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Published October 22, 2012, 10:05 AM

Bin builders

Things are looking up for Superior Manufacturing. But that’s always been the case for the family-owned grain bin construction and manufacturing company, based in Kindred, N.D., and Beresford, S.D.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

KINDRED, N.D. — Things are looking up for Superior Manufacturing. But that’s always been the case for the family-owned grain bin construction and manufacturing company, based in Kindred, N.D., and Beresford, S.D.

Claire Rauser runs the rapidly growing company with his son, Joshua, and a staff of 140. The company already has grown by leaps and bounds, but the Rausers have much bigger plans. Based mostly on increased U.S. sales, but also on new exports to Eastern Europe and elsewhere in the world, they expect to quadruple production and sales in the next four years.

Superior is actually two separate but related businesses.

First, there’s Superior Inc., a bin construction contracting company that has been around for 36 years. It built 350 bins in the region in 2011.

The second company is Superior Manufacturing Inc., which was started in 2007 and manufactures bins and dryers, and soon will add other equipment to its product line. The company made 505 bins in 2010, 1,675 in 2011, and the number will approach 2,000 in 2012. Rauser expects the company to make 2,600 bins in 2013 and quadruple production to 8,300 bins and 200 dryers per year by 2016.

By then, he thinks about 10 percent might be sold locally, 25 percent overseas and the rest elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada.

2 type ‘A’ Rausers

Claire Rauser, 58, is president and CEO of the family’s operations, and Joshua, 25, is sales manager. By Claire’s description, both acknowledge being “type A” personalities.

He attributes his own success to the “fair shot” that everybody has in America, combined with hard work. “If you’re willing to work hard and willing to be instructed and learn, you can go further than you can ever imagine,” he says.

He describes himself as “task-oriented.”

In 1977, as a sophomore at North Dakota State University, Rauser started his own business as a sub-contractor, pouring concrete for grain bin floors, and has never worked for anyone but himself.

The following summer, he formed Rauser Construction and had some college friends working for him.

Out of college in 1980 with a degree in agricultural production, Rauser started selling and erecting bins for Superior bin company based in Illinois. In 1985, he switched to selling Westeel of Winnipeg, Canada, becoming its largest U.S. dealer. Back then, bins were averaging roughly 12,500 bushels in size and he was setting up about 100 to 125 bins a year.

In the mid-1990s, Rauser switched again, this time to Sukup Manufacturing. The Sheffield, Iowa, bin maker private-labeled bins that he sold under the Superior name. Bins then were averaging about 25,000 to 30,000 bushels and he was selling 190 of them or so a year.

As a dealer, Rauser was limited in how many bins he could build in an area, so he decided to become a manufacturer. In 2007, he quit Sukup and broke ground on a $7 million bin making plant at Beresford, S.D., and started manufacturing in 2008.

Dealer to manufacturer

Superior Manufacturing, in Beresford, makes roofs and sidewalls and sits along Interstate 29 about 20 miles south of Sioux Falls, S.D. The plant runs with 10 people and is fully automated. “At that plant, we have the major roll-form equipment for the roof and sidewalls,” Rauser says.

The roof production line is 321 feet long — the length of a football field — and fully automated for slitting, punching and roll-forming. “There’s a 22,000-pound coil of steel on one end, and on the other, we have a 121-pound woman, unloading roof panels,” he says.

The sidewall production line corrugates, shears and punches pieces. “The punch for that line weighs 125,000 pounds and sits on 7 feet of concrete with four spiral piers of concrete, going down 130 feet to bedrock,” Rauser says. “When that punch is hitting, the whole building is shaking.”

The Beresford location is strategically important because it is 250 miles closer to the company’s southern markets, Rauser says. It is accessible by rail and container shipping facilities. It taps into a second metropolitan labor market, which is not as influenced by the oil field as the site in North Dakota. The company is adding 56,000 square feet to the Beresford plant to accommodate container loading for exports.

Back home in Kindred, Superior Inc. has expanded production.

Workers in three main production buildings produce the fans and ancillary equipment for the bins. The big pieces, made in Beresford, are trucked to North Dakota, where they’re loaded with the smaller equipment and prepared for delivery, either in the region or overseas. The manufacturing company makes all of the collateral equipment for the bins — unloading systems, aeration floors and fans.

