Williams Patent Crusher and Pulverizer Company Inc.

Crushing the competition and leading innovation in size-reduction equipment
Written by: 
Matt Dodge
Produced by: 
April Reeves

Founded in 1871, Williams Patent Crusher and Pulverizer Company Inc. provides customized process solutions for customers across the manufacturing and energy sectors, from mines and mills to food processing and the paper and lumber industries.

With more than 500 patents and trademarks to its name, Williams Patent Crusher & Pulverizer is a leader in innovation within the crushing and pulverizing equipment market. “We are on the front end of every manufacturing process and we provide a customized process solution for customer’s unique and varied process requirements,” says Robert Williams, CEO of Williams Patent and fourth-generation family owner

In addition to manufacturing size-reduction equipment, Williams Patent offers processes and controls for the drying, sizing, classifying and conveying, metering, bulk loading and thermal processing vital to any manufacturing operation.

Williams Patent Crusher and Pulverizer Company Inc.

Based in St. Louis, Missouri, family-owned and -operated, Williams Patent works with clients throughout North and South America and Europe, though its products can be found at manufacturing facilities across the globe. “There are a lot of import restrictions in China and Eastern Europe, but when they really need us, they find a way to get us involved,” says Rob.

Streamlining sales through technology

Until recently Williams Patent had a large share of the utility power industry, but shifting gas prices have seen the company diversify its client base over the last two years to a range of Fortune 500 companies.

“Commodities really move in cycles now; one year it might be building products, one year it might be paper products,” Rob explains. “We have an election coming up which usually indicates an increase in paper consumption, so the paper mills getting ready for that and do an equipment upgrade.”

The company has set itself apart from the competition due largely in part to the decision to computerize its approach to sales, ensuring that bids are both quick and accurate. “We can look at a complex system and break them down into matrixes that we already have pricing information in place,” he says. “We can give clients a customized solution with pricing within 24 hours, where a lot of our competitors have to go back to the drawing board and start engineering.”

Williams Patent’s status as a fourth-generation, family-owned and -operated company further sets the business apart in an industry that has come to be dominated by hedge-fund-controlled competitors.

“Hedge funds are the death of a company; they go in and slice and dice and squeeze all the talent and expenses out of a company and by the time it’s been traded two or three times it’s just living off its parts,” says Rob.

While this approach might benefit a its company’s stockholders, it’s not a sustainable model for continued growth and market dominance, according to Rob. “You have to invest in people and in your company,” he says.

This commitment to the continued success of the family business comes naturally to Rob, who has been working at the company since he was 15 — some 50 years. This length of tenure is not outside of the norm at Williams Patent, where some employees have been on the payroll for decades. “We have very little turnover because we invest very heavily in education and family life and treat them like they are part of the family,” he says. This commitment to employees ensures that Williams Patent has the intellectual capital to remain an industry leader. “We’re really trying to retain the mind trust and experiences that everyone has in this business,” he adds.

Finding success in the unknown

Williams credits much of the company’s success to its willingness to explore new and unknown market sectors. “We never say no because a company has to continue to be responsive to change at the most fundamental level,” says Rob, citing the example of the paper companies and change in the diaper industry. “When I was a young man everyone used cloth diapers, but then somebody from Kimberly-Clark came to us and said ‘can you spin paper into cotton?’ I said ‘I don’t know, let’s try,’” he adds.

While Williams Patent is most at home providing equipment for the front end of manufacturing use, the company has expanded more into equipment integration as of late. “We’re no longer just a manufacturer; we provide a custom solution to a customer’s unique requirements and that’s how we’ve stayed in business for 140 years” says Rob.

An evolving commodities market has presented a number of challenges for Williams Patent in recent years, especially the trend toward rampant speculation. “Everything is so volatile,” Rob elaborates. “It’s like everything else in the market: a day trader can affect the market to make some money and it creates a lot of uncertainty. It seems to me as if the market has lost touch with the reality of supply and demand.”

Changing attitudes around recycling have also taken their toll on the companies served by Williams Patent’s crushing and pulverizing equipment. “There has been an impact on global mining in the commodities market based on recycling because a lot of industries’ primary elements such as copper and lead have such a high recycle ration versus virgin material mining,” says Rob. “In some ways it’s good for the planet because it takes a lot less energy to recycle, but it also means the opportunities are smaller.”

An increasing emphasis on computerization and automated systems within the industries served by Williams Patent will likely be a driving factor in the growth of the company, according to Rob. “Even in the crudest operations people are much more sophisticated when it comes to controlling their plants and energy levels and everything else through technology and it has made companies leaner and more profitable,” he says.

Rob says growth has been relatively slow, but he finds some solace in that fact. “To me it’s glacially growing, but there is some security in that; if we were growing by 30 percent a year, we would have a whole other set of problems, but because we have a fairly steady business supported by having 10,000 customers that have to buy parts, we have the luxury of taking our time,” he says.

Encouraged by the company’s steady growth, Rob is not afraid to take on ambitious new opportunities when they arise; for him that sort of risk is what running a business is all about. “Companies that allow for mistakes usually grow from that experience and companies that don’t usually end up with very marginal successes,” he says. 

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