L&NW was honored to be among the select few invitees to receive an exclusive presentation and tour of Martin Automatic’s Rockford, IL, USA manufacturing facility. The agenda also included a visit to Martin Automatic’s Corporate Center, which, along with the company itself, has a unique history and background all its own.
Martin Automatic was founded in 1968 by John Martin, an eccentric engineer and inventor and the driving force behind the technology that fuels the company’s unrewinder, rewinder and tension control machinery, which are installed in more than 56 countries around the world. All of Martin Automatic’s machinery production takes place in the US, and according to VP sales and marketing Gavin Rittmeyer, there are over 7500 installations globally.
During his Media Day presentation, Rittmeyer stressed that the label industry is just one of several markets Martin Automatic serves. Nonwovens, paperboard, flexible packaging, laminates, building materials, banknotes, newspaper and commercial printing are all key areas of focus. The company custom builds machinery for customers in these markets at its 195,000 square foot plant in Rockford.
Worldwide, Martin Automatic today has 165 employees, many who have been with the company for decades. Rittmeyer, who has been with Martin Automatic for 28 years, pointed out that the average employee tenure is around 21 years. With that said, however, the company is future-focused, having hired 17 Millenials over the last five years.
Through what Rittmeyer calls disciplined entrepreneurship and a customer-focused approach, Martin Automatic engineers web transport equipment of varying sizes and scales and holds several trademarks and patents. Its technology lineup includes the Inertia Compensated Dancer, a Rolling Sheer Splice Unit, Lift and Load In-Aisle Roll Loading, Ring-O Bearing for Spooled Unwinding, Airnertia Idler Rollers, MDR Idler Rollers and Tapeless Lap and Butt Splicers.
Rittmeyer covered a lot of ground during his presentation and guided tour – from 7’ diameter, 5’ wide, 8000 lb rolls of paperboard for the paper plate and cup markets to fiberglass matt webs for asphalt shingles to the extensible LDPE film webs for disposable hygienic products and the 3 m wide delicate (see-thru) non-woven web for the same to wrap-around and premium labels.
“I always like deconstructing for visitors products – like the feminine care napkin and showing just how many different layers of material and technology go into making such a product. I always feel like I am walking into an episode of the Discovery Channel’s ‘How Do They Do That’ when I walk through the doors at Martin,” said Rittmeyer.
Referring to it as a “bit of magic,” Rittmeyer explained the science behind a Martin Automatic dancer model and how the laws of physics – properly implemented and applied – created a stable web to the press, regardless of the incoming tension disturbance – all without electronics, drives or load cells. “And our ultra-low inertia AirNertia idler roller – the roller that rides on air – usually has people saying, ‘how can that roller be so lightweight?’ We take very seriously our charge with our customer’s money, and that is to give them the highest ROI and reliable machines possible. We do this by providing equipment with the highest degree of pure form designs that work with and within the laws of physics as long as possible before jumping to the world of drives, controls and electronics. We strive not to confuse sophistication with complexity – the most sophisticated designs will accomplish their stated task with the fewest number of components – pure, simple, essential – or put another way KIS – Keep It Simple.”
Martin Automatic’s first ever Media Day concluded with lunch and the story behind its unique corporate center. Rittmeyer explained, “It is a structure that gives us all a lot of pride and pleasure to share with others. It really is the largest steel structure that we have designed and built to date, though we do have some rather large machines too!”
In closing the proceedings, Rittmeyer teased what Martin Automatic will be showcasing at the upcoming Labelexpo Amercias in Chicago. He said, “You will see, in booth 811, our latest space-saving, full-featured butt splicer that offers what is perhaps the shortest running direction footprint in the industry – measuring in at just 1.7 meters in the running direction. It’s another example of essential, extreme engineering from Martin Automatic.”