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Economic development group tours APT manufacturing plant

March 31, 2008

By Roz Kohls
Staff Writer

The past year was the best for APT’s, Advanced Process Technologies, since it began manufacturing stainless steel food processing units in Cokato in 2000.

Russ Scherping of Kingston, one of four partners of the 30,000-square-foot plant at 150 Swendra Blvd., led representatives from the Wright County Economic Development Partnership on a tour of the facility March 21, and explained the history of the company. It mainly serves the food, dairy and beverage industries, he said.

The three other partners are Craig Campbell of Waverly, Melvin Briggs of Lester Prairie, and David Kupka of Orono.

The plant fabricates stainless steel cheese vats, pipe systems, catwalks and systems integration. APT recently shipped out a 14-foot-high and nine-foot wide cheese vat to California.

The plant, which employs 50 people, is currently working on a $250,000 machine that turns animal blood plasma into powder. The powder is then mixed into animal food, Scherping said.

Most of the machinery, tanks and systems developed and designed by APT involve cheese production. APT sells to Kraft Foods, California dairies, and Wisconsin dairy food processors. The company has customers in 48 states, Scherping said.

It also designs and fabricates equipment for honey and ice cream production, and systems for vegetable canning plants. APT’s electrical engineers are currently working on a control panel for hazardous environments for a pharmaceutical company from St. Cloud, he said.

APT was scheduled for a tour by the county’s economic development partnership because one of the partnership’s functions is to retain and expand manufacturing plants in the county, according to Noel LaBine, the partnership’s executive director.

The board of directors had met shortly before the tour at the Cokato Public Library.

The purpose of the partnership is to create a health and diverse environment for new and existing businesses and to increase job opportunities within Wright County.

The board of directors rotates its meetings in various cities in the county. The next meeting will be Friday, May 16 in Maple Lake.

Representatives from Cokato at the meeting were City Administrator Don Levens, Mayor Bruce Johnson, and members of the city’s economic development association. The EDA members on the tour included Chuck Miller, Dean Perry, Wayne Murphy, and Kurt Dahlin. Chuck Stovner of Cokato, a machinist from Graco in Rogers, also participated in the tour.

LaBine asked Scherping how he finds new employees. Scherping said it was difficult. Most of the plant’s applicants don’t want to do physical work, and are looking for desk jobs, in which they can sit behind a computer, he said.

Then LaBine asked Scherping if the technical schools in the area are supplying the welders he needs to staff APT.

The welding done on APT products is specialized. Because the equipment is used with food, it must be stainless steel, and have no cracks or crevices to harbor bacteria and other microbes, Scherping said.

APT rarely uses carbon steel needing paint, because chips of paint could end up in food, he added.

APT needs welders who are skilled at tungsten inert gas, TIG, welding, and there are few in the area who are skilled enough to build the units APT produces, Scherping said.

Scherping said the technical schools in Hutchinson and Willmar produce decent welders. A new, inexperienced TIG welder will start at $12 an hour. Experienced TIG welders get at least $20 an hour, he said.

Electrical engineers are even more difficult to find, he added.

LaBine also asked about the plant’s efficiencies. Scherping told about the crane, installed in the facility’s 2007 building expansion, that lifts the enormous units APT builds, and the high output lighting installed in the ceiling.

In the future, APT is helping design equipment and systems that will inject liquid nitrogen around meat patties, for example, to instantly freeze the food and kill microbes, Scherping said.

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