Building on successes and meeting challenges, CW Mill Equipment relishes building big, strong, versatile grinders.
SABETHA, Kansas – Some say trials and tribulations. Others say challenges and opportunities.
Tim Wenger, vice president, owner and sales manager at CW Mill Equipment Company, Inc., is in the ‘others’ group. Just 15 years old when his father, Clyde Wenger, incorporated CW Mill Equipment in 1973, Tim knew even then that he would join his father in business.
Forty years later (CW Mill Equipment celebrates its anniversary of incorporation October 17, 2013), Tim talked with us about how he has been able to combine his core interest in engineering with providing products that meet a variety of customer needs. “You just want to see your grinder be the best it can be,” he said. “I want HogZilla to be the best grinder out there.”
Across 20 years, HogZilla® grinders have morphed to include 14 base models and both tub and horizontal versions. Models in the HogZilla line are powered by 565 to 1200 horsepower – and sometimes larger – engines.
Tim learned two important lessons from Clyde, who passed away in 2011. One is that even the strongest business will be challenged by the unexpected. The other is that customers know what they want. Flexibility, then, is the key to weathering things like a recession. It is also the key to tailoring a machine to a buyer’s needs.
“We are always trying to provide the best customer service,” said Tim. “Our priority…is to get the customer up and going.” If that means driving to Maine with a part, he has done it.
CW Mill Equipment is based in Sabetha, Kan., which anchors it close to the center of the nation it serves. The company also does some international sales.
Sabetha is in the northeast corner of the Sunflower State. With a population of 2,600 it has approx. 2,800 jobs, “This is a very industrious community,” said Tim.
Tim spent a year in college before taking a year off to build alfalfa pelleting plants with his father fulltime. He planned to earn a degree in engineering, but CW Mill Equipment was so busy, he took a pause to help and never resumed his formal education. “They don’t teach you this in college,” said Tim.
Moreover, courses he completed in college – business law, drafting, public speaking, and economics – were chosen deliberately because he expected they would help him in business. Even so, Tim continued to pursue his passion for engineering, working as shop manager at CW until 1995.
Today, sales are a big part of Tim’s responsibilities. And there’s a strong familial tie there: Tim’s father started out as a field service man in 1948 and later became involved in the manufacturing and selling of feed processing equipment. By 1967, Clyde was an owner of an alfalfa pelleting plant.
With incorporation in 1973, CW Mill Equipment began building alfalfa pelleting plants for customers which lead to building tub grinders. By the 1980s, a machine built exclusively for grinding wood waste was on the product roster. The timing was purposeful and opportune as the farm sector was sluggish then, explained Tim.
The first dedicated wood grinder from CW went to a customer in Maine. That customer had owned a stationary electric tub grinder for paper grinding and asked CW for a machine designed specifically for wood. By doubling the thickness of the metal used on their hay grinders and making other modifications, the earliest prototype for the HogZilla was in place. Clyde and Tim both guessed approx. 32-36,000lbs, but the 1st HogZilla weighed 76,000lbs, with current models weighing 92,000lbs. “We design by overkill engineering, if there is such a thing,” said Tim.
There were plenty of modifications to follow, explained Tim. For example, the dry clutch used on all of the early wood grinders from CW and everyone else was the weakest link for the way customers used their grinders. Watching torque converters being used to crush rock led CW to design a grinder around this technology.
While the industry as a whole responded to dry clutch issues with fluid coupling and wet clutches, Tim considers the torque converter a signature component of the HogZilla line. “We were the first to replace dry clutches and the only one to use a torque converter,” he said. He attributes the innovation of controlling the tub speed to match the hammermill load to the affiliation CW had with hydraulic distributors in the salt spreading industry. Modulating spreader to ground speed is critical in salt-spreading equipment; This technology was incorporated to feed wood to the grinder for maximum production.
In 2001, CW began to offer HogZilla grinders on tracks – once again, because customers asked. The track-mounted grinders were so popular there was nearly a two year backlog. Until 2004, CW focused on tub grinders. “We came out with our horizontal grinder because our customers were asking for a HogZilla quality horizontal.”
“Every grinder that we build is better than the last one,” said Tim. “Each grinder became a continual evolution, a better machine.” “We learn everyday – why wait until the next model year to introduce improvements.”
