in Vol. 11 - July Issue - Year 2010
Investing in the Future during a Downturn
Empire demonstrates its commitment to the future and its customers with a major investment in new equipment and enhanced testing capabilities during an economic downturn
New, robotic blast machine designed for lean cell manufacturing features a user-friendly interface, a small footprint, mobility and precision
Empire engineers and builds #14 gauge bolt-together blast booths to work in concert with the company
Scott Nangle, Vice President of Marketing & Sales Development with Empire Abrasive Equipment Company, explains his firm’s forward-looking capital deployment amid one of the worst economic collapses of the past century.
(?) MFN: We last talked to Empire in 2007. The world economy has experienced some major shocks since. Could you fill us in on the repercussions for Empire?
(!) S. N.: Gladly. Like most manufacturing firms, we got hit pretty hard in terms of sales volume during the worst of the storm, however, we chose to look at the downturn as an opportunity and not a crisis.
(?) MFN: That sounds like a paradox. Could you explain how a major economic slump worldwide offered opportunities for Empire, a business serving international markets?
(!) S. N.: Yes. Since its founding almost 70 years ago, Empire has operated as a privately owned company. As a result, we don’t feel pressured by shareholders to maximize short-term return on capital. We maintain a very strong balance sheet, one with enough equity to endure tough times and take advantage of them too.
(?) MFN: How do you take advantage of tough times?
(!) S. N.: Well, during this last economic downturn, for instance, we made a point of keeping our key people on board and focusing their energies on strengthening our marketing efforts, improving our existing products and developing new ones. As you may know, we produce nearly 100 standard cabinet models supported by an extensive list of factory options, not to mention our modified equipment. Because all this equipment undergoes periodic upgrades, keeping customers in synch with our parts department presents challenges. The economic downturn freed up sufficient time in our engineering department to produce hundreds of highly detailed orthographic drawings which help customers find the parts they need electronically online.
(?) MFN: You also mentioned stronger marketing efforts.
(!) S. N.: Consider our testing and demonstration laboratory. Less traffic opened the door for a major renovation of a facility already ranked as one of the most advanced in the world. Beyond a facelift, we added new equipment to the lab and expanded ducting, enabling all systems within the lab to operate at the same time—not an inexpensive undertaking. For customers considering submitting parts for test blasting—a service we provide for industrial customers at no charge—or visiting the facility in person, we’ve also developed a 360° video tour for our website.
(?) MFN: Could you tell us more about Empire’s new products?
(!) S. N.: I would love to. But first, don’t let me forget product improvements. We made significant improvements to half a dozen leading products that reduce sound levels (dBA), improve ergonomics with parts handling, provide greater access for adjustments, promote cleaner work environments and produce more consistent processes. Now, concerning new products, the PRobot™, which we developed last year, provides a compact, closed loop system for air-blasting with state-of-the-art precision. Our PRobot blasts parts with irregular contours to the most stringent process standards. It not only covers complex geometries precisely but also delivers the repeatability and process validation required by many producers of aerospace parts and medical equipment. These machines combine all functions (excluding compressed air and electrical supplies) within a compact enclosure. The PRobot is easy to move and simple to hook up. Its portability and small footprint provide the space savings most of our customers look for in cell manufacturing. Plus, an operator can program all parameters via a user-friendly mobile interface. Another plus: our roof mounting of the robot opens the work envelope to a full 360°. In some cases, it eliminates the need and cost for a seventh axis, such as a servo-powered turntable.
(?) MFN: It definitely sounds like a product with strong potential. Is there anything else new on the Empire shelf?
(!) S. N.: Let me mention that the PRobot is now available for inspection, demonstration and part processing in our lab. And yes, we’ve come up with some other exciting ideas, including engineered blast booths starting at under $50,000. These PEBs, our acronym for Pre-Engineered Booths, feature all the essentials of a professional blast room at a fraction of the price. We now offer these ten-foot-high booths in four floor sizes up to 12 x 31 feet. The booths bolt together easily on a standard plant floor without excavation or welding. We see the market for the PEB as responsible manufacturers—with intermittent requirements for air-blasting large parts—attempting to comply with environmental and safety regulations without compromising their budgets. The fully integrated PEB competes with Do-it-Yourself blast enclosures where component compatibility and system performance often suffer.
(?) MFN: Can you give our readers a look inside Empire today and tomorrow?
(!) S. N.: Today’s snapshot: The industrial landscape is improving. We have booked a lot of work in 2010. For tomorrow, we keep our fingers crossed, confidently. Thanks for your interest in Empire.
MFN would like to thank Scott Nangle for this interview.
Empire Abrasive Equipment Company
2101 West Cabot Boulevard
Langhorne, PA 19047, U.S.A.