Built to Last

California Pellet Mill has expanded over the years through smart acquisitions buttressed by reliable equipment and top-notch service.
By Ron Kotrba | April 01, 2019

“It just runs.” This is the well-known tagline of California Pellet Mill. The company has virtually cornered the market on all types of processing equipment to grind, crush, crumble, break, flake, hull, hammer, shred, condition, pellet and cool practically anything. It sells and services machinery and equipment to the animal feed, oilseed processing, corn wet milling, pet food, ethanol and, naturally, wood pellet industries. While CPM is a leader today in pelleting, particle size reduction equipment and automation with facilities throughout the world, its roots are much quainter.

CPM’s origins date back to 1883 in Napa Valley, California, where the Toulouse & Delorieux Co. manufactured presses, crushers and stemmers for the wine industry. Nearly 50 years later, at the height of the Great Depression in 1931, the company built its first pellet mill, a 30-horsepower flat bed with stationary flat die. With that development, CPM was born. In the ensuing decades, CPM created more pellet mill models with added features.

The company’s acquisition phase began in the 1980s when it bought up Roskamp Roller Mill Co. and Champion Hammermills to create Roskamp Champion. In late 2017, Roskamp Champion produced its 500th SP3200 flaking mill, which has become an oilseed processing industry standard. The next acquisition was in 2002 when CPM purchased Beta Raven, a leading supplier of feed mill automation and ingredient scaling systems. Since then, the company has absorbed a number of different equipment and processing firms, including Crown Iron Works, SKET, Century Extrusion, Wolverine Proctor, Nanjing Ruiya Polymer Processing Equipment, Greenbank Technology and, of particular note to the biomass industry, the Italian firm Di Più Macchine Impianti.

Founded in 1996, Di Più is a leading supplier of mechanical and hydraulic briquetting machinery and replacement parts. Di Più has been organized under CPM Europe B.V. and plays a vital role in CPM’s Global Biomass Group. “Our product technologies and market positions are complementary in every way,” says Maarten Visser, director of CPM Europe and the company’s Global Biomass Group. The acquisition of Di Più greatly expanded CPM’s agglomeration portfolio, serving biomass, recycling and metal waste industries with sales, service, production and process technology centers in the Americas, Europe and Asia.

Tim Gilbert, CPM Global Biomass Group’s sales and applications manager for North and South America, says the Di Più acquisition helps CPM add to its growing abilities in the biomass market. While some may have initially questioned whether the acquisition of a briquetting company was a good addition to CPM, Gilbert says, “Now that we have it, we’ve found that we are in some of the smaller applications where briquetting makes more sense. And these applications don’t need complete cooling and preparation systems like you have in the pellet industry.”

Since the Di Più acquisition, CPM has added even more companies, including Proline Engineering and D&G Electrical Engineering. “CPM is a growth-oriented company,” Gilbert tells Pellet Mill Magazine. “We are growing yearly through acquisitions and growth of our core companies.” If the tagline about CPM’s equipment is “It just runs,” then the company’s slogan for its business model could easily be, “It just grows.”

Interestingly, the company whose growth has been defined by savvy acquisitions over the years was itself acquired in late 2018 by American Securities LLC. In a Nov. 16 press release, Ted Waitman, president and CEO of CPM, said, “CPM has a strong history of market leadership. We are excited about our new partnership with American Securities to continue investing in product innovation, geographic expansion and growing our aftermarket sales across all of our segments.” In the same release, Michael Sand, a managing director of American Securities, said CPM’s “leading technology, brand reputation and long-standing customer relationships make [the company] a strong fit for our investment strategy.” Pellet Mill Magazine reached out to Amy Harsch, American Securities’ media contact, to inquire about the acquisition, but she had no comment. “It is our policy to not provide comment or interviews beyond what has been issued in press releases,” Harsch says. Gilbert says from an overall operations standpoint, nothing much has changed since the acquisition—likely a welcomed observation for CPM’s loyal customers.

