When it comes to alternative energy sources, one Region-based company has made a name optimizing the use of a resource that surrounds us all: air.
Next to water, electric and gas, compressed air is the fourth utility, David Andrews, director of marketing and communications of Sullair said.
"You can use it to run tools, move conveyor belts. A candy manufacturer, for example, could use it to move sugar from one area to another for production," Andrews said. "It's the most common utility, because with air, you don't have to worry about it being volatile and reacting with sparks or chemicals. It's a much safer energy source."
For more than 50 years, Sullair has developed and manufactured compressed air solutions, serving industries like manufacturing, machinery, construction, automotive repair and production, power plants, refineries and more.
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"It's easier to list industries we don't service," Andrews said. "Any given manufacturing business has multiple air compressors. The opportunities to sell are endless."
Sullair was founded in 1965 in Michigan City and has since grown into an international network that distributes all across the world, in six continents and 75 countries. Sullair has offices in Chicago and facilities in Michigan City, China and India, as well as a customer service base in Australia. Training centers in all three continents offer hands-on compressor training. Its parent company, Accudyne Industries, headquartered in Dallas, is a global provider of flow control systems and industrial compressors.
In 1968, Sullair was one of the first manufacturers to introduce stationary rotary screw compressors to the industrial trade, also using the technology to produce vacuum systems and air tools.
In 2003, Sullair presented the first 500 psi portable compressor, and in 2008, unveiled its trademarked ShopTek compressors.
Improving on its air output cleanliness, Sullair developed air treatment systems for its compressors and also developed a line of compressor lubricants and treatments.
Just like with a car, if you don't maintain an air compressor it won't last as long and run at optimum efficiency, Andrews said. To maintain their machines, Sullair partnered with Dow Chemical to create a long-lasting compressor fluid and develop lubricants, including the 10,000-hour "Sullube."
Andrews said portable air compressors tend to be used for construction, and are big sellers for rental companies that buy and then lease them to individuals and businesses. The larger ones, typically used by industrial businesses, can weigh up to 40,000 pounds.
As he walked through the manufacturing area, the whirring of machinery and shrill echo of power tools picked up.
"It's good to hear all of those sounds," Andrews said. "That bustling means we are doing business and we have orders coming in."
However, the assembly line isn't the traditional automated conveyor belt, but sections of machines with employees.
"We've got a lot of hands on deck," Andrews said. "A lot of these are local people who are skilled with their hands."
Most of the company's employees are based in its 430,000-square-foot plant in Michigan City, in addition to the warehouse and training center located near Interstate 94. The main center in Michigan City also houses the global engineering department.
"Sullair is one of the largest employers in Northwest Indiana, with nearly 450 employees based in Michigan City," said Stephanie Roberts, marketing communications manager. "We are proud of our heritage, and we continue to heavily invest in the community. Recent examples include a multimillion-dollar investment in upgrades to our rotor shop in the Michigan City facility, as well as a new, state-of-the-art training center, also in Michigan City."
Roberts said the company also has a strong philanthropic drive, with recent donations to the American Heart Association and Barker Middle School. She said LaPorte County Animal Shelter, Michigan City Food Pantry, Stepping Stone Shelter, Boys & Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity are all organizations Sullair will be supporting this year.
"Sullair is heavily involved in giving back to the community," Roberts said. "Not just Michigan City but the entire Northwest Indiana Region. Sullair has a Community Involvement Committee that helps engage employees to give back to the community, either monetarily and/or by volunteering time."
As for the future, Andrews said Sullair will debut its latest model, 1600H, at the Construction Expo this year. He said the machine is compact and streamlined as possible with high fuel efficiency and is the first portable model with a user-friendly touch screen.
Andrews said the company has customers all over North America and Africa, plus Peru, Chile, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Germany and more. He said he has seen Sullair's air compressors on History Channel's reality show "Curse of Oak Island," where they are used for excavation on a quest for buried treasure. In 2010, Sullair air compressors were used to power the elevators needed to rescue the trapped miners in the Chilean mining disaster.