do is get the equipment and people in place to be able to meet market demands," says Edwards. "We want to be in a position-in terms of our technical expertise, sales capabilities and part offerings-to be able to respond to what the market is looking for."
In anticipation of future expansion, the company's new building offers quick knockouts that will enable it to potentially double in size. And for Edwards, the sky's the limit. "We have been successful because we offer quality products and we meet our delivery requirements," he says. "We will continue to grow and I may never retire, because it's so exciting."