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Business, college team up on machine

Staff writer

Hillsboro Industries has been working with engineers at Kansas State University to develop a custom machine so secret the company doesn’t want to open its plant to visitors for a photograph.

It’s a proprietary piece of equipment, operations director Christian Gerken said.

Hillsboro Industries makes trailers and truck beds and got a hand from K-State’s Technology Development Institute to replace a machine that had been built in-house in the ’90s.

The machine is a mechanical knurler, which adds a knurled surface to the double-wall aluminum extrusions the company uses to make its products.

The machine allows for better adhesion in gluing, Gerken said.

“The extrusions fit together in a tongue-and-groove fashion,” said John Bloomfield, engineering director at the institute. “They bond that joint with a special epoxy. Preparing the mating service of that joint is what this machine does.”

The old machine, Gerken said, was labor-intensive to maintain. Finding replacement parts also was difficult.

“The design of this new machine was built based on a concept design developed by our lead engineer, Tom Kaufman, and its purpose was to increase part quality, make the process more efficient, and reduce maintenance requirements,” Gerken said.

A pain point, Bloomfield said, was that workers had to manually adjust the old machine because of fluctuations in materials used for Hillsboro Industries’ products.

“This is an attempt to free them and the operators from having to fuss with the machine and being able to run the materials through it,” Bloomfield said.

The U.S. Economic Development Association and Kansas Department of Commerce kicked in money for the project — 15% and 5% respectively. Federal money came from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, Bloomfield said.

K-State began working on the nearly $95,500 machine in May, and Hillsboro Industries picked it up in January.

“It is currently in production making parts, and our operators are very happy with it,” Gerken said.

Hillsboro Industries employs 71 people. One operator is primarily responsible for the new machine, and two or three other employees have been trained to use it if needed.

Last modified March 29, 2023

 

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