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Evansville
Thursday, August 11, 2022

Engineered Evolution

Dave Patterson had only one job before he started working for FLANDERS, a North Side motor repair shop co-owned by his father, Roy Patterson. In high school, Patterson stacked field tile for his uncle’s concrete manufacturing company — enough to keep the soon-to-be engineering student at the University of Evansville busy. Originally intending to study mechanical engineering, Patterson was persuaded to go electrical. “I never regretted it,” says Patterson, who transitioned from graduation to a low-runged engineering position at FLANDERS stripping armatures. Despite being raised in the family business, Patterson worked from the bottom like anyone else.

In 1974, Patterson and Jim Havens, the son of Roy’s business partner Bud Havens, purchased stock in FLANDERS and became co-owners. Patterson and Havens continued to build upon the 1947-founded company’s core business of motor repair, which was highly emphasized by the original owner, Frank Flanders, and also by Roy and Bud. The two sons, however, introduced new specialties. Armed with an education in electrical engineering, Patterson became more involved in controls and drives — the electronic brains inside of motors.

Recent years have seen Patterson, along with his three sons, make a deliberate effort to rebrand the company name — an effort initiated by FLANDERS’ development of new motor manufacturing in the 1990s. Mike Fuerstenau, a marketing consultant out of Milwaukee, was brought in last year and hired as the marketing director to assess the FLANDERS brand and come up with an aggressive marketing plan within the Evansville community.

Recognizing the size and potential of the company, Fuerstenau teamed up with AXIOM, a local advertising and communications company, to get the job done. Highlighting the growth and new services, the company shortened its name to reflect its broad scope from FLANDERS Electric to FLANDERS, and has hired more than 150 new employees at its Evansville location in the last two years. About 100 more jobs remain available.

On Location
Even for those who travel up and down U.S. Highway 41 regularly, FLANDERS isn’t easily noticeable. A somewhat haphazard gathering of buildings off the highway, the company stands among other warehouses and plants on Baumgart Road. A closer look reveals two massive plants totaling approximately 500,000 square feet — about half of FLANDERS’ global footprint.

The north plant is home to FLANDERS’ new manufacturing operations and serves as the hub for electrical motor assembly. Another FLANDERS facility on Maryland Street (the original 1947 location) manufactures smaller electrical motors, such as swimming pool pumps. The north plant, however, deals with much larger equipment — drives, controls, and motors ranging from 500 to 7,000 horsepower.

From shaping copper wiring, piecing together the coils, and pressing insulation to constructing main fields, everything having to do with AC and DC motor manufacturing begins in the north plant. The brains (the motor) are designed and constructed in the “panel shop,” a sectioned-off workstation in the north plant that has become one of the most important components in FLANDERS’ industry. “Our core competency is service and repair, and we’ve developed in the last 15 years motor manufacturing expertise,” Fuerstenau says. “The area that we’re really looking to grow and develop is in drives, controls, automation, and advanced technologies.”

[pagebreak]Because the motors are very application-specific, such as mining dragline motors, and take anywhere from a week to a month to manufacture, FLANDERS doesn’t house inventory in the traditional sense. The larger motors, built on demand, don’t sit in the plant for very long. After construction or repair, the motors are cycled through the testing pad, which simulates the type of stress a given motor will endure on the job, and are shipped out with as little delay as possible.

The north plant dates back to FLANDERS’ mid-’90s addition of manufacturing to its motor repertoire; the south plant, alternatively, represents the continuing staple of FLANDERS’ business — service and repair. A much more bustling environment, the various service stations feature cranes large enough to transport 7,000-horsepower milling motors as big as small houses. Here, dozens of motors sit in rows waiting for whatever maintenance they may require.

Mine Job
The company’s concentrated effort in the late 1990s to make a name for itself in motor manufacturing, not simply in service and repair, played both to its strengths and its targeted industry. In 2011, mining accounted for 58 percent of FLANDERS’ annual sales — 40 percent more than its next most profitable industry (metals). And with a passion for controls and drives, Patterson has led a global movement in taking the next step in mining.

According to Patterson, gone are the days of on-site hazards and fluctuating productivity. “The way of the future in mining is autonomous mining,” he emphasizes. And in both the United States and internationally, that future has already arrived. In 2011, FLANDERS became the first company in the U.S. to successfully retrofit AC power into an existing DC-powered mining dragline, a refurbished Bucyrus Erie 770 at Armstrong Coal’s Lewis Creek mine in western Kentucky.

Automation is revolutionizing the mining industry on a global scale. "Most of our new products are going overseas," Patterson says. As FLANDERS has positioned itself in Australia, Chile, South Africa, and Canada, automated mining – a mining system centered around off-site control that takes miners out of harm’s way – has been well-received, headlined by the innovative ARDVARC drill control system, which promises drilling safety and as much as 68 percent increased productivity. FLANDERS boasts 31 ARDVARC drill systems around the world, including two fully automated systems.

Patterson says that with every generation in FLANDERS comes a new focus on company specialties. Since new motor manufacturing became a significant facet of FLANDERS ‘ business, advanced technology products and AC power have been the focus of FLANDERS’ new investments. While Patterson remains proud of the company’s dedication to service and repair (their lasting core competency in the country), there certainly is reason to get excited about the global upgrades autonomous mining provides.

For Stan Mann, technical project manager of power electronics at FLANDERS, it’s a movement that simply needs followers. Due to documented advantages, AC power has been used for a long time in many applications, he says. But when it comes to running automated mining equipment, operators are hesitant. However, the AC-retrofitted dragline in Kentucky bore fruit. “Once we got that running, we had a dozen customers come and look at it,” he says. Previously, “standard products just didn’t stand up; they needed a special product, so that’s what we did. So far, we’re the only people who have designed a specific product for mining application.”

As FLANDERS moves forward nationally and globally, its new designs for mining operations will carry a lot of weight. Still, the company isn’t putting all its eggs in one basket. From Patterson and his sons to the engineers on the plant floors, FLANDERS’ defining quality remains the service and repair it was founded upon. “This company grew on a handshake and a ‘let’s have a beer’ mentality,” Fuerstenau says. “As we get bigger and start to create more processes, we don’t want to lose that character and that commitment to people that Roy established 50 years ago.”

Looking Up
For the past few years, Evansville businesses have been left reeling from the economic woes that shook the country, most notably in 2008 and 2009. While some companies made adjustments and struggled through, others were forced to board up completely — a plight certainly not unique to the Tri-State.

But recent months have brought an attitude of cautious optimism to the area — an optimism that rivals, if not exceeds, other cities of Evansville’s size. In industries from real estate and architecture to manufacturing and retail, businessmen and women are once again beginning to show some confidence in future investments, not unlike FLANDERS, which has remained strong thanks to new developments.

Fuerstenau, though relatively new to the city, has picked up on the economic atmosphere and says FLANDERS fits right in. “Coming out of an economic cycle where everything was doom-and-gloom and downward focused, FLANDERS is certainly an uplifting, future-focused story,” he says. And while much remains to be said for community economic growth and development, success stories like FLANDERS serve as reminders that business will always be in business.

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