Indeed, as other grinder makers began to query CW about its wear-resistant mill parts, CW established its AmorHog® line. Since 2008, AmorHog has supplied replacement parts for other brands of tub and horizontal grinders.
Thirty employees keep CW Mill Equipment running strong. Among them is Brian Bergman, the operations manager.
Brian joined CW 14 years ago as production manager. He has had the opportunity to witness some important changes at CW and in the industry as a whole.
Perhaps the biggest change, said Brian, is the move “toward electric-powered machines.” The switch from diesel is being made for “efficiency,” he explained. Ironically, CW started out building electric tub grinders exclusively 39 years ago.
Of course, diesel is still needed for portability, so there is a place for more than one type of power. So it is, too, with tub versus horizontal configurations. Different customers have different needs.
“The thing that we hang our hat on is that we are very customer driven,” said Brian. CW builds to meet customer need, he explained, doing a significant amount of customization.
Waste consolidation companies often want a dual-service machine, for instance. “Our wood machines can be converted to grind scrap tires,” said Brian. (That is wood waste typically from construction, right-of-way cleanup, or land clearing projects.)
Brian does much of his customer interaction via telephone. “Working with customers” and getting to know them is something he enjoys immensely, he said.
It’s easy to be helpful with a great product line to stand beside, explained Brian. “The HogZilla line kind of speaks for itself,” he said. “Construction of the machine is the stand-out feature.”
HogZilla derives its name from the standard hog-mill of the wood products industry and the cult-classic reptile renowned for making short work of anything in its path. Given the array of applications in which HogZilla machines see service, the moniker creates a great nugget description of capabilities.
Solid waste reduction, wood recycling, land clearing, construction demolition, mulch making and tire processing are just some of the industry sectors that the HogZilla MONSTER grinders serve. Alongside the HogZilla are products that meet special requirements of customers.
In fact, it is responsiveness to customer requirements that has opened many opportunities in product development. The downturn in agriculture in the 1980’s led in part to the development and manufacture of CW Mill’s line of hydraulic clutch pump mounting kits in 1986.
The hydraulic clutch pump equips a vehicle with live hydraulics when the engine is running, irrespective of RPMs or gear, with hundreds of kits fitting most ½ through 2-ton class trucks built after 1985. Besides salt spreaders, snow plows, dump bodies, tow trucks and a long list of other hydraulically-driven tools operate thanks to these kits. CW’s kits have evolved into other applications such as AC compressor kits for refrigeration trucks and auxiliary alternator kits for emergency response or news cast vehicles.
A family-owned business, CW Mill Equipment involves not only Tim in day-to-day operations, but also his two married daughters and their spouses. Tim’s brother, John Wenger went to Kansas University and joined the company in 1986. He is president of the company and heads up the kit side of the business.
When Tim reflects on the amount of time he spends in sales, he notes the similarity to his father. “I just kind of followed in my dad’s footsteps,” he said. Like his father, Tim enjoys the engineering aspects of manufacturing most. Yet getting out there and selling is the way to learn – about how products are being used – and to innovate. So it takes some of both – design and sales – to keep an operation robust.
Tim’s teenage son has been travelling with his father from a young age. “My son was like the Marco Polo of kindergarten,” said Tim. “When he was four, he asked me, “How many HogZilla’s do you have to sell before you can come home daddy?” “I think I asked my dad a similar question at that age too.”
Being on the road — travelling to customer sites — is essential to good business, said Tim. It provides the opportunity to “put a face on a product.”
Working on classic cars unites father and son in their free time. Tim has a 1968 Camaro and a 1956 Chevy, but his son’s 1973 Z/28 Camaro is the priority to get going by prom.
At age 55, Tim looks across the years he has spent in the business since joining the CW team fulltime in 1977, and is happy with the progression of products from alfalfa pelleting plants into hay grinders, then the CW Mounting Kits, and finally The HogZilla, customized wood and waste grinders. He also looks forward to what comes next. There will always be hurdles, such as economic downturns or natural disasters. But they simply demand more creative thinking and new initiatives.
One thing is certain. The customer will continue to be the focus. “It’s just always fun to meet customers and fulfill their needs and expectations,” said Tim.