The family owned and operated Wendt Corp, now under the leadership of Tom Wendt Jr, has served the scrap metal recycling industry for more than 40 years.
Bette Kovach asks Tom Wendt about the growth of the business founded by his father, now chairman, in 1977 and the company's strategy in supplying ever more demanding markets.
While still in high school, Tom Wendt accompanied his father Thomas Wendt Sr to a conference held by the Institute for Scrap Recycling Industries, where he was fascinated by the diversity of the audience.
They ranged from owner operators to large publicly traded companies and everything in between, all dedicated to operating their businesses profitably and making a positive impact on the environment.
Wanting to contribute to the growth of the family business, he decided to work in the recycling industry to provide equipment that would help to make better use of the world’s resources.
Today, Tom leads Buffalo, New York-based Wendt Corp, one of the world’s largest technology-driven manufacturers of a wide range of recycling equipment for ferrous and non-ferrous scrap management.
Employing more than 100 people, the company has customers throughout the Americas and Europe, and is working with potential clients in Asia, including India, the newest developing markets for recycling. Upon graduation from Canisius College, Tom spent 10 years in sales at Wendt before being named president, at age 35, in 2011.
The company’s portfolio of products and services has grown steadily over the past 42 years while the company has evolved from an organization servicing recycling machinery to an agent for the products made by others to eventually become a full-scale design and manufacturing firm.
Today, Wendt Corp offers a full range of products for the ferrous and non-ferrous recycling industries, from the shredder infeed conveyor to the recovery and finishing of non-ferrous metals supported by a trained and experienced staff.
And while the leadership has changed - Thomas Wendt Sr serves as chairman in a largely advisory role - there are many things about Wendt Corp that have transcended the generations.
“One leg we stand on is continuous development of our products. But we also have become technical partners to our customers through systems and process innovation. We leverage the technology of our partners to provide a comprehensive solution that is state of the art, fully integrated and proven to perform,” Tom said.
“That is different from the past, where a technology company would introduce a new product, and scrap companies would have to figure out how to use it,” he added.
Wendt Corp develops its own innovation in its technology center
Entering the shredding market
The company evolved during the 1970s and 1980s from a service organization to a provider of its own products. But the real watershed moment in shaping the Wendt Corp of today took place when the company became a shredder manufacturer coupled with its 1998 asset purchase of leading shredder producer Sunbelt Technologies, Dallas.
Wendt pursued the assets of Sunbelt because of the compatibility of technology between the two companies. The first shredder sold by Wendt was complete with an infeed conveyor, a 6,000-horsepower shredder mill and the complete downstream separation system.
“Prior to 1998, we were an accessory to the big projects by supplying downstream projects or replacements. But now we were able to enter a whole new market” right when large shredders were gaining in popularity, Tom said.
In 2004, Wendt launched a heavy shredder line that was completely designed and built in-house. The entry into the heavy shredding market at a time of strong business conditions for metals companies helped Wendt increase its revenue between 2003 and 2008 to more than $80 million and the workforce from 50 to more than 100 employees.
The line of heavy shredders offers efficiency with the highest production levels per kilowatt hour, the lowest cost per shredded ton and increased reliability under the toughest shredding applications - maximizing up-time.
During the evolution of the Wendt brand, one mainstay has been embracing the latest technology. Wendt takes a two-pronged approach - developing its own innovations in a captive technology center and partnering with providers of world-class technology.
In 2013, Wendt opened a technology center “to further differentiate ourselves in the market by developing products in house,” Tom said. The center has evolved over the past few years, proving out technology that will create additional value for customers.
“Our current plant serves as a versatile advanced metal sorting plant used for the cleaning and sorting of shredded non-ferrous materials such as zorba and zurik as well as mixed aluminium scrap that can be recovered and reused,” he said.
“At the tech center we can take customer material, run it through the process and show the customer the end result,” Tom said. The first two installations at the technology center served as automobile shredder residual plants.
Power of partnerships
In addition to its internally driven technology advances, Wendt continues to partner with companies that bring proprietary technologies from Europe and North America to its equipment.
When selecting partners to support Wendt’s growth, company leadership looked for companies that provide best-in-class technology with unique attributes and organizational depth for research and development.
“Our partners are all experts in highly specialized fields. We assess their appetite for growth so they will become partners for the longer term. Our partners all have a competitive edge where we bring industry knowledge to them, and they help optimize their technology to our specific applications that bring value to our customers,” Tom said.
“Together with our partners, we are investing significant resources into technology and processes to recycle more of the world’s scrap and waste streams. I find it very satisfying to know that we play an important role in helping to recycle the world’s scrap and waste,” he added.
The environmental challenge
Recycling by its very nature intends to create a cleaner environment and can bring to life the concept of a circular economy to reduce the use of natural resources. But recycling also brings myriad environmental challenges to both the recycler and the scrap equipment provider.
The work at Wendt’s technology center is focused on resource recovery and increased efficiency, which help lower emissions and carbon footprints.
Shredder manufacturers have long sought ways to mitigate emissions and provide a cleaner and safer work environment. Wendt is currently building a new shredder for a customer in Minnesota that, because of tightening environmental standards and citizen activism, is relocating its shredding facilities.
“Automobile shredders are held to a higher standard of controlling and measuring emissions. That standard and the community concern has led us to design and build a shredder that will be completely enclosed. It is cleaner than anything I have ever seen and could be used as the new standard of environmental responsibility around the world,” Tom said.
The installation is expected to be complete in late 2019.
One earlier breakthrough in environmental development was achieved when Wendt introduced HydroSort, a complete material cleaning and separation system for automobile shredding plants.
