IKA's expansion mode
October 12, 2012By Meredith Burns
While many businesses are struggling through the rough economic climate, IKA Works is expanding its local workforce and office space.
You might not recognize the name, but from an office at 2635 SE Northchase Parkway, IKA manufactures equipment to make some of the most well-known household items including dog food, mayonnaise, paint, shampoo, cosmetics, cleaners and Pepto-Bismol.
“We build the mixers. We sell those mixers to the food, pharmaceutical and chemical industries. I would bet you that most of the products in your house, the liquid products, are mixed with our mixers,” said Bob Hardin, plant manager and manufacturing director for the IKA Works Wilmington division.
Hardin said IKA regularly accepts orders from many Fortune 500 companies across the country.
“Take Crest toothpaste. Crest toothpaste is only made with IKA machines. But then there’s Colgate, which is their competitor, we do that one too,” he said.
The diverse demand for mixers is one reason business has remained “brisk” despite the recession, Hardin said.
“I mean we’re still in a recession, there’s still high unemployment across the country, but it’s getting better. … Our business is doing extremely well right now. We haven’t slowed down at all,” Hardin said.
With close to 1,000 employees worldwide and an annual global garnering of about $200 million, Germany-based IKA is the largest company in its industry.
IKA’s Wilmington branch, which opened in 1994, handles operations for North and South America.
IKA manufacturing is divided into laboratory and processing equipment.
The smaller laboratory machines, which have an average price of $500, are used in research labs across the country, while the large processing mixers cost an average of $50,000.
Much of the demand for both laboratory and processing equipment comes from large companies such as Procter & Gamble, which uses IKA mixers exclusively worldwide. As these companies expand, IKA follows suit to meet the demand.
“One of our best selling magnetic stirrers is an RCT, and worldwide we sell about 25,000 a year,” Hardin said. “And you would think ‘When are we going to reach market saturation where they’re just going to stop selling?’ And we all think about it, but it’s never happened.”
The brisk business has meant more hiring for IKA. Hardin said for the next few years he expects to hire 10-12 people each year at the Wilmington office, which now has more than 100 employees.
“We’ve hired a lot of people over the past 12 months, and I think we’re going to continue in that hiring process for the next few years because there’s a lot of growth coming,” he said.
“We’re transferring a lot of products from oversees to here, new products for labs. And then we have about 70 new projects in [research and design] that are almost complete, and most of those new products are going to be built in the U.S.”
Hardin said new products are soon to be added to the approximately 150 mixers currently built at the Wilmington plant.
“We’re going to start building more products than we’ve ever done before,” he said, adding that about 50 new products are expected to start being built at the local facility in the next 18 months.
To accommodate the growth and update its look, IKA is expanding and renovating its office building in a two-phase construction process.
The first part of the construction will add about 21,000 square feet to the office and include a lobby, showroom and lab space.
Hardin said the phase was originally planned to be done by January, but a shortage of steel has delayed progress slightly.
Phase two of the process will entail adding 3,000 square feet and renovating 11,000 square feet of office space.
IKA is working with local architecture firm LS3P Associates Ltd. and construction company Thomas Construction Group on the project.
Laura Miller, an architect with LS3P and project manager for the IKA expansion, said construction on the new building should be finished in March, and renovation of the existing building should be finished by June.
Hardin said he was excited about the construction and thought the project’s modern design would be a welcome change to the current building designs in the area.
“This is going to be really unique for Wilmington, I think,” Hardin said. “This is a European company. There’s going to be a lot of European flair to this building inside and out.”
Hardin said plant officials already were looking to construct another building next door to add manufacturing space.
“It’s just now coming on radar,” he said. “We’re growing so quickly we have to start planning now.”
Corbin Murray contributed to this story.