NEW BREMEN — Innovation has always been a key part of the success formula at Crown Equipment Corp. It’s a focal point that has been emphasized even more as the New Bremen-based company builds toward the future, officials said.
The company, a global supplier of material handling products primarily in the distribution industry and narrow-aisle market, has made product development a near-constant effort.
“It’s about the efficient use of technology and the practical, not to use it just to use it. It’s about how does it make the operator more efficient, how does it make the truck more efficient?” said Randy Niekamp, vice president of human resources at Crown. “Can we reduce power consumption? One of the new things on the truck is as that lift cylinder lowers there’s a re-gen generator on it that turns a generator that puts power back in the battery. That wasted motion, in a way, of the cylinder dropping is actually putting power back into the battery.”
Company designers have also worked hard on the ergonomics of the lift trucks the company manufactures, Niekamp said.
“They’re on that truck for eight hours a day. That’s their office. If you don’t have a comfortable chair sitting in your office, it’s going to be a long day,” Niekamp said. “We’ve done a lot as far as floorboards, cushioning, the feel of the handles, the ease that the handles use. It’s all electronic controls now. There’s no mechanical controls.”
The company, founded in 1945, like many companies has evolved. Crown started manufacturing temperature controls for coal-burning furnaces and moved into the production of antenna rotators with the rise of television — a segment of the business that ended in 2001.
Despite its success, the company has seen its share of ups and downs over the past decade, especially the last few years with the challenges of an economy faltering in the deepest recession since the Great Depression.
“We’ve all been through economic downturns. It has an effect when a recession hits, but we’ve always come out of it stronger than when we went in,” Niekamp said. “I think it’s interesting how you read all about how manufacturing is dying. Well, it’s not dying here.”
Niekamp said the company owes its success to its highly-skilled, versatile and loyal workforce.
“When you look at the people we have here they are hardworking people. They are local people that have grown up here and value a good day’s work. They appreciate quality,” Niekamp said. “We’ve got second- and third-generation employees here. We’ve got very low turnover. We have over 600 employees actively working at Crown that have over 25 years of service.”
Company leaders have also taken a keen interest in recycling — not only in the manufacturing process but in its site selection as well. The company took the 750,000-square-foot former Huffy facility in Celina, cleaned it up and are now using the facility, Niekamp said.
“It’s across the board. High efficiency lights in the plant, how much of the product is recyclable,” Niekamp said. “We changed some of the plastic components over the years to a more recyclable plastic. Obviously, the steel is recyclable. When the truck ends its life what ends up in a landfill needs to be very, very small.”