For more than 50 years, Vermeer Manufacturing Company has been developing its reputation for tough machines that enhance safety and productivity. Today, Brian Schwarz discovers, its innovations are helping communities connect to the global digital infrastructure.
As the push toward a true global marketplace moves toward linking even the farthest corners of the world, solutions are needed to lay that market’s complex infrastructure without causing harm to the natural environment. Vermeer Manufacturing Company supplies the equipment that makes such advances possible.
Once known mainly for its trench-digging products, this company now boasts a complete line of machines that offers new solutions to job sites. Its Navigator HDD systems, widely known as the industry’s best horizontal directional drilling (HDD) systems, are being used worldwide to lay the foundations of the information superhighway.
The company was formed in 1948 by Gary Vermeer, and it has been family-held and managed ever since. Renowned as one of the industry’s true forward thinkers, Vermeer started the company with the same philosophy that drives it today: “Find a need. Fill that need with a product built to last. And simply build the best.”
The farmer-turned-manufacturer started in the agricultural market, prompted by a need he saw in the Iowa farming community. The first Vermeer product was a mechanical wagon hoist used in the dumping of corn. Shortly after this invention, mechanical wagon hoisting was replaced by hydraulic cylinders.
Not missing a beat, Vermeer made a segue into trenching machines for the installation of tilling for farm drainage. In fact, this year Vermeer Manufacturing is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the first trencher the company produced. From there, the company grew into utility construction – opening trenches for laying water pipe and utilities underground – and various other areas of specialization.
Digging into Products
Still headquartered in the small town of Pella, Iowa, where it was founded, Vermeer Manufacturing employs some 2,600 people in facilities that span about 1.4 million square feet. The company is one of the three largest employers in Pella, whose population totals about 12,000.
The plant operates 24 hours a day, six days a week to make more than 130 different products for a variety of industrial and environmental uses. In a typical day’s work, it is estimated that Vermeer Manufacturing processes 150 tons of steel, ships 15 truckloads of whole goods and welds 220 miles of wire.
Vermeer Manufacturing’s products fall into a range of some 21 categories that make up four major product lines: trenchless products, trenching/plowing products, environmental products and agriculture products.
“We serve three major market segments,” says Brian Metcalf, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “They include the agricultural, industrial construction and environmental markets.”
The product line that launched the company is the trenching/plowing line, which is used in industrial construction to clear earth for the laying of pipe and cable. Vermeer Manufacturing’s track trenchers, ride-on utility trenchers, walk-behind trenchers and vibratory plows can be found at construction sites worldwide, as can its concrete cutters, trench compactors and advanced control systems.
Part of the Vermeer Commander trencher line, the company’s hydrostatic trenching units have been proven to optimize torque, horsepower and speed to meet specific needs and varying work conditions. Its ride-on utility trenchers are smaller but just as tough, combining versatility with ease of use and serviceability. The walk-behinds are rugged and maneuverable, with options including a vibratory plow, a boring attachment, a backhoe and a reel carrier.
Key to the Infrastructure
The trenchless products grew out of a need to provide similar service as the trenchers with minimal impact to the surrounding environment. This line includes the industry’s best HDD equipment and pneumatic boring tools.
Vermeer Manufacturing’s Navigator HDD line now leads the worldwide horizontal directional drilling market with proven performance, reliability and easy-to-use designs. Used in a variety of applications such as the laying of underground telecommunication, gas, electric and water lines, the Navigator HDD line is essential for the growing global infrastructure.
Laying such extensive foundations is no easy task. To handle the job, the Navigator HDD line includes equipment for long and heavy projects, such as sewer installations and river-crossing projects, as well as more compact tools for tight work sites. “Vermeer’s compact HDDs feature the smallest footprints in their class,” says Metcalf, “with the narrow width to fit through most gate openings and the small dimensions to increase maneuverability.”
Vermeer Manufacturing also has a line of products to meet the needs of the smaller but still important agricultural market. “We make hay harvesting equipment, round hay balers and the like,” Metcalf notes. “And we manufacture rakes and other related equipment such as mowers and conditioners.”
The company’s environmental industrial line features waste-reduction equipment used by tree and landscaping professionals. These products include brush chippers, stump cutters, tub grinders, tree spades and tree-care accessories.
Vermeer Manufacturing’s brush chippers focus on safety with their long feed tables to help keep operators safer by positioning them farther from the feed rollers. Most models include spring-tensioned rollers that automatically open to guide organic material into the chipper.
The tub grinders offer similar safety features with enhanced productivity and efficiency. The patented Thrown Object Restraint System, or TORS, incorporates a cover and rotor deflector system that reduces thrown object quantity and distance.
“Within each of these product segments,” Metcalf says, “we have our own engineering teams, as well as research and development and parts procurement.”
While founder Gary Vermeer still oversees his brainchild, holding the position of chairman emeritus of the board, the company’s operations have been passed down to the next generation of the Vermeer family. Ten years ago, Vermeer placed the company in the hands of his children. Son Bob Vermeer is the company’s current chairman and chief executive officer, and daughter Mary Andringa is the company’s president and chief operating officer. Still, this family affair is hardly domestic.
Vermeer Manufacturing has an international sales and distribution office in Goes, The Netherlands, and its products are exported to nearly all regions of the earth. “We have more than 100 distribution points in North America, and we have well over 70 international locations,” says Metcalf. “We serve the infrastructure needs of the world, and with the continued international and domestic growth in meeting water, sewer and energy demands, we’re positioned to provide the infrastructure solutions in all of those areas.
“We’re the No. 1 supplier in the trenchless market segment,” Metcalf continues, adding that the company considers itself in a world leadership position in the track-trenching segment as well: “And we hold a very respectable market share in the other segments we serve.”