Brodhead manufacturer Kuhn ships farm equipment worldwide
BRODHEAD — More than 20,000 tons of raw steel pass through the Kuhn North America plant each year, leaving as large pieces of farm equipment.
Fifteen-ton cranes help move the material around the plant tucked on the west side of Brodhead. Workers crank out implements, including TMR mixers and manure spreaders and a variety of hay tools. Implements are the equipment that attach to a tractor.
Kuhn North America and its parent company, Kuhn, build “hundreds and hundreds of different models,” said Thierry Krier, president and CEO of Kuhn North America.
“Not everything that attaches to a tractor, but close,” he said with a smile.
While many of the products stay in the Midwest, shipments leave every day for export outside of North America. More than 10 percent of the facility's products are exported.
The biggest of the machines weighs more than 20 tons empty and can carry 20 tons of material. That requires large areas for manufacture, Krier said. More than 100 welders create sparks around the plant, where one of the biggest self-loading and unloading lasers in North America cuts steel pieces that up to 20 feet long by 8 feet wide.
Krier said the factory has only three robots because much of the work is custom ordered.
About 50 people in the Brodhead plant work in research and development. Products are prototyped and tested at the plant, which also has marketing and sales departments.
Worldwide, Kuhn's products are aimed at two customer types: livestock farmers and crop farmers.
“Nobody comes close to what we do in implements,” Krier said.
Last year, the company's worldwide sales exceeded $1.3 billion for the first time, he said.
The company has a goal of trying to grow the business by 10 percent a year, which he admits is a big number. Brodhead is in the process of adding 20 manufacturing positions to help meet demand, he said.
It's the latest in a decade of growth in Brodhead.
The business is formerly known as Knight Manufacturing, which Kuhn bought in December 2002. Knight was a second-generation business with no succession, and Kuhn came in as a “strategic buyer … for the products, for the location, for the infrastructure and most importantly, for the people to take us to the next step,” Krier said.
Since the purchase, Kuhn North America has invested more than $30 million in tools and four major expansions, including the latest in 2012. Each expansion has added 50,000 to 80,000 square feet, along with the tools needed to fill the space. It also has increased the workforce from 230 to more than 500 over the last decade.
The plant runs four 10-hour first and second shifts Monday through Thursday and three 12-hour shifts Friday through Sunday.
“It allows us to draw some people who maybe have to travel farther,” said Jill Leitzen, human resources director. “Everyone has kind of their unique reasons.”
Kuhn North America also owns Kuhn Krause in Kansas.