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Acyr Borges, company President, and Alan Bonanno, New Business Development and Marketing Coordinator, sit down to talk about the factors behind their ability to continuously engineer and expand upon their success by innovating the way individuals and businesses fill things up. Steve Engelhardt reports.
Serac was originally established in France in 1969 by J.J. Graffin, who had the idea of designing and developing a filling system for the surrounding dairy industry. He quickly found out that the machine he had manufactured held up well in other applications within additional industries, and business soon took off. By 1981, Serac opened offices in the United States and what was once a fledgling business with humble goals, was now operating and selling to businesses competing in the world’s largest economy.
And it’s been full speed ahead ever since, with Serac Inc now holding additional sales offices in LatinAmerica, as well as manufacturing facilities in Brazil and Malaysia, truly making it a global enterprise. As for Graffin 45 years later the company’s founder still retains his position as owner and Chief Engineer of the business, and has an active role in maintaining the success of what he has built. “Graffin, being the engineer and innovator that he is, was always able to quickly respond to the needs of his customers and make modifications to the equipment where necessary, which really contributed to the rapid growth of our name and reputation,” says Borges, adding, “We have taken this philosophy of innovation and dedicated service to the customer and applied it to our company identity today.”
And Serac’s modern day product line certainly reflects that. While there are multiple types of liquid filling processes present in the market, Serac employs a unique method of their own by utilizing what is called ‘net weight filling.’ “Different from level filling, where sensors trigger the amount filled by wasteful overflow, flow meter filling where everything is measured digitally, or volumetric filling which is a cross of the first two, we actually employ a net weight filling process,” Bonanno says.
With a net weight filling process, Bonanno says the filling is measured by the weight of the liquid in the container. “It’s our contention that this is the best method to go about liquid filling because you don’t have any mess or waste from overflow because everything is done digitally,” he says, adding, “and because it takes a tare weight prior to weighing a full container, users can be certain of just how much their liquid product actually weighs.”
He adds that the system is able to determine “liquid in flight” within nano seconds, with regards to the time the liquid leaves to the time it hits the container, enabling users to operate as efficiently and accurately as possible. “Industry standards for standard deviation of error is plus or minus 3 milliliters, but with our net weight filling systems, our customers can achieve a standard deviation of plus or minus 1,” Bonanno says, adding, “so users are wasting much less product than they would in other processes, and this is especially key when you think about high value products like milk, perfume, or motor oil.”
With a filling system built upon speed and efficiency, and then add in the benefit of sustainability due to less maintenance required because of reduced levels of waste, Serac’s products offer operational advantages in just about every area. “We’ve had quite a number of customers come in lately and tell us that our rotary net weight filling’s properties, after a couple years of use, have created savings for them to the point that the machine ends up paying for itself.”
The dynamic and effective nature of Serac’s products comes as a result of a significant commitment to research and development over the years. “We have an in-house set of engineers and inventors, led by our owner J.J. Graffin, who are always looking for new ways to improve the products. They visit our customers’ facilities where our machines are being employed and observe in real time where they are excelling and where they could be improved,” says Borges.
Bonanno adds that the company recently developed its own blow molder to be integrated within its machines as a way of alleviating a major need in the industry. “A lot of our customers have to buy the bottles that our machines are going to be filling their liquids with, and with this comes significant transportation costs of these plastic bottles where they are essentially paying to ship air to themselves,” he says, adding, “with what we call a ‘Roll N Blow’, our customers will get a liquid filling machine with an integrated blow molder complete with plastic preforms, which saves them a lot in transportation costs.”
This adaptability and innovative nature that defines Serac’s products has demand pouring in from beyond their primary markets of dairy, home and personal care, and edible oils. “There has been a surge in requests from the sports and energy drink sectors, as well as pet food, and many others,” Bonanno says adding, “But really beyond that, anything that is of liquid substance and needs to go into anything bigger than a vial, we can provide a solution for.”
Serac handles all of this demand through their main manufacturing facility at their headquarters in Carol Stream, Ill., and utilizes local suppliers to facilitate such activity. “When Serac began in France, they set a specific proximity from their plant when selecting suppliers so that they could support businesses in the surrounding local communities, and it’s no different here,” says Borges, who adds, “manufacturing is critical to our success and we have all the tools in place here in Carol Stream to ensure such.”
And he really means it. In the face of strong success over the last few years, the company has recently increased its workforce by over 30 percent, and is planning on moving to a new facility—twice the size of the current one—in 2015 about two miles down the road. “Our workforce and their commitment to their job has continuously been one of our strengths and differentiators. We wanted to ensure that we retained each and every one of our employees in this move so that we can sustain such,” says Borges.
In fact, he recalls a specific instance when a customer encountered a significant issue with one of their machines due to a prolonged lack of preventative maintenance. “We had suggested numerous times that they perform maintenance measures on their machines, but alas, they chose not to heed the advice and disaster had struck, with loss of production time and repairs threatening to cost them well over a million dollars,” Borges says, adding, “We flew one of our guys down there, and for three weeks straight he worked through the issues and got everything sorted and running again for a final cost of $20,000.” Borges says that the commitment of his employee to the job led to the individual’s wife placing multiple calls into Serac headquarters wondering if she could “place a purchase order to get him back for a weekend.” He laughs, “It was all of course in good spirit, but shows the kind of sacrifice our guys make for our customers.”
Combining innovation with dedicated customer service, Serac Inc is a company that goes beyond the product and delivers the whole package. “We always try to take an inventive approach to our products, and have been doing so since we were established 45 years ago,” Borges says, concluding, “Combining this strategy with a commitment to the customer, we have put ourselves in a position to not only excel in our current markets, but do so in many new ones as well.”