In 2012, the company added its own Excel brand dryers to its product mix, and a couple of these dryers are used in the region. It’s just a matter of time before the company manufactures grain legs and conveyors, Rauser says. The company boasts “over 20 improvements” over competitors.

Starting with trumpf

Technology is a big part of Superior’s success, with investments in top-level computerized manufacturing machines, and good staff to run them.

In Kindred, everything starts with a $1.2 million machine called the Trumpf — a computerized punch machine that can make 1,200 hits a minute. Parts go from there to a computerized break machine, which bends steel into desired shapes. Some parts go through a 330-ton stamping press, which has a progressive die, with five stages.

The daily operation cost is only about $5.63, Rauser says. The factory has another similar machine on its way that Claire helped design and includes a roll-former and punch. That will make rafters for commercial buildings and stiffeners.

Parts made by the Trumpf machine then go into pre-assembly, and on to final assembly, which includes electrical components.

Workers test the fans to make sure they’re dynamically balanced, and check them for amperage draw before they go on a job site. At current capacity, the plant makes about 40 fans a day.

Rauser emphasizes efficiency. Superior goes through tens of millions of dollars worth of steel in a year, and doesn’t waste a thing. For example, the company punches holes in steel that will become steps for the bin ladders. The holes are extruded to make a non-slip surface. “If you’re going to punch out an inch-and-a-quarter-sized hole,you might as well put one more step into it, punching out a hole and making an oversized fender washer out of it,” Rauser says. Those washers are used in the floor flashing and various bin parts, saving waste and cost of about $25,000 a year, he figures.

The growth of the Superior companies matches the changes in the industry itself — especially the ongoing trend toward larger farms and the region’s shift to corn and other row crops.

In 2011, the company manufactured and erected 300 bins in the area. The average size was about 45,000 bushels. Rauser says bin size is increasing and the company has built a 315,000-bushel bin — 90 feet in diameter — and will make a 105-foot bin in 2013.

Setting itself apart

Superior works to distinguish itself by teaching customers and working hard.

Rauser has taught low-temperature, natural drying techniques to rural electric customers for a number of years. He says about half of today’s farmers are college graduates, and they can use an expert adviser on ventilation because they also have their minds on a variety of topics, including agronomics, marketing, soils and fertilizer, and regulations.

“We kind of see ourselves as partnering with the producer,” Rauser says. “Anybody can be a manufacturer.”

The company already has bins in Canada, Australia, Zimbabwe, India and two countries in South America. Bins soon will be shipped to Romania, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. The competition is almost all American manufacturers, who simply make better bins.

Superior’s international sales director Jon Engelstad has been overseas six times and has become “about 65 percent fluent” in Russian, Rauser says. Engelstad started with a millwright crew, putting up grain legs, towers and conveyors, and shifted to sales. In foreign countries, bins are erected by contractors. Some customers in those countries farm larger areas than North American farmers do. One of the African customers farms 1.2 million acres.

Rauser says the international markets are ripe for dryer technology as a result of crop loss from post-harvest storage problems.

In countries such as India, “much of the grain is left on the ground, and exposed not only to the elements but also to rodents,” he says. “We need to do our part to build into the next generation. Hopefully, Superior is doing its small part in that and in feeding the world.”

Giving back

People have many motivations, but Rauser is frank that his faith in God is the driving force behind his business efforts.

“We’re not going to be here forever,” he says. “So we need to build into the lives of the next generation. That means teaching them a work ethic, giving them the tools they need to succeed.” He plans for Josh to succeed him, but he is frank that he’ll never retire. There’s no biblical mandate for retirement he says, flatly.

Rauser, a pastor-elder at his church in south Fargo, quotes a biblical passage from Philippians 2, when he talks about why he wants to succeed.

“Look ye, not only to your own interests, but to the interests of others. In humility, consider others better than yourself,” he says. Christ described himself as a servant who humbled himself. The purpose in life is to “serve God and serve others,” in that order, Rauser says, and concludes: “Dollars and sense in the end doesn’t count for anything because you’re not taking it with you. What are you leaving behind that will make the lives of others better?”

With that benediction, he smiles a big, Superior smile.

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