You won’t hear the familiar cowbells, but Rome’s slice of Switzerland can be found off U.S. 27 south where Suhner Manufacturing, Brugg Cables and Brugg Wire Rope have, in typical Swiss fashion, been quietly turning out products that are shipped around the world.
The three companies, all under the ownership of Otto Suhner, were honored by Georgia Northwestern Technical College this past week for their nomination in the state Manufacturer of the Year Award competition.
Pete McDonald, vice president for economic development at GNTC, told employees gathered in a break room at Suhner, located on Suhner Drive off U.S. 27 South, that manufacturing remains the foundation of the American economy. “It was great to hear those machines humming out there,” McDonald said. He referred to the rows of machines that are used to create flexible shafts used in the power movement of things like car seats and sunroofs.
Suhner Vice President Guido Broder said that years ago, one of the company’s primary products was speedometer cable, but Suhner’s repertoire has grown with changes in technology.
The company came to Rome after getting a firsthand look at the city on a Georgia Department of Economic Development Red Carpet Tour more than 34 years ago. The company was founded in 1854 by Gottlieb Suhner in Herisau, Switzerland. It was the first Swiss company to open a manufacturing plant in Georgia back in 1976.
Suhner currently employs close to 150 people. Lee Coleman, the plant manager, said it churns out close to 30 million feet of flexible cable each year, amounting to more than 14 million cable shafts of varying sizes.
Broder said the company has had to adapt its systems to accommodate manufacturers’ demands that the cable systems be wrapped in a variety of coatings and be fitted with custom connections.
Broder is particularly proud of the company’s engineering division, which has been used to assist in the development of shafts that allow continuous operation in a variety of several high-speed ranges.
Suhner provides its flexible shaft products to companies like Johnson Controls, Webasto and CRH in the automotive industry and companies in the lawn and garden industry such as Echo, Stihl and MTD.
Otto Suhner acquired controlling interest in the Brugg group of companies in 1991 and brought Brugg Cables to Rome 12 years ago. Brugg Wire Rope followed in 2002.
Kevin Heling is the president-general manager of Brugg Wire Rope, 1501 Parrish Drive, which is an exclusive manufacturer of cables used in the elevator industry. Its leading customers in North American include the Otis and Schindler elevator companies.
The company has recently completed a 14,000 square foot warehouse and engineering addition to its plant in Rome. Heling said he’s got enough land to one day provide space for additional growth within the Brugg group.
With some 25 employees, Brugg Wire Rope spins out more than 12 million feet of elevator cable every year. “Most of what we produce is to stock service companies. It all gets cut to length eventually,” Heling said.
The firm has recently installed a new high tech tubular stranding machine manufactured in China. “We had several people from China here in Rome for several weeks to assist in the installation of the machine,” Heling said. “One of the reasons we’re competitive is that we’re very efficient.”
Nineteen wires are wound into one strand, and eight strands are then wound around the core rope, which is made of sisal. Virtually all of the wire is imported from the Czech Republic. “Trucking companies love us. We bring in 10-14 20-foot containers, good heavy loads of freight every month,” Heling said.
In addition to its trademark rope systems, Heling said the company is also producing new flat belt elevator lift systems. The belts are manufactured in Switzerland and China, and then imported to Rome where the local plant does the custom cutting and logistics for shipment to customers.
Brugg Cables, 25 Anderson Road, is the newest member of the Swiss family to come to Rome. Karl Zimmermann is the plant manager. Brugg Cables makes optical ground wire cable used to transmit data at super high speed all across the country.
The company was also founded by Gottleib Suhner in 1896 and is now the largest company within the Brugg Group.
The highly automated plant only employs 10-15 full-time workers, but Broder said it is not unusual to share employees between facilities as demand dictates.
“You work hard, got the right kind of training. That’s what the Georgia Work Ready program is all about,” Heling told employees at the award presentation ceremony. “We’re working a lot harder at working smarter.”
Suhner and Brugg were among the first companies in Rome to embrace the Georgia Work Ready program. “We have to hire personnel that are ready for our jobs,” Broder said.
by Doug Walker