August 6, 2009 |

Packaging company with worldwide reach lands in West Plains

Prime Equipment sets up shop in Airway Heights after move from Spokane Valley

By PAUL DELANEY

Staff Reporter

The need for a little more elbow room – and less of a drive for its owner – has landed a company with worldwide reach in Airway Heights.

Prime Equipment, Inc. a business established in 1985 that builds and services horizontal form, fill and seal machines, just completed the move within the last two weeks to its location at 1100 S. Garfield Road, Building A.

“Saves me six miles,” owner Ron Kyhl said, of his drive from his Suncrest home to the West Plains, as opposed to the Spokane Valley. Also, “we (also) had to get out on our own, we need more space,” Kyhl said. The new facility, located north of U.S. Highway 2, boasts 7,000 square feet as opposed to the 5,200 Prime had near Millwood.

With plenty of manufacturing and warehouse space available across the area, Kyhl said one of the determining factors in locating in Airway Heights was “it's not congested.” The building was just right, other than Kyhl had to bring in four-phase electrical service in order to run a variety of machine shop equipment.

Kyhl finished buying out his partner, Bart Triesch, two months ago he said. The original deal called for a four-year contract, but, as Kyhl said, “We got the business going very well and we did it in a year and two months.”

Kyhl is a Billings, Mont. native who hatched the idea to form the company when it became obvious to him that the equipment already on the market was not all that great. “We can do this ourselves,” Kyhl said. The company launched itself rebuilding existing packaging machines, but later expanded into building their own line.

“We're not building a lot of (new) machines, we're retro-fitting,” Kyhl said. “We created our own customers,” he said, noting that since the company was founded, there are about 60 to 70 machines currently in operation in Germany, Mexico, Canada, and the U.S.

While upgrading the machines that are out on the market is still big business for Prime, “The new machines are still there,” Kyhl said. “Just right now, everything's been pretty tight in the last couple of years.” It's easier to rebuild than it is to build a new one,” according to Kyhl.

All Prime machines are constructed of stainless steel, designed to last years and years and prices start at $150,000. Notable among the customers Prime has built machines for are the Schick razor company in Germany, medical supply giant Becton-Dickenson, plus national cheese producers such as Luprino Foods.

Business for Prime comes primarily through word-of-mouth. “We have a lot of repeat customers,” Kyhl said. “We have customers who bought one machine and now have seven.” If there's a current market that is still strong, it's cheese, according to Kyhl. “The cheese people are busy, and we're busy,” he added.

Prime packaging machines take a heavier roll of plastic material and pass it through heat and vacuum stations where pockets formed are filled with products such as cheese, razors, snack foods or syringes. Another thinner film, often pre-printed, then seals the packages.

The big advantage for Prime machines is that they are American-made; making parts relatively easy to obtain. Four other manufactures build products similar to Prime, Kyhl said. The competition may be bigger, but Prime's niche is one of customizing the machines for the products. “We're more of a job shop,” Kyhl said.

It's just a humble little company that plugs right along, Kyhl said of the business that currently employs four. They include Kyhl's two sons, Sean and Joe, long-time machinist Bruce Clark, and office manager, Debbie Kauffman. “It's friends and family,” Kyhl said of his small crew.

Prime also offers general machine shop services to the public, according to Kyhl. “We're in the Yellow Pages under machine shops.” Kyhl pointed out that customers can bring in their computer-aided drafting files. “We can design stuff too, we still have an engineering department,” he said.

For information on Prime Equipment call: (509) 928-8947 or e-mail:custserv@primeequipusa.com. Their website is in the process of being updated to reflect the change in ownership and move.

Paul Delaney can be reached at pdelaney@cheneyfreepress.com

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