E-commerce, core competencies and a premier line of products have helped catapult Sterling Fluid Systems into a major global player, reports Lorie Russo.
Its manufacturing roots extend to 1859, but its marketing and technological know-how are 20th century achievements. The company is called Sterling Fluid Systems and is a distributor and manufacturer of two premier brand names of pumps and pumping systems: Peerless and LaBour. These names have become synonymous with efficient, tireless pump systems. In the not-so-romantic world of pump technology, Sterling has risen above the mainstream to ensure that its systems continue to be a necessary, if not entirely exciting, component of industry.
With its headquarters in Indianapolis, Ind., and plants in Grand Island, N.Y., Monterrey, Mexico, Selma, Ala., Guelph, Ontario, and a foundry in White Pigeon, Mich., Sterling has come far since the founding of the companies it has come to encompass. The LaBour end of the business was begun in 1859 when Taber Pump Company was founded in Buffalo, N.Y., specializing in vertical, rotary vane and brewery industrial pumps. In 1921, Harry E. LaBour established LaBour Company in Michigan City, Ind., to develop and market a self-priming centrifugal pump line. His intention was to design a rugged, simple-to-operate-and-maintain pump to handle liquids used in the chemical processing industry. In the next year, he patented and introduced the first valveless self-priming pump. Taber merged into the LaBour Elkhart, Ind., plant in 1967.
In 1994, LaBour was sold to Peerless Pump Company in Indianapolis. Peerless’ roots extend to 1923 in Los Angeles. The first pumps manufactured by Peerless were designed to irrigate local orange groves; the company later produced horizontal end-suction pumps. Peerless officially changed its name to Sterling Fluid Systems USA Inc. in 1998, whereupon Peerless became a brand name under the Sterling umbrella along with LaBour. Sterling is a subsidiary of TBG Holdings nv. Founded in 1918, this international firm has its roots in The Netherlands, where it operated from 1926 until 1970.
Sterling’s network of core beliefs is a very serious part of the company’s operations. Among them are to maintain a safe work environment, to develop and sustain a quality culture, to deliver on time to customers and to foster a passion for cost efficiency. The company has taken this core belief system and made it work in the areas of productivity, product efficiency and technological expertise.
Quality from the Core
Sterling’s LaBour Pumps product line is known throughout the world for its work efficiency and durability. This line includes a wide range of designs and configurations, such as horizontal, vertical, self-priming, ANSI, magnetic drive and custom design.
The applications for LaBour pumps range from product and chemical transfers, tank car unloading, volatile liquid handling, mines and pits to viscous fluids, water and waste treatment, and molten sulfur and salts. These pumps can serve a variety of markets, including chemical processing, petroleum, pulp and paper, pharmaceutical, utilities, primary metals, breweries, textiles, pollution control, energy and food and beverage.
A new product in the Peerless and LaBour lines is the low-flow impeller. This product reduces costs, increases mean time between failure (MTBF) and extends ANSI pump reliability. The revolutionary Sterling Peerless 8196 and the LaBour LVB low-flow impeller are the result of more than a year of design work and extensive field testing. Each model was developed to improve reliability, reduce costs, extend efficiencies and increase MTBF. These pumps allow users to return a pump to its best efficiency point and operate at maximum efficiency by merely changing the impeller. The unique design gives the end user an easy and cost-effective solution to the problems usually associated with low-flow pumping applications. Once the Sterling low-flow impeller is installed, the pump is able to operate at its highest possible efficiency with lower costs, better horsepower and dramatically increased MTBF.
Another strategic move for Sterling, says John Kahren, vice president of sales and marketing, is the recent purchase of a product line that is, part for part, dimensionally interchangeable with Peerless’ 8196 and 8175 models. Targeted for industrial markets, this line not only constitutes a cost-efficient pump system, but is also a boon to companies that can now have two leading technologies in one product.
The Peerless Pump product line also provides the highest level of manufactured pump technology to the industries it serves. Peerless systems include vertical industrial and process pumps, axial and mixed-flow pumps for large-volume pumping, encased water and process liquid pumps, vertical turbine pumps for water supplies from drilled wells, vertical submersible pumps and industrial sump pumps. The line also offers an array of vertical fire pumps, which are UL and ULC listed, and FM approved.
Peerless offers thousands of packaged pumping systems, consisting of prepiped and prewired pumps, drives and controls that have all been built to satisfy customer needs in agricultural irrigation, plant circulating service, municipal water distribution and fire protection applications. Their features include effective space use, accurate predetermined cost, simplified installation, complete equipment capability, single-source service and warranty, and equipment tailored to meet customer requirements.
Sterling’s Peerless fire pumps are among the best in the business. Having established in 2000 a Fire Pump Packaging Group, Sterling furthered its position as a world leader in the design, manufacture and engineering of fire pumps and packaged systems that meet UL, FM, ULC and NFPA requirements, as well as state and local codes. Peerless can design and build any fire pump from a simple skid-mounted pump and drive-unit arrangement to complete fire pump packages with weatherproof enclosures, a completely integrated pump control center and all required controllers, fittings and ancillary pumps. Peerless also handles complete offshore packages with environmental coatings, special pump designs and architectural and exterior features.
The Peerless line of fire pumps includes horizontal split-case, vertical turbine, in-line and end-suction systems. In addition, the company can furnish a line of electric motor-drive and diesel engine-drive fire pumps for any combination of pumps, drives, controls and accessories, for listed and approved or non-listed fire service applications. Peerless manufactures horizontal models for capacities to 5,000 gallons per minute, vertical models for capacities to 5,000 gallons per minute, in-line models for capacities to 500 gallons per minute and end-suction models for capacities to 1,500 gallons per minute. All of Sterling’s housed fire pump package systems offer advantages such as complete unit responsibility, state-of-the-art engineering designs, worldwide technical and commercial support, reduced unit installation cost and value-added services for customers.
Pumping the Web
Says Kahren, the future is in the Sterling’s e-commerce business. Launched in 1999, e-commerce has brought Sterling tremendous results in the number of orders and the amount of visits. “We’re now spending a majority of our marketing resources on e-commerce,” he says. “We now have a business communications system that is the best in the marketplace.”
Sterling’s e-commerce system allows customers and prospective buyers to go on line and look at the company’s inventory, track orders and place orders, eliminating phone calls and faxes. In the two years since its launch, the company has seen a significant part of its sales occurring online, with 85 percent of parts being purchased on the Internet and 44 percent of orders being placed via e-mail.
Sterling also has instituted RAPID, which stands for Rapid Access to Pump Information and Designs. Through this online site, customers can gain access to pump information, from selection and quotations to engineering submittals, in addition to order entry and order processing. “It’s a fully integrated business tool,” says Kahren, “allowing the customer to go in, pick the size of a pump he needs, get a quote and send in the order. Everything can be done without the need for paper.” Since establishing RAPID, Sterling has seen an 85 percent reduction in order process time.
The establishment of Sterling’s e-commerce trade — as well as its commitment to growth and the manufacture of brand-name, cost-effective products — has put the company in the lead among manufacturers of pumps and pumping systems. There is little doubt that Sterling will further its mission of offering top-line products to customers well into this century and even beyond.