The 140-year-old, familyowned company started in Switzerland and moved the processing operations into the United States within the last 50 years. The U.S. headquarters is in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.
“They started in Switzerland many years ago,” said Tom Amedro, general manager of the Urbana operation for the last seven years. “It was Weidmann initially, the Weidmann family started the business, and then Jean Tschudi took over in the 1920s and the Tshcudi family has been running it since, keeping the original Weidmann company name. The company itself then grew.”
According to Amedro, Weidmann has always been involved in creating electrical transformers. The company’s main product is paper and board, which he says is really just thick paper, made the same way and pressed together to become board.
“It all goes into transformers, whether it be a transformer on a pole to power generation to transformers like at Dayton Power & Light,” he said.
“It’s utilized to, obviously, insulate the transformer from shorting out. So it’s a very important part of the transformer. Our company has developed itself into what I call a cradle to grave company, and what I mean by that is we have transformer engineers on our payroll that help design transformers and work with customers.
We have a lot of experience and have people from Westinghouse, for example, that we hired in. They’ll help develop the new transformer designs with a customer.
Of course, with that we’re suggesting to use Weidmann insulation as we go. So they design the transformer, then they make it, then at that point they’re utilizing paper and board into these transformers. And these transformers, in the way we look at the business, are in two different categories, and we consider power transformers the bigger ones, like DP&L and bigger substations that use mainly a lot of board - more board than paper - but they also use paper to wrap the wire.
The distribution side is smaller transformers, which would be on top of a telephone pole.
Between each layer would be either a copper sheet or an aluminum sheet. It is then wound with copper, paper, copper, paper, built out to the size of a transformer.
“Once they complete it and it’s out in the field, we also have a division that does monitoring of the oil,” he continued.
“All these transformers are filled with oil, and that’s what helps cool them and insulate them as well. We have a whole separate lab division kind of like you go to a doctor and you get your blood test, and they tell you all your results as to cholesterol and what not - well, they do the same thing to the oil. So if they find certain gasses and things in that oil it will tell them the life of the insulation. So we monitor that. And then on top of our oil testing we also design monitors they can attach to these transformers that’ll measure temperature, moisture, gasses and things like that, and they can do online measuring.
Customers will also come to us at times to do a post mortem to find out why it failed, so we take it apart to find out why. So cradle to grave.”
Of the company’s sales volume, Amedro said that about 66 percent of what they make stays in North America, 11 percent goes to Mexico, 11 percent goes to Brazil, 4 percent goes to Europe, one percent goes to Turkey, 3 percent goes to the Asian Pacific region and 3 percent goes to China.
“In each one of these locations we have a sister company that we can ship to and they’ll convert it, and then they’ll ship to the various people in that country,” he said. “We do occasionally ship directly to a customer in Korea.
Sam-Dong is one of the larger customers. They also have a site in Tennessee that we ship paper to and they make the wire and wrap it with the paper.”
Weidmann’s first step into the American market occurred about 50 years ago, according to Amedro, with the purchase of a plant in St.
“That’s how they got their first foot into the U.S., in St. Johnsbury,” he said. “From that point, then, as they grew they bought two more converting operations.
They bought them from Avery-Denison. One operation was in Framingham, Massachusetts, making the lightweight papers into crepe - makes it stretchy - it starts with standard paper and then we run it through the crepe operation. This crepe paper is then sold to wire companies. Then they also bought an operation just outside St. Louis in O’Fallon, Missouri, and they took the heavier paper and they put this diamond dot on it that is an epoxy resin and that resin, what that does, is after they, the transformer maker, get done wrapping this all together layer after layer they put a clamp on it and they set it in an oven and they bake it, and this epoxy diamond touching the copper bakes it all together so it becomes a solid unit.”
Amedro said that as competition has gotten more intense in the last ten years, Weidmann decided it would be a better idea to move all their operations under one roof. They decided on the 700 W. Court St. property and bought it in 2010.
“As they were going around looking for operations, most of the heaviest part of our customers are east of the Mississippi. So we had looked in Tennessee, probably Indiana and a couple other places to be more centrally located between east and west,” he said. “We very seldom ship material to the west coast, but we ship a lot of overseas stuff, so we needed good access to highways, and the timing was right. We looked for a property that already had the infrastructure there, water systems, effluent systems, had the air systems and everything set up. That’s why this site became very attractive.”
The building where Weidmann’s Urbana operations are located was originally built in 1910 and started out as the Howard Paper Company, established in 1895. According to Amedro, the Howard family sold the property in 1965, at which point it passed through several hands before it was purchased by the Fox River Paper Company in 1991. Around 2007 the property was again purchased by Neenah, Inc., who Amedro said ran the paper business for about eight months and then shut it down and gutted it.
Several years later, Jerry Damewood bought the building to use as a warehouse, but got rid of the machines on the mill and converting side.
“Jerry had bought the whole building when we came in,” Amedro said.
“We wouldn’t take over the rest of the property until we got a clean bill of health from the EPA, because the old property had a coal fire boiler, it had asbestos and all that, so the city actually bought the rest of the property and through a brownfield grant they got it cleaned up. Once that was cleaned up and we got a covenant not to sue from the city and state, then we took it over. That’s when we started building our operation.
“We then built it up the way we’re set up now,” he added. “The company decided they were going to put everything in one house, so they moved the whole Framingham and O’Fallon operations here for the converting - that’s what’s in the center part of our building and a little part on the west. And then the paper machine went in on the far east of the same building, and that’s the original building - the 1910 building.
So now everything’s done under one roof. We make our own paper and convert our own stuff.”
Weidmann still operates the board mill in Vermont, but is able to do everything else from their Ohio facility.
Weidmann continues to be a third tier provider, supplying paper but not the copper wire or other metal parts of the transformer, and they do business all over the world.
“We’ve been growing,” Amedro said. “When we started we had 95 people, now we’re up to 160 people. We’re getting to capacity levels on our DPP machine that makes the coated papers, and we continue to expand that business, and we take pride in that for a paper company we stick strictly into the electrical paper business. We don’t jump into commodity and make brown paper for brown paper bags, for example, just to run our machines. We specialize in engineered papers that are specific to an application, so it’s really high specialty type grade. We’re growing those engineered papers which then continues to increase our volumes.”
The Papermachine at the plant runs for ten days, then is down for four days to perform maintenance. Amedro says most of their raw material comes from spruce and lodge pine trees in British Columbia. There are currently about 160 employees in Urbana, but Amedro estimates that there are over 2,500 company-wide.
“We always have a certain amount of turnover,” he said. “Skilled labor is toughest one to find right now, we’re looking for off-shift mechanics.
I think they’re looking for three operator positions as well. There’s constant turnover from retirements and people want to go to a different shift. I think it’s a great company in the fact that it’s family owned and the one thing they do is they really treat their people well, and because of that we get a lot of loyalty to the company and people are pretty happy working here.”
Anyone interested in applying to work at Weidmann Electrical Technology or who wants to know more about the company may call 937-652-1220.
Christopher Selmek can be reached at 937-508-2304.