An Inside Look at the Balancing Technology of American Hofmann Corp.
What we’re really doing here is bringing Detroit all the way into Lynchburg,” Roy Emeigh, the president and CEO of the Lynchburg-based American Hofmann Corp., explained while pointing to a newly-built and -engineered automatic crankshaft balancing system—one of four that American Hofmann was building to ship off to Ford Motor Company in December.
The machine that Emeigh showcased stood in a spacious and modern-looking testing bay, where engineers walked to and from their latest projects on the floor of the American Hofmann manufacturing plant nestled in an out-of-sight location on Cohen Place in west Lynchburg.
American Hofmann specializes in anything that spins. They build automatic, in-process gauges that measure angles of unbalance in rotating components. Simply put, anything that is spun by a motor or electricity, whether it be a 100-ton wind turbine or a dental drill, must be balanced to ensure it runs smoothly. Imbalanced rotors can cause uneven heating and distortion, endangering the appliance and the person using it.
“When the dentist is getting ready to work on your teeth, and you see the drill, you don’t ever think to yourself whether the spinning components in that drill are running smoothly and are balanced,” American Hofmann Chief Technical Officer Axel Ruckert said. “But little things like that are important.”
According to Emeigh, Hofmann’s machines tend to vary greatly in cost and total time of construction. A standard balancing machine can take around 10 to 12 weeks to make, whereas a more specialized machine can take up to 28 weeks to complete. Prices range from $10,000 to upwards of $10 million.
And because Hofmann is not limited by industry, their client base is expansive; they have long established themselves as leading balancing technicians for companies in the aerospace and power-gen industries.
They have designed and engineered balancing machines for Siemens, Pratt & Whitney and Johnson Control Air Systems, among other prominent American and international corporations. Still to this day, at least 90 percent of disc drives manufactured by Western Digital are created using Hofmann equipment.
For the past two years, though, the company—under the leadership of Emeigh and his fellow officers—has evolved, concentrating its resources and efforts heavily on the automotive industry to meet new demand from U.S. companies. A lot of the push to branch into the automotive industry, Emeigh said, came from American Hofmann’s sister company located in Pfungstadt, Germany.
Having been on the forefront of automotive balancing systems in Germany, Hofmann’s Pfungstadt branch was able to send over designs for automotive balancing systems, enabling Hofmann to establish itself as a leader in the field of balancing technology for cars, trucks and everything in between in the U.S.
The machine designed for Ford that Emeigh initially pointed out is just American Hofmann’s latest example of their dedication to the auto industry. It was built specifically to balance the crankshafts for Ford’s new 5- and 6-cylinder 2018 Maverick, to be released next year. Standing right next to it was a nearly identical machine built to balance Ford’s V8 “Super Duty” Truck.
In the past three years, Hofmann has built 17 automatic transmission component balancing machines for Chrysler, made more than 100 machines for ZF’s 8- and 9-speed automatic transmission, and designed machines large enough to balance the driveshafts for the CAT 797 MEGA Mining Truck—a 575-ton high-production machine that is used for coal mining nationwide.
This newly-formed commitment to the auto industry has led Hofmann past the traditional non-renewable forms of energy, too. After showcasing his company’s machines for Ford, Emeigh walked over to a slightly smaller machine across the testing bay that Hofmann built to balance the motors for electric cars. Every Tesla Model S, he said, is run and balanced on Hofmann’s equipment, and they continue to create innovative balancing solutions for electric-run vehicles.
Emeigh then strutted to and from the various machines that were being tested by engineers and constructed by builders, and he identified the purpose of every machine and its destination—a machine for vacuum cleaners headed to Mexico, one for solar turbines that’s being shipped to San Diego. The automotive industry may be Hofmann’s latest focus, but having an extensive client base has given the company a hedge against the whirlwinds of the market.
“It’s the great thing about our business—it’s a nice even flow,” Emeigh said. “The automotive industry can be up and down, so it’s a great thing that we have other industries to rely on. Working with the auto industry is just an addition to what we have already been doing.”
The petro-chemical industry in particular is one that has recently been the center of attention at Hofmann outside of the automotive industry. Emeigh said the company saw a wave of demand from oil refineries and rigs in Houston, Texas following the devastation from Hurricane Harvey in August.
Expanding revenue streams from different industries was not Emeigh’s initial priority, though. When he took over American Hofmann as CEO in 2013, the first thing he did was change the overall layout of the manufacturing plant. He showed his employees—80 of them who work at the Lynchburg plant—a photo of the McLaren P1 factory located in Woking, England and said, “This is what we’re going for, this is what our factory is going to look like.”
Now, years later, comparing the spacious, sleek floor of the American Hofmann plant to the futuristic McLaren P1 factory, Emeigh said he is proud of the progress.
He said he has also installed simple things, like moving the electrical and mechanical engineering bays and giving a “buggy” to each project to hold needed tools and materials. Doing so, he said, has already improved the overall workflow of the company and contributed to an increase in productivity.
“In terms of productivity going up, I would gauge that on the frequency of on-time deliveries,” Emeigh said. “And we’ve really seen improvement in that area.”
American Hofmann has also found a large amount of recent success in working with clients during their R&D stages of balancing. Ruckert, who moved from Hofmann’s Pfungstadt branch to oversee design and program management at American Hofmann, noted a specific project the company is currently working on with Google.
“It’s the balloon project that Google is working on,” Ruckert explained. “There’s small compressor that maintains the elevation of that balloon, and the rotor needs to be balanced. In this elevation, there’s low pressure, and it’s quite tough to figure out.”
Being America’s leader in intelligent balancing systems, Emeigh and his team are often on the forefront of innovative and groundbreaking ideas for Google and other world-renowned companies.
And Emeigh said he cannot wait to see what is next. After the tour of his facility, as he sat in his office scrolling through videos of Hofmann’s latest and most prominent projects—the projects that he remembers vividly, the projects that bolstered his company’s name to the national stage—he spoke excitedly about his work and the direction for the company’s future.
“Getting into the automotive industry is only one thing; it’s only the beginning,” Emeigh said. “And it’s all happening right here in Lynchburg.”