Experts in Their Field
AGC Heat Transfer
AGC Heat Transfer is, simply put, the leading supplier of sanitary plate heat exchangers in North America. As a recognized leader, the company produces exchangers for varied industries such as dairy milk, brewing, condiments, beverages, corn wet-milling, fats and oils, and liquid egg.
AGC also supplies new gaskets, upgraded plate packs, and carries a huge range of spare parts to maintain its own standards of serving customers quickly and efficiently. An important aspect of this timely service is the siting of the company’s manufacturing facilities. Right here in America.
“AGC is the only sanitary heat exchanger company that manufactures its frames and plates in the United States,” says Penny Vander Velden, Director of Sales and Marketing, about the facilities in Bristow, Virginia, and Fairview, Oregon.
“In Bristow, they press plates, and do cleaning and re-gasketing services of existing plates from customers. Customers send them in and the company strips everything down, cleans the plates, examines them, re-gaskets them and sends them back out.”
Fairview is where AGC actually manufactures its frames, in addition to pressing plates, and cleaning and re-gasketing them well. This new 63,000-square-foot facility, “a symbol of growth and commitment,” has provided additional floor space that allowed AGC to install a brand new hydraulic press, expanding its plate pressing capabilities for plate production on both coasts.
This increase in manufacturing ability, combined with ample storage space, has allowed AGC to build up an abundance of on-hand plates, gaskets, and frame components.
The only components sourced from outside the U.S. are gaskets, with everything else done in-house, a point of pride for the company. The only other company that had still been pressing plates in the United States moved offshore last year, which has allowed AGC to boost its already strong customer support through superior speed and efficiency.
“We’ve just been able to seamlessly support our customer base, even through the pandemic and any potential strikes on the ports,” says Vander Velden. “We have everything right here, so we can do what we need to do. Our lead time is absolutely, bar none, the best.”
In most cases, if a plant is down because of a malfunctioning gasket, as long as they let AGC know early in the day, the new gasket will arrive in the mail the next day.
“We’re absolutely very proud of being able to support our customers like that,” says Vander Velden. “Even with the disruptions that we’re facing these days with raw materials, we’ve still been able to maintain almost all of our lead times and support the customer base.”
While COVID has created a couple of hiccups, she says there haven’t been any problems that could be considered systemic. Occasionally a client’s order has to be delayed, but AGC has been careful to foster an element of overstocking to ensure that these blips are vanishingly rare.
And keeping clients happy is a major focus for AGC.
“Field service is something that we’re extremely proud of because we do full plate checks as our big service,” she says. “We go into the facilities and die check and inspect every single plate that’s in the heat exchangers for the customer. We give them full reports and let them know what condition everything’s in so that customers can either replace things right away, or they can put it in their planning budget for the next couple of years.
“The auditors really like our reports, because they’re very detailed and we tell them everything that’s going on.”
And those exchangers are vital, working as the first line of defense when it comes to reducing bacteria to acceptable levels in the production process. In any dairy-related plant for instance, every drop of product that comes out of the plant has gone through a heat exchanger, meaning if the plant is running a million gallons of milk a day, a million gallons are going through that heat exchanger.
“Our field service does those plate checks which are very important to the industry,” says Vander Velden. “We also help customers with their installation supervision. We have very talented technicians who are conscientious about the process and what’s going on. They’re very helpful and it’s one of those services that we’re extremely proud to offer. It sets us apart, because nobody else does it.”
Another service that makes AGC different from most industries is their sales people, who are also the engineers.
“So the person you call for a new heat exchanger or new plates is also the person that’s going to engineer and design that product for you,” says Vander Velden.
This reduces the number of touchpoints for the client, she says. With AGC they don’t have to speak to numerous staff to get answers and results.
“You don’t have to work with five different people to get a large project done. You just work with one person. It makes the process a lot more efficient for us and for the customer. Our company is small enough and nimble enough to maneuver like that, where in a larger organization you really do have to go through several people to get an order through.”
This streamlined notion adheres to AGC’s four Business Principles: social, business integrity, environment, and transparency. Building relationships with clients is high priority, along with maintaining close communication in order to keep all manufacturers running as smoothly as possible, up to code and with quality service.
Transparency also extends to AGC’s environmental initiatives and its optimizing of the use of natural resources for its products, with a minimum of environmental damage. The company reduces environmental impact through expertise and efficient utilization of energy, cleaning of water and fluids, reducing waste, and efficient production of food and pharmaceuticals. This precautionary approach to environmental challenges means continually improving production processes to stay as sustainable as possible.
AGC’s determined and thoughtful approach has also assisted the company with other challenges this past year, such as labor and the supply issues that have affected the industry at large.
“One thing AGC did differently this year is that again we built up our inventory early in the year to ensure we were able to weather the storm, when it came to issues with supply chains,” says Vander Velden. “We’re really happy with that, but it doesn’t mean we’re not constantly trying to get ahead of those issues, constantly juggling them, constantly dealing with them.”
The company spends a lot of time adding to its sourcing for raw materials so that if one vendor slips hopefully it has two or three more behind them.
“We’re just really doing everything we can to ensure we maintain a high level of customer service in a timely manner. That’s been a big objective.”
Labor struggles have been an issue as well in the factories, she says, as AGC works to ensure it’s supporting and taking care of employees however possible.
“They’re the most important asset that our organization has,” she says. “Without them, nothing gets out the door. If you’re struggling with having your roster filled while you’re trying to get orders out on time, it becomes that much more difficult for the folks who are still there, who are often working harder to make sure customers are taken care of.”
Vander Velden says 2021 has been a good year for the company, however, due to good business management which has led to growth and high customer service.
“We’ve been able to pick up a lot of the fallout from other companies who haven’t been able to service their customers,” she says. “There are some companies that aren’t even taking any more orders until next year.”
Milestones are really just continuing to grow the company, she says. Although AGC is still fairly small, it’s working every day to grow in its role as a proud American-made, America-homed brand.
“That’s something that’s very important to us,” says Vander Velden.
AGC will continue to set itself apart from competitors with its plate check service, amazing service team, all American-made products, and its ability to instantly respond and service a customer that’s down, she says.
Along with continuously evolving its product line to meet whatever customers are looking for, AGC also offers full rheology lab services. Here, AGC analyzes and tests product samples from prospective clients to ensure that both the heat exchanger and the plate configuration have been designed exactly to the client’s needs.
“If you’re adding powders to the milk or ice cream mix, it all reacts differently once it’s gone through the heat exchanger,” says Vander Velden. “We can make sure we’ve built the best design for your application. That’s a free service, because we want to make sure that you’re getting exactly what you need.”
And that’s exactly what AGC aims to do – keep it simple while giving clients exactly what they need.
In a business where it’s easy to get over-ambitious and try to do too much, AGC focuses on this one thing. “We’re very good at what we do and don’t deviate from that,” says Vander Velden. “We specialize in plate heat exchangers in the sanitary market. That’s what we do. We don’t do all kinds of parts and pieces and components, we stick to our core business, and we’ve become experts.”