The system separates the shredded automobile into three segregated material streams: A washed clean grade of ferrous scrap metal, a clean and pure grade of non-ferrous residue averaging more than 80% metal content by weight and the automobile shredding residue or fluff stream.
“Consisting of a wet downstream and the first infeed conveyor manufactured by Wendt, it helped establish Wendt’s future as a comprehensive solutions provider to the shredding industry,” Tom said.
Modular shredders also help reduce the carbon footprint while expanding shredding capabilities to smaller companies that want to enter the recycling market. Wendt has seen steady growth in modular shredder sales, with first-time shredder owners looking for low construction and installation costs while still reaping premium shred.
One such customer in Newfoundland, Canada, started up a shredder in spring 2019 to expand his business and keep his operating costs low. One deciding factor for selecting a Wendt product was its strong customer service.
“Wendt was prepared and willing to spend the time with me to select a shredder and a downstream that best suited my needs,” the shredder owner said.
Building from the foundation
The founding of Wendt Corp was somewhat happenstance. While working in the R&D department at Columbus McKinnon, Thomas Sr received a call from a customer of his former employer D&J Press Co.
Thomas had installed a baling machine press that was no longer working and needed repair. Although then employed by another company he agreed to visit the former customer’s yard on a weekend to offer advice on how to repair the baler.
That experience of being proactive, responsive to a customer - even a former one - and troubleshooting with success made Thomas think that maybe he could launch his own business.
In the early days of Wendt Corp, the focus, according to Thomas, was on “rebuilding equipment to make it more efficient and safer to create lasting value.” It helped establish a business model that expanded the company’s focus.
He sought partners to provide leading-edge technology and introduced those companies to new markets. Wendt Corp became the agent and/or distributor for several leading European brands of recycling equipment, such as Germany’s Thyssen Henschel, England’s MMH and Spain’s Moros, as well as companies in Denmark, France and Italy.
In 1981, Wendt Corp acquired the intellectual property of D&J Press Co, which was partially owned by Thomas’ father Will Wilfred.
That acquisition allowed Wendt Corp to repair and rebuild aging D&J equipment and actively solicit the business of all former D&J customers, many of which were among the first metal processors to embrace automobile shredding.
With the orientation of using top-notch technology to create lasting solutions, Thomas entered the manufacturing arena in 1987, when Wendt introduced its non-ferrous baling press and also that decade introduced its own brand of products specifically for ferrous shredders.
A plan for accelerated growth
With its extensive product portfolio built over the decades, Wendt has experienced record growth in the past two years, particularly with customers looking to further recycle insulated copper wire and aluminium scrap into furnace-ready commodities.
Wendt completed the commissioning of eight automobile shredders and more than 10 large separation and sorting systems. To support future growth, Wendt this past summer announced several strategic initiatives to support accelerated growth.
One involved establishing a regional sales force. Another has expanded the service department into two groups - parts and technical support along with field service, which has doubled its staff, and a technical support group. This structure supports the growing Wendt installations while also expanding its service-related product offerings.
The recently announced strategic initiatives also reinforce its commitment to technology partnerships with highly specialized companies whose technology and capacity expands the value of Wendt’s product lines.
The result is an efficient and agile supply chain with an increased ability to deliver more product, on time and with better quality. The company also said it remains committed to a growth strategy that delivers value to its customers through creative process solutions, service and overall customer experience.
And although the company is planning to keep the forward momentum, Tom acknowledges that the road might be bumpy - at least in the near term.
“Commodity prices are at three-year lows. While we have several large projects in the pipeline, that number is less than this time last year. Many customers seem to slow down or put projects on hold in soft markets. But our best customers tend to make investments when the market is down because they have the time, the resources and they know they get better pricing from contractors and faster project schedules. When the market rebounds, they are better positioned to take advantage of it,” he said.
Global economic forces also affect the scrap equipment market.
“Chinese demand for non-ferrous metals has provided a marketplace for our auto shredder customers to get paid near intrinsic values for lower-grade mixed metals. On one hand, that has helped our customers be profitable and invest in more equipment to recover more metals from automobile shredder residue. But on the other hand, it has prevented further investment in technology to sort commodities into a ‘furnace ready’ state because China has made it difficult to justify. But with an election coming up next year and a possible future trade agreement, things could change,” Tom said.
“I believe that our industry is always searching for a competitive edge, and our business is built around providing that for our customers. If recent history is any indication of the future, when markets are soft we’ve remained busy and simply grown our market share. Long term, I feel great about where we are and that we will continue to grow,” he added.
Wendt Corp’s current technology partners include:
This article was first published in the November-December 2019 issue of Metal Market Magazine, which carries in-depth feature articles, analyses and reviews of metal and steel markets.
- Tomra Sorting Solutions (Germany) for processing end-of-life vehicles and automotive shredder residue in North America using transformative technologies and sensor-based systems for optimal material separation and recovery.
- MTB (France) for non-ferrous metals shredding, granulation and sorting technology. In addition to being the equipment manufacturer, what makes this partner unique is the operation of its own full-scale processing plants, thus making the company one of the largest scrap processors in France of wire, cables and other complex non-ferrous scrap.
- Westeria (Germany) for material handling equipment complementary to Wendt’s scrap processing solutions that enhance integration for metal recycling applications.
- Moros Industrias Hidraulicas SA (Spain) for a high-performance shearing and high-density baling product line that complements Wendt’s products.
- Bowe Machine Co (United States) for replacement automobile shredder rotors for all shredder makes and models as well as extensive fabrication capabilities to extend Wendt’s product offerings.
- Joest (Germany) for vibratory and air classification technology that produces cleaner products and improves efficiency in the automobile shredder residual plants.
- APC Technologies (US) for technology to control air pollutants for use in Wendt’s proprietary automobile shredder emissions-control systems.