Volume 12 | Issue 3 | Year 2009

Human hands comprised the first conveyor systems, in which people stood in a line passing an object from back to front and eventually to its final destination – effective if you only had a small area to cover but imagine doing it over 13,000 feet, the length of one of Dearborn Mid-West Conveyor Company’s systems.
Since its formation in 1947, Dearborn Mid-West Conveyor Co. (DMW) has offered a variety of conveyor systems and technology, constantly inventing new ways to move materials. It was formed from the merge of two competitors, one in Detroit and the second in Kansas City, Kan. Privately held, its biggest market today is power generation, although the company’s systems have also supplied the automotive and industrial market segments.

Needless to say, operations are currently impacted by the downturn in the American automotive industry. But, says President and CEO Frank Warmoth, the company has balanced this slowdown with demand in other areas, such as power and utilities. “New environmental regulations have helped us to expand. It’s little known that there’s a lot of work east of the Mississippi as a result of the Clean Air Interstate Rule requiring 28 states to reduce emissions by 2010 and 2015, resulting in sulfur oxide reductions down to 30 percent of previous levels.”

This reduction, he explains, requires limestone as a reagent for reducing emissions, a process called wet limestone scrubbing. Delivered in most cases via barge or train, the limestone is transported into a plant and reclaimed from a storage area for delivering into processing. DMW designs and supplies the equipment that unloads the limestone, transports it to the plant and reclaims it from storage

A by-product of this scrubbing process is gypsum. The conveyor systems transport the gypsum away from the plant, which not only reduces costs but also reduces a reliance on trucks, thereby cutting down on air pollution.

DMW utilizes pipe conveyor technology through a partnership with the German arm of FL Smidth Koch to convey bulk materials over long distance. This linear, continuous loop-belt system – one as long as 13,000 feet – is supported on rollers with a drive motor at each end. Once the material is loaded onto the conveyor, the belt closes over top into a cylindrical shape and then flattens out when the contents reach their destination to be discharged. “There’s a considerable amount of environmental benefit to this system because it holds down dust,” Warmoth says, “and quite often it runs off the energy from the power plant.”

The elimination of dust is also central to DMW’s air-supported belt conveyor. “Typically they’re supported on rollers and open on top so dust can escape. Through air-supported technology, an enclosed belt keeps dust inside.” These low-horsepower systems are most useful in cement plants and power plants, he explains, and can take the place of any in-plant belt conveyor, and offer the best dust control.

Historically, DMW has been strong with automakers – Chrysler, Ford and GM still remain among their largest clients, Warmoth says. But modern times precipitated a look into other markets for the company’s broad product base. This refocused effort opened doors into companies such as John Deere, Caterpillar, and Harley Davidson. Warmoth reports the company is also making headway with foreign auto manufacturers such as Honda.

“With American manufacturers we build systems that handle engines and dashboards. With foreign companies we mostly handle assembly transport – moving all pieces through assembly – it could be a car body or an engine,” Warmoth says.

One technology offered to the sector that could be expanded to other industrial operations is the company’s automatic guided cart or AGC transport device. “Ours follows a reflective tape placed on the floor and takes place of a conveyor.” Instead of a chain to pull it along, DMW’s cart is equipped with a visual guidance computer. “Some companies build carts that are radio controlled, or motion sensored, but we felt the reflective tape was best. The cart will stop if it bumps something, and moves at three to four miles an hour, or walking speed,” Warmoth says.

In another area, DMW is involved in building light duty power-and-free systems, a known technology in material handling that has enabled the company to be cost competitive in lighter duty conveying, with auto components such as dashboards; motorcycle components and appliances – virtually any manufacturing process in which equipment is delivered to an assembly person, whereupon the conveyor is then disengaged from the power system – hence, power-and-free. These systems are the result of a technology exchange between DMW and French company Cenetic.

With a facility in Taylor, Mich., DMW maintains a second plant near Detroit, each measuring 100,000 square feet. Having grown organically, the company may seek out future acquisitions but nothing is set in stone.

Meanwhile, the company is mapping out its post-automotive strategy, while priming for the day of recovery in this sector, which Warmoth predicts will occur. “The automotive industry will recover in some form – GM won’t disappear, but it might be completely downsized. Our plan is to emerge as the strongest supplier when the industry comes out at the other side. We expect a newly configured auto industry will still require our equipment and systems will need to be reworked for new body styles. Our long-term strategy is to survive this through other parts of the business.”

“On the power side,” Warmoth adds, “we saw tremendous growth in the last four to five years but demand slowed down because of the environmentalists’ successes in delaying coal-fired burning plants, which are the only power plants we supply other than bio-mass – we build the equipment that handles the coal.” Environmentalists, he says, have slowed down the development of new plants by “accurately pointing out that the finance model doesn’t include the cost of capturing and sequestering CO2, which is yet to be answered. Until then the market could be hindered. There needs to be a determination on what’s allowed and what’s not. As far as biomass, a lot of those plants are primarily in the Northeast, and those are good projects involving wood waste and bark.” DMW has also supplied systems for facilities in India, China and Egypt.

With $250 million in revenue forecast for 2009, DMW is on its way to moving into new areas with its advanced technologies while remaining diligent to its promise to also deliver quality, integrity and excellence.

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