CPM’s first pellet mill built in the 1930s was a flat die machine. “Shortly after that, the company switched to a ring die pellet machine and gear-drive units,” Gilbert says. “We are one of the only pellet mill manufacturers that uses a gear drive. Our pellet mills don’t have the issues you see with belt-drive machines.” He says belt-drive mills often feature two motors whereas CPM’s units utilize one motor directly coupled to the gear drive. “This gives our pellet machines 97 percent efficiency compared to some of the belt-drive machines that can be as low as 89 percent efficient,” Gilbert says. “This is critical because you want to put as much energy as you can into making pellets, not wasting it to efficiency losses.” The gear drive is the main differentiator between CPM machines and the competition, Gilbert says. “It provides the ability to do maintenance quickly, such as changing dies. It can take up to eight hours to change dies on some machines. On ours you can do it within two hours to get the customers up and running again.”

Since the early switch from flat to ring dies, CPM has continually adapted its base equipment for different applications, through changing speeds and increasing the strength of the main shafts and gears. “Now we work with die geometry to make sure we get proper hole counts and angles in order to get the most throughput and highest durability,” Gilbert says.

CPM not only supplies the wood pellet industry with its efficient gear-drive mills, but many of its other specialty equipment as well. “When I make a quote to a prospective customer, I include everything on the dry side of the plant, with the exception of the conveyance system,” Gilbert says. “This includes everything from the hammer mill to the conditioning, pelleting and cooling systems.” Conditioning systems are employed to control moisture of the wood flour going into the mill. “If you’re running various woods, you may have a range of moisture,” he says. “Our conditioning system can add moisture to get a consistent level throughout the material.”

Gilbert says CPM Europe was at the forefront of the EU pelleting industry in the early days, supplying the necessary equipment to the burgeoning industry, which, at the time, was largely focused on feed applications. Then, as the industry moved to the U.S., and more interest grew in pelleting wood as opposed to feed products, CPM had to adapt. “CPM has always been known in the feed pelleting industry,” Gilbert says. “We have approximately 70 percent market share of the feed industry, with tens of thousands of feed pellet mills in operation.” CPM was so entrenched in the feed market, which was going strong, that it was a late entrant to the wood pellet industry. Despite its slow arrival to the wood pellet game, CPM has made up lost ground relatively quickly. Today, in certain regions such as Europe and Asia, CPM has a 50 percent share of the wood pellet mill market. In other regions, such as North and South America, CPM has carved out up to a 30 percent share. More than a thousand CPM wood pellet mills are in operation today, Gilbert says. Key to securing this respectable portion has been personnel. “The main thing is having the right people in place—commissioning engineers and project management—to grow and support the market,” Gilbert says. “And we have to be equally prepared as this market moves forward again.”

The biggest area of current growth, which should be no surprise to anyone in this space, is the Asian markets. “Vietnam, Korea, Thailand—we’re putting a lot of equipment out there,” Gilbert says. Other significant areas of growth, Gilbert notes, include the western U.S., Canada and South America. “Ninety percent of our business is greenfield projects,” he says, adding that a big challenge to being dependent on greenfield projects is customers securing project development financing.

“The other 10 percent of our business is customers who might have old CPM mills not built for wood pelleting, and they want to replace them with our wood pellet mills,” Gilbert says. “Or prospective customers that have ‘brand X’ mills and want to replace them with CPM mills—things like that. There are also plants that’ve been shuttered and they’re restarting now. We’re seeing people bring more idled equipment back into operation, and CPM is there to help with that too.”

As Gilbert spoke with Pellet Mill Magazine in early March, he was on the road helping a customer make process alterations to ensure their CPM equipment runs properly after the changes. “We are a service-oriented company,” he says. “The application experience CPM has is critical to the customer. The services we offer when we sell equipment—such as providing our expert commissioning engineers, and after that we have application engineers available at start-up or when the customer changes their process—are vital. We also have service technicians available to assist in the off chance there is a breakdown, or if they need more training on maintenance items. But again, as our tagline says, with the CPM gear-drive machine, ‘It just runs.’”

Author: Ron Kotrba
Senior Editor, Pellet Mill Magazine