While you might not know the name of the latest "Hidden Gem" of Elkhart County business, you've probably felt its impact.
NEW PARIS — One local company helps people around the world keep the lights on, keep their office’s air the right temperature and allow building systems to all work together to help companies stay “green.”
This family-owned business took a big risk in 2002 and managed to grow into a company that provides 21st-century cutting-edge control technology while still helping customers who want to maintain their old systems as long as possible. Their nearly 200 employees, including dozens of engineers, work together to make complicated products simple for the end users. “There’s a great deal of complexity behind simplicity,” said Ben Dorsey, the company’s senior vice president of marketing.
KMC Controls (formerly Kreuter Manufacturing Co.)
WHY THEY’RE HERE
Ken Kreuter moved to Elkhart County in the early 1950s with a fresh engineering degree to work for PENN Controls (later acquired by Johnson Controls). He started getting his own work patented in 1962, and in 1969 he founded Kreuter Manufacturing Company. Paul Kreuter, chief engineer and son of the late founder, said of KMC’s earliest days, “Because of business incentives, we moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1970, and later to Thief River Falls, Minn., but manufacturing on a larger scale there proved difficult.” In 1978, manufacturing returned to Elkhart County, after Klaus Mueller, Kreuter’s former business colleague who still lived in this area, built a manufacturing facility for it in the industrial park of New Paris. That building was 4,000 square feet, and has grown today to 25 times that size. The third generation of the Kreuter family now works there.
WHAT THEY DO
“Everybody is familiar with the thermostat that turns their home furnace on or off,” said Dorsey. “However, the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems of large commercial buildings are vastly more complicated and consume large amounts of energy. Control products manufactured at KMC seek to make these complicated systems as energy efficient as possible, while optimizing the indoor health and comfort of the occupants.”
KMC does everything from pneumatic controls for old systems to state-of-the-art electronic controls that can work with many different systems in commercial buildings.
WHAT YOU DIDN’T KNOW ABOUT THEIR EFFECT ON YOU
When you are in a commercial building, KMC products might be the HVAC controls working behind the scenes to keep you a comfortable temperature. Not only are such products usually out of sight and out of mind, but KMC sells many customized products to original equipment manufacturers with the customer’s logo on the products instead of KMC’s.
WHERE THEY REACH
“Most KMC products are used in commercial buildings across North America, but South America, China and the Middle East are also growth markets for us,” said Dorsey. They also have customers in Australia and New Zealand, he said.
Amid huge corporate competitors, such as Honeywell and Siemens, KMC remains the only privately held controls manufacturer in the United States with a full line of digital, electronic and pneumatic products. Dorsey said, “As a financially solid family-owned-and-operated entity, KMC Controls can be more flexible and responsive to customers than corporate giants. The big boys, they tend to be a lot more impersonal.”
Although large layoffs were common in the industry (and in Elkhart County manufacturing) during the recession, KMC survived 2009 without cutting any employees “and had highly profitable years since then. This has been due largely to good relationships with customers, a diverse customer base and the demand for made-in-the-U.S.A. products,” Dorsey said.
Before digital, electronic or even electric controls, pneumatic (air pressure) systems controlled temperature in many commercial buildings. KMC is one of the few manufacturers still making replacement products needed to maintain the many pneumatic systems still in operation.
In the last decade, KMC added state-of-the-art digital controllers that communicate with each other in a building-wide network and that are essential for today’s “green” high-performance buildings.
Plastic and rubber components are molded at KMC on 14 presses, ranging in size from 22 tons to 250 tons.
Many of the employees have been with the company for decades, with the average employee being there more than 16 years.
Building automation controls are crucial in the current emphasis on building energy efficiency, indoor air quality, and sustainability.
One of their mold-making machines has resolution as fine as 4 microns.
They have two corporate aircraft that they make available to their customers.
The company has no debt.
We’ll look at an Elkhart business that works heavily in the heavy-truck and automotive businesses but also has parts used in the aerospace industry, agriculture, appliances and the military.