A vital part of the international effort against the COVID-19 pandemic takes place in an inauspicious manufacturing facility, nestled next to middle school athletic fields and a single-family housing development in Hamilton.
KNF Neuberger’s North American headquarters has been located in Hamilton Township since 1992, with roots in the area since its inception in 1977. But the hundreds of people who pass by there every day to drop their children off at Crockett Middle School or to make their way to nearby Route 130 or Interstate 195 most likely have never paid much attention to the building.
The people employed at KNF’s lone location in the Americas have long known the importance of their work, however. It is built into the 33 core philosophies of the German company. They call it “leitbild,” which translates from German to “mission statement” and encourages employees to have purpose in the daily actions they take.
Now, the rest of the world has begun to learn the value of what goes on in the 50,000-square-foot building off of Kuser Road.
For much of 2020, ventilators have been sought-after items as governments and healthcare institutions ramped up to treat patients infected with the novel coronavirus. The pandemic also has increased the need for equipment that cleans and sanitizes. Inside all those devices are pumps that convey liquids, vapors or gases, pumps like the sort manufactured by KNF.
KNF offers made-to-order solutions to its clients, which means there are thousands of applications for the pumps it produces. But the firm has seen demand skyrocket in recent months from companies that manufacture medical devices, things like ventilators, diagnostics equipment, and sanitation equipment. One of KNF’s clients, a large medical company that supplies ventilators, already has doubled its order and said it will need to double that in the coming months.
“We’re talking about quadruple the numbers that we’re used to, and with that comes many challenges,” said Eric Wilson, KNF’s director of sales and marketing. “It’s challenges, all the way from building inventory to making sure that we have production lines that can handle that throughput, to making sure that we have enough personnel or shift work to be able to handle that throughput, to have enough space for the finished product before we ship it. There’s a number of challenges, but the good news is that we are up to the task, and we have all hands on deck making sure that we can support the customers’ needs.”
KNF USA primarily serves the North American and South American market, but if necessary, will ship outside of its territory. Many of its vendors and some of its designers are based elsewhere in the world, meaning that KNF has to deal with global supply chain issues while planning its production.
The supply chain team has been reaching out to its vendors to ensure they keep up with demand for things like steel castings and bar stock, items that don’t initially seem essential for coping with a global pandemic.
The flexibility in design KNF offers also means there is more pressure on the firm to keep a wider variety of items in stock. Not only does it have to maintain the supply chain, but it also must keep track of the engineering bills of materials and the work instructions to know how to assemble thousands of different variations of its standard pump families.
KNF also has to ensure its employees on the production floor feel safe and fulfilled while doing their work amid increased pressure for output and the proliferation of the novel coronavirus. That, in part, means taking actions like providing masks to workers, shutting down common areas and limiting multi-person workstations to just one employee.
But it also means showing staff what comes of their work and how it helps people in real terms. KNF’s sales team has shared a steady stream of application stories with everyone in the company so they can see how the pumps they make have been used in innovative and life-saving ways.
Demand has increased from clients that produce items like hydrogen peroxide disinfection systems, which vaporizes hydrogen peroxide to sterilize rooms. Clients who build neonatal ventilators have attempted to scale up their system to be able to handle adults, and KNF engineers and sales team have been working closely with them to see how to best achieve this. Companies that do anesthesia gas monitoring have tweaked their equipment to be able to do respiratory analysis—important data when dealing with a virus like COVID-19—and KNF has received significant orders from them, as well.
“We’ve been trying to promote and engage our employees by making sure they understand exactly what we’re doing for the world,” Wilson said. “I mean this is very critical. We provide very critical components into systems that are life-saving systems. The more we can really engage our people and help them to understand that, the more willing they are to go into the situation where they’re putting themselves at risk to build these products, that they’re working longer hours, that they’re making sure that they’re using all their resources to get the job done.”
The Hamilton facility houses KNF’s full North American subsidiary, with everyone from senior managers, technical departments, supply chain, finance, sales, production personnel, machine shop workers and engineering under one roof. There are 140 employees there, with about half living within 10 miles of the facility. Wilson estimated one-third live in Hamilton.
In turn, KNF has invested in the area. It arrived in Mercer County in 1977, starting in Princeton Junction. KNF moved to Hamilton 15 years later, and has settled there. It has the room to expand its existing building an additional 15,000 square feet, and also owns the plot of land across the street should further expansion be needed.
“We are tied to Hamilton for many, many years to come,” Wilson said.
The Hamilton Township Economic Development Advisory Commission recognized those ties last July, when it named KNF the 2019 Large Business of the Year in Hamilton.
KNF appreciates the recognition, Wilson said, but he said the main motivation for its workforce has been the knowledge the pumps and the people who make them have provided hope during a difficult time.
“We’re in the middle of it now, but I think there’s gonna be some major celebrations once we make it through,” Wilson said. “It’s important for our team to understand what we’re doing. There is a very big sense of pride.”
KNF Neuberger, Inc. 2 Black Forest Road, Hamilton, 08691. (609) 890-8600. www.knfusa.com.