Buhler's 22 overseas units expanding to strengthen ties to customers, national markets

by Teresa Acklin
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   In recognition of the recent pickup in flour mill building and expansion in the United States and also as part of a global reorganization aimed at increasing the responsibility of its representatives, operations of the Buhler Corp. in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are being strengthened by Buhler Ltd. The most visible sign of this move is construction under way at the U.S. office building in suburban Minneapolis, which will eventually provide space for the addition of 50 engineers to the staff.

   The Buhler Corp. moved into the Minneapolis facility in 1976. It has grown over the years, in both the office and in the plant facility located in the same complex. The last major expansion occurred 10 years ago when a food laboratory was added.

   The U.S. operation is one of 22 such engineering and service facilities maintained by Buhler Ltd. around the world. All are structured as independent national entities. Reflecting the broad dimensions of Buhler's engineering and equipment business, most of the national units include not only engineering, but also a plant for assembling new facilities and also for manufacturing specific pieces of milling equipment.

   How these entities operate can be illustrated by the U.S. example. Rudi Guttman is president of Buhler Corp., and he has responsibility for overall supervision of the office and plant, working with the engineering and marketing staff in establishing relations across the many industries in which Buhler is involved. Albert Soder is head of milling in the United States, and he directly reports to John Schoch, head of milling and also of the newly formed General Food Division at Buhler headquarters in Uzwil, Switzerland. And while reporting to Mr. Schoch on specific milling matters and technical strategies having to do with milling, Mr. Soder works closely with Mr. Guttman on specific U.S. issues of importance to Buhler and its customers. These functional and geographic assignments are not too different from how many of the multinational corporations that Buhler counts as customers are organized.

   In the case of the U.S. entity, the plant manufactures airlocks, filters and sifting equipment and primarily works in steel fabrication. Of the cost of a new U.S. flour mill's hardware, it was explained, about one-third comes from Uzwil; another third is made at the Minneapolis facility; and another third is sub-contracted. Of course, those estimates do not include the cost of actual mill construction; the estimates also do not include the cost of software, which is an increasingly important part of the highly automated milling process.

   The Minneapolis plant's ability to meet exacting specifications has been expanded considerably by the introduction of laser-cutting machinery for steel fabrication and by an expansion in the plant's staff and facilities dedicated to electronics. On-line automation has become such an essential part of flour milling, for instance, that a substantial share of a new mill's cost is in the electronic systems that are usually designed to fit the specific requirements of the milling company.

   Urs Buhler, president and c.e.o. of Buhler Ltd., on a recent visit to the Minneapolis offices of Buhler Corp., took the occasion to spell out the purposes of a restructuring program aimed at not just strengthening the market position of the national entities but of making sure that “the individual business units adjust their services to the requirements and satisfaction of their customers.” “Each business unit must be a leader in the know-how of their industries and in engineering developments important to these sectors,” he explained.