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Flexicon: Convey, load, unload, weigh, feed, and process virtually any bulk solid material

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FLEXICON NEWS


Flexicon Chief Confident on Outlook


DAVID GILL

David Gill
CEO, Flexicon Corporation


 
Australian Bulk Handling Review conducted a question and answer interview with David Gill, the US-based chief executive of Flexicon, a major supplier to the bulk handling sector. Gill sounded upbeat on the company’s prospects.
 

How have world economic conditions affected Flexicon?

GILL: 2009 was a negative growth year for most manufacturers worldwide, including Flexicon, but 2010 was a record year for us. In part, this is because much of our growth comes from increased share of market, and is not tied directly to economic conditions.

This is why we don't view market contraction entirely as a negative; it allows us to hire exceptional people and gain market share.

We see our competitors losing good people and market share during downturns, and are able to turn this to our advantage. This is possible because Flexicon is a conservative, debt-free company. As a result, swings in the market have much less effect on us than they do on leveraged competitors.

We now have manufacturing centers in Australia, the UK, South Africa, and the US, with several additional centers now being planned. In addition, we recently increased the workforce at our North American global headquarters — Flexicon's largest facility — by 15 percent.

 

Any interesting applications or installations of interest to ABHR?

GILL: A number of high profile installations in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia would be of great interest to ABHR readers, but they cannot be mentioned due to confidentiality, but I can say they are for Fortune 500 companies in the food, beverage, pharmaceutical and mining industries. However, many of our sales are stand-alone machines. Regardless of how large we grow, we remain committed as a business partner to processors of all types and sizes that handle any bulk solid material in small to large volumes.

 

What about growth, specifically in Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia?

GILL: Most importantly, our sympathies go out to New Zealanders devastated by the recent quakes, but we are confident they will rebound quickly. In general though, Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia have grown rapidly for us, except during a portion of 2009. Our product line expansions — most recently drum, box and container tippers — are doing well. Beyond traditional bulk solid materials we are now dumping clothing, paper, recycled materials of all kinds, and even mail.

 

Any other Australian news?

GILL: We recently added a highly experienced regional applications engineer responsible for sales in Victoria, who works out of our Melbourne office.

The Australian operation, although it is younger than our others, has ample funding and has been set up properly from the onset, eliminating the need for shortcuts. We are building a solid, stable company here from the ground up. As a result, I feel that of all of the bulk handling equipment available to Australia, New Zealand and Southeast Asia, none approaches Flexicon's in terms of quality, performance and cost-effectiveness.

 

In addition to stand-alone bulk handling equipment, Flexicon offers complete systems that incorporate equipment of other manufacturers. What is the benefit to customers?

GILL: Many processors do not have the bulk handling expertise or the in-house engineering staff needed to design and oversee complete bulk handling projects, since many staffs have been downsized, and many do not want to hire a high priced, outside engineering firm. Engineering is an expensive resource, so companies cannot afford to have additional staff available to handle a job that is out of the ordinary in terms of both size and specialization. They can reduce cost by coming to us because we do maintain those resources 365 days a year and we put them to efficient use every day.

Many are also reluctant to assume responsibility for the success of a system that includes equipment from multiple suppliers who may not agree with the reason for a problem and who should rectify it. Single source responsibility backed by Flexicon has been a big security factor for customers who need a system.

It's Flexicon's reputation that keeps our customers coming back. So if a problem ever occurs, it's actually an opportunity for us to build customer loyalty by demonstrating our commitment to customer service.

In addition, many multi-national companies with worldwide locations, including in the Pacific Rim, like to standardize their equipment for plant-to-plant consistency, and to validate and test different processes globally, so engineered plant-wide systems are a ready-made solution. Through Flexicon's global communication and equipment standards, customers can be assured of receiving pre-proven equipment that meets their individual specifications in any worldwide location with confidence.

As a result, our systems business has grown steadily for decades.

 

What kind of assurance does a customer have that a system including non-Flexicon equipment will perform?

GILL: Flexicon selects vendors carefully. Their philosophy on customer service must be in line with ours, because we will provide all the assistance and guarantees on the functionality of that system. Aligning ourselves with vendors that stand behind their equipment is how we have built our reputation for systems over the years. However, I do not feel there is any company in our field that is as committed as Flexicon to making our customers happy. Even the best vendors of any given type of equipment do not always measure up to our standards, and when that happens, we compensate by assuming responsibility and getting the job done.

 

Stand-alone bulk handling equipment is Flexicon's primary business?

GILL: Individual equipment comprises the majority of our business, and falls into several categories including: mechanical conveyors; pneumatic conveying systems; bulk bag unloaders and fillers; bulk bag conditioners; drum, box and container tippers; bag dump stations and weigh batching systems. Wide variations exist within each of these categories in terms of size and complexity. Bulk bag unloaders, for example, range from low cost half frames that require a forklift to suspend the bag over the machine, to automated unloaders that hoist the bag into position from the plant floor, condition it to loosen solidified material, promote flow, collapse empty bags, and convey precisely weighed batches to any downstream process, all dust-free. Configurations are endless, so all of our machines are made to order, which also enables us to conform to existing plant layouts and space restrictions.

 

Any new products on the horizon?

GILL: Flexicon maintains an engineering staff dedicated to product development, so we are constantly looking at ways to improve the products that we have been making for decades, and to develop new products. We are proud of our development of intellectual property in the way of patents, and those patents generally develop into new products.

We have many new products in development, including a major product line addition we expect to announce toward the end of 2011.

 

How large is Flexicon's engineering staff worldwide?

GILL: Approximately 100 engineers worldwide, including design engineers, applications engineers, electrical engineers, and related personnel. We have engineers on the applications side to support our customer base, on the design side after the orders have been brought in-house, and in the field. Our sales personnel — we call them applications engineers — are primarily degreed engineers who work directly with customers and representatives, many of whom are also engineers, to ensure that all equipment is properly integrated, inclusive of controls relative to all new or existing processes upstream and downstream.

It's important to note that the engineers in all of our manufacturing locations have access to Flexicon's database of over 15,000 installations and nearly as many lab tests, detailing proven solutions to virtually any bulk handling problem a customer could encounter, eliminating guesswork.

 

How have recent advances in programmable controls affected your equipment and systems?

GILL: Our controls department is expert at utilizing the capabilities of advanced programmable controls to fully integrate our equipment with the customer's new or existing control scheme. They can program software for all major brands of PLCs, and while we have our standards, we are also happy to work with the customer's communications protocols and hardware.

They often set up a remote interface to monitor the performance of our controls, and to reprogram a system anywhere in the world. This of course slashes response times and enables customers to modify their processes faster than ever before possible.

 

What changes can we expect at Flexicon over the next several years?

GILL: Flexicon is focused on long-term growth and stability, not on short-term profits or meeting loan payments, and we are privately held so we are not beholden to venture capitalists or stockholders looking for quick returns. So regardless of where our tumultuous world economy leads, you can expect Flexicon to stay the course, with improvements of existing products, introductions of new product lines, greater penetration of existing markets and opening of new offices and manufacturing centers worldwide. What will remain unchanged of course is our commitment to total customer satisfaction.


 


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