Great Western approaches 150th year
Michael Bell, finance director at Kansas' oldest operating manufacturing firm, said Great Western Manufacturing fills a niche that puts it ahead of its competition.
"We have customers come back to us because of service and quality, what we pride ourselves in," he said.
The Leavenworth firm specializes in sifting and screening equipment used in the processing of dry bulk solids, such as grain and flour.
Overall, Great Western's customer base is about 1,200, the larger names being Con Agra Foods and Archers Daniel Midland Co.
Bell said Great Western only serves one company in Leavenworth, Cereal Ingredients, Inc.
Great Western started as an iron works company in 1858. It manufactured parts for steamboats and stoves, Bell said.
"You can still see our sign above High Noon Saloon" in downtown Leavenworth, he said.
In the 1880s Great Western began a line of milling equipment, but demand for that ended after World War II. That's when it began to specialize in sifting.
"The sifting business kept us going," Bell said.
The company features two main lines, the "HS" Free Swinging Sifter and the Tru-Balance Sifters.
Great Western maintains a traditional practice of using wood in the HS line. The equipment is made of kiln-dried maple and birch plywood.
"Traditionally they were made out of wood, but sanitation and technology led to metal," Bell said.
Why do they still use wood?
"Customer's still ask for it," Bell said.
The Tru-Balance line, which generates 75 percent of Great Western's sales, includes four different models, the Box Type, Stainless Steel, Modular and In-Line.
The main feature of the Tru-Balance line is that it transfers the gyratory motion to both the top and bottom of the sieving unit simultaneously to avoid the "top heavy" lag common to sifters with the driving motion on just the bottom.
The machines can be customized and mounted on the floor of suspended from the ceiling.
Generally Great Western employs an average of 100 workers, Bell said. The majority use woodworking and metal-working skills, he said.
"Sixty to 70 percent are a core group that have been here 10 years," Bell said.
There is a bit of a turnover in less-skilled positions.