Pellet Mill Magazine's Sponsor Spotlight

AGRA Industries and Schaeffer Manufacturing are both family-owned businesses featured in the Sponsor Spotlight for March/April Pellet Mill Magazine.
By Pellet Mill Magazine | March 17, 2020

Driven by Innovation - AGRA Industries
Family-owned businesses involving multiple generations tend to embrace tradition. While that’s evident for AGRA in terms of the industries it has consistently served over the decades, the company certainly doesn’t shy away from innovation or cutting-edge technology. “We’re very driven by that [innovation],” says Ernest Hinner, vice president of sales and marketing. “We take it very seriously—right now, we’re doing R&D for numerous Fortune 500 companies, and we always have our head on a swivel looking for new and emerging markets or technologies in the biomass processing world.”

AGRA is continually seeking ways to push the status quo of material handling and storage solutions, Hinner adds, and its experience and R&D in bulk handling equipment and unconventional feedstocks has dramatically progressed through the years.

Hinner is referring to as far back as 1962, when his grandfather founded parent company Merrill Iron & Steel. His father and his siblings grew up in the family business, which made a name for itself in the residential wood pellet sector in the mid-1970s and ‘80s. “We designed, fabricated and constructed many of the facilities in Wisconsin,” Hinner says.

It was in the late ‘90s that AGRA was formed to serve the niche agricultural and industrial markets—corn seed, animal feed and grain—with Merrill Iron & Steel servicing the commercial structural steel market. The company’s solid track record in the wood pellet industry—particularly its bulk conveyors and material handling and storage solutions—led to many projects in the fast-growing industrial pellet market in the early 2000s, including Enviva’s Port of Wilmington wood pellet terminal. “There, we engineered, manufactured and commissioned the bulk material handling systems and conveyors, and fabricated the structural steel for most of the project,” Hinner says.

AGRA has also been involved with multiple black pellet projects in the U.S. and is currently exploring more, Hinner adds, as well as some involving pelletization of alternative or unconventional feedstocks. 

AGRA is a complete design-build company, working with its customers from front design and engineering work all the way through construction and maintenance. With 140 employees, the company has complete in-house engineering capabilities and performs all its own design and detailing for mechanical and structural steel. An in-house scheduling and construction management team, crews of millwrights deployed across the U.S. and a steel service team that performs preventative maintenance, repairs and replacement all equate to a single point of contact, Hinner says. “You’re not dealing with multiple people or companies to try to get something done. We maintain our entire schedule, enabling quicker response times, a lot less effort needed for coordination, and ultimately, an expedited ROI for projects. We’re able to save time and money on the schedule because we control that complete supply chain.”

Every project developer wants everyone who clocks in each morning to go home to their families at night, and that’s something AGRA has a strong commitment to, according to Hinner. The company has six-year EMR (experience modification rate) average of 0.72 for manufacturing and construction combined, an achievement Hinner says AGRA is quite proud of.

 “We ultimately sell safety, whether it’s engineering or construction, and we address safety on our production floor every day,” he adds. “It really comes full circle for us—AGRA has a safety management team that touches all levels of the organization, and we meticulously design safety into each project, whether that’s during construction, making sure things are being built in ways that are safe for the people erecting it, or for the end users, those operating the equipment.” 

Contact: Ernest Hinner

Vice President of Sales & Marketing

AGRA Industries Inc.



A Slick Solution for Improving Performance - Schaeffer Manufacturing Co.

Schaeffer Manufacturing Co. is a sixth-generation, family-owned company that can deliver the right solution to every lubrication challenge.

More than 180 years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, Nicholas Schaeffer founded the company, which was then focused on soap and candle production. Less than a decade later, Schaeffer Manufacturing began producing oils and greases to support its westward expansion during the California Gold Rush, and found great success. Fast-forward through a century and a half of passing the business on through generations, steady growth and innovation, the company is well trusted and well known for its products. As for the pellet industry in particular, its unique and top-quality grease is a sought-after consumable.

Schaeffer Manufacturing’s segue into the wood pellet industry was natural, says Steve Rober, national sales manager. “We were involved with many pellet mills back in the 1990s—feed pellets in particular—and saw phenomenal success. There were some ups and downs and we rode the tide, catching the next wave with the U.S. fuel pellet market.”

Interestingly, Rober says, when evaluating production of a specialized grease for this application, the company revisited a product that it had moved away from.

Unique Qualities
“We sort of looked backward and considered the benefits of this oil technology in this application,” Rober says. “We brought it back into this venue—it’s a unique oil. It has a very tenacious capability of handing the load, but it’s also attracted to the metal, having a natural affinity toward it. So, it protects even better than a normal base oil would.”

Schaeffer’s 228HV grease is known to significantly improve one of operating pellet mills’ most problematic occurrences when it comes to equipment—bearing failures. “These facilities are working with wood dust, which is abrasive,” Rober explains. “Once it gets into the equipment, it has the tendency to ruin seals and bearings, and this grease works very well for extending their performance. We generally see that it extends bearing life six to eight times longer than what has been typical.”

While the grease has a heavy base-oil, it’s still pumpable, which is another attractive quality for pellet plants, Rober adds. “Heavy base-oil greases tend to be very thick, and many greases with that viscosity don’t pump well. Oftentimes, it’s being pumped from a station that isn’t immediately next to the equipment, maybe 10 to 40 feet away. Our grease pumps well from that distance in almost all temperatures.” 

On top of its quality products, Schaeffer prides itself on customers service, with a force of more than 600 salespersons, no phone automated phone services and the ability to reach any person at the company without their call being screened.

Personable Service
“If you want to call and talk to the chairman of the board or CEO, there’s no secretary—they will answer directly,” Rober says. “If they’re available, they will pick up the phone. For a large, rapidly growing company that’s 180 years old, that’s pretty unusual.”

With its business continually expanding, Rober says its success to date in the pellet market has largely been word of mouth and customer satisfaction. “Typically, they become introduced to our lubricants, and regardless of what’s sold initially, they see how well it works and choose to have us as their trusted supplier for other things as well.”

Today, Schaeffer Manufacturing’s business in the U.S. is booming, but the company sells its products to upward of 40 countries. Rober points to the company’s chief chemist, Larry Ludwig, for bringing much value to the company. “He’s a certified lubrication specialist and is on the board of the Society of Tribologists and Lubrication Engineers,” he says. “He’s been with us for 42 years, and he’s respected by the industry.”

Rober says Schaeffer Manufacturing sees a bright future in expanding its reach in the fuel pellet industry. “It’s consistently growing into a larger part of our business,” he adds. “The grease we make is very effective in this field.”

Contact: Steve Rober
National Sales Manager
Schaeffer Manufacturing Co.