When it comes to total care for the customer, German equipment manufacturer Vemag and its U.S. counterpart, Robert Reiser & Co., certainly have put their best foot forward with the Vemag Customer Center and manufacturing facility in Verden, Germany.

With an eye toward adding to an already-solid stable of customer partnerships, Vemag completed construction of the Customer Center in 2005, and has been hosting processors and potential customers ever since.

Nowhere is a dedicated customer focus more evident than at the Center, which boasts all the functional bells and whistles of a state-of-the-art facility, from a showroom to a test kitchen to a customizable processing room, where samples of product can be processed under the same conditions found in most top-of-the-line plants in the industry.

In fact, the Vemag Customer Center is one of the latest innovations Reiser has championed since purchasing Vemag in 2001. Since then, Vemag’s research & development department, which works very closely with customer partners, has tripled in size to 40 employees. When the Customer Center first opened, Vemag anticipated hosting approximately two customers per week. However, the popularity of the center, coupled with customers’ recognition of the real benefits, has driven attendance at the center to one to two customers per day, on average.

The Customer Center allows Vemag and Reiser to offer a variety of benefits to their business partners, including:
• The flexibility to adapt product development to customer needs on-site, rather than traveling to and from different sites to come to a solution.
• Demonstration sessions and seminars, training meat processors, agencies and their own employees on the intricacies of the Vemag line of equipment.
• Training on Vemag equipment for global sales and service staff, allowing them to more easily interface with their customers on what the machines can really do in a real-time processing atmosphere.
• On-site testing of equipment in development.

The ability for Vemag’s customers to be more involved and more vocal in the development of equipment and lines that match their specific product needs.

Industry partners, working together

Reiser and Vemag have a very unique relationship, in that Reiser not only owns Vemag but also was its biggest customer prior to the purchase. Yet, says Sven Köhler, technical director at Vemag’s Verden facility, the influence of Reiser over Vemag’s day-to-day business has not changed.

“Vemag was always a German engineering company with a special work mentality,” he explains. “Over time, Vemag has learned, with Reiser’s assistance, to focus even more on the customers’ needs rather than simply on creating the Mona Lisa of equipment.”

Roger Reiser agrees that the Canton, Mass.-based company has done a great job working with Vemag rather than taking it over and changing its mode of operation.

“Reiser runs zero percent of Vemag’s day-to-day business,” he says. “Reiser has always been a vocal agent for Vemag, but our ownership of Vemag is a strategic investment, since our company is focused on the business aspect, not the financial, big-brother aspect of ownership.”

However, Reiser and Vemag work together, and with their customer partners, to continue to improve their offerings and extend their highly regarded reputation in the realm of customer service. The companies’ R&D and engineering departments, and their technicians meet regularly to devise and carry out new initiatives, often at the suggestion of the customer.

Certainly, the Verden facility produces the “traditional” and widely popular Vemag double-screw filling machines, but, in the words of Dr. Niclas Rathmann, sales director for Vemag, innovation goes well beyond just the base machine.

“Attachments to the standard Vemag, of a wide variety, are possible, particularly with our strong R&D team and customer focus,” he adds. “Today, in fact, the attachments — from loaders to portioners to linkers and other equipment — are extremely important. They are almost as important to Vemag’s customers as the filling machine.”

Customer partnerships in action

Indeed, Vemag’s double-screw technology makes development of the attachments easier, as it allows the components to be added to the filler without an additional drive system which would not be the case on a standard vane pump. This gives processors a wide range of options for product handling and further processing beyond the Vemag filler.

One such processor, a German Vemag customer who only knew Vemag with respect to sausage-making, was looking for equipment that could improve production of a retail line of meatballs and soup balls, which were being pumped out at one ton per day. This particular processor was having issues with uneven product shapes, a high rate of giveaways because of inconsistent weights and high costs based on wear and tear on the forming unit it was using and based on additional personnel costs.

Vemag brought this customer to its Customer Center, where the partnership flourished, as the two companies worked together to devise a solution via Vemag’s equipment, test the assembly and finalize the remedy. After the Vemag line was installed, the processor was able to eliminate the issues it was having with its previous line, now producing accurate, consistent shapes and weights, and capacity even increased to 840 kilograms per hour on 10-gram product and 336 k/hr on 2g. product.

Through its Customer Center, Vemag also was able to solve the problems of a Greek customer who was looking for a solution in producing a bifteki product filled with goat cheese (a rectangular beef patty filled with goat cheese) that was being processed manually and inconsistently.

After meeting at a Greek trade show with Vemag and setting the wheel in motion, the processor visited the Vemag Customer Center to perform product and equipment tests. Aside from automating the process and saving personnel costs, the processor was looking for a more consistent rectangular shape that didn’t allow the filling to bleed out partially during processing.

Vemag was able to fine-tune the process that was tested during the visit to the Customer Center, and then helped this processor upscale its production from manual to industrial in the customer’s plant. The partnership delivered on the product quality that the Vemag solutions produced, capacities shot up to 100 pieces per minute at 100 grams, and the processor was able to save money on reduced personnel.

A total solutions facility

Vemag’s headquarters sprawls over several blocks in Verden, with all the building facades designed to match, giving the campus a unified look. Beyond the Customer Center, the headquarters houses Vemag’s engineering, R&D and administrative offices and production facilities. Vemag’s equipment is constructed and tested on-site, and the metal for the equipment is fabricated on the campus as well. The double-screw mechanism used in Vemag’s standard fillers is manufactured in the company’s machine shop on site as well. The company is capable of making more than one hundred different double-screw configurations, based on diameter, thickness and pitch. One side of the typical stainless-steel double-screw takes about 15 hours to make; if it’s a tool steel double-screw, that number drops to about six hours.

All manufactured double-screws are tested in the machine shop after manufacture.

Vemag also has its Attachment Assembly Area, where two to three machines are being worked on per day. Typically, it takes the team in that area two days to assemble one complete machine, and then the overnight shift tests those machines. Vemag also has a very large, dedicated spare parts warehouse, where it holds 14,000 to 15,000 types of parts for Vemag equipment. The inventory is controlled by bar-coding, and Vemag and Reiser pride themselves on the quick turnaround, both overseas and in the U.S., for spare parts and service, supported by a facility like this.

However, the Customer Center is the crown jewel of the facility, and based on its early success and popularity, Reiser is in the process of planning to open a U.S. customer center at its Canton headquarters. It should be noted, however, that plans are still in the early stages, and that Reiser and Vemag invite its U.S. customers to make the trip to Verden, Germany, to see up close and in person how Vemag and Reiser can help them solve their processing challenges.