A leading manufacturer of conveying equipment to the global plastics industry got its start when Ed and Diane Lorenz founded Lorenz and Son Manufacturing in 1979 in their home garage in Cobourg, Ontario. They retired in the 1990s and their son Peter carried on the company.
The company manufactures products for pneumatic conveying, and for vacuum and bulk handling systems for the plastics, food and chemical industries. It is a leading manufacturer of couplings, tube and pipe bends, fittings, diverter valves, slide gates, cyclones and custom fabricated accessories.
Now known as Lorenz Conveying Products, the company now operates a 50,000-square-foot building in Cobourg and a second manufacturing facility in Normal, Ill. It specializes in customized solutions and has 55 employees, including 20 sales representatives who cover 40 states, 10 Canadian provinces, Mexico, Europe and South America.
Peter Lorenz discussed the company’s early years and his current role as its president with Plastics Machinery Magazine Senior Reporter Bruce Adams.
Your parents had a patented product called the Lorenz clamp. What is it?
Lorenz: The Lorenz clamp was developed by my father, who was a millwright. He came up with this clamp, which sealed and worked well on round surfaces. You didn't lose the handle when you unscrew it. Its initial use was on a screw conveyor access door, and then he realized it worked very well on a coupling. So that was the birth of the Lorenz coupling with the T handle. It’s one of many clamps that we still sell today. It’s now used on bins, hoppers, door openings, tanks, bucket elevators and surge bins.
What was the primary business of Lorenz and Son manufacturing?
Lorenz: Back in the 1980s, we were a millwright firm. We did industrial installations and fabricated a lot of different things. Selling the Lorenz clamp was my job.
Was the company initially involved in the plastics industry?
Lorenz: We were not directly involved with the plastics industry then. That happened in the mid- to late 1980s. We started coming out with more products and more couplings. We came up with tube and pipe bends and fittings for conveying systems, which lend themselves to the plastics industry.
What were your first jobs there?
Lorenz: When I was in high school, before I officially started there in 1980, I used to cut pieces for the clamp with a hacksaw in my dad's garage. I got paid 5 cents per piece. When I started working there in the 1980s, I did a little bit of everything, from millwrighting to welding to running machinery to purchasing and eventually sales.
What are some of your early memories working there?
Lorenz: Back in the day, sometimes if we didn’t have enough business, I didn't get paid.
Did you have time to go to college when you were working at the business?
Lorenz: No. I went to a local community college part time to get my millwright license.
How did you first get exposed to the plastics industry?
Lorenz: Companies that made auxiliary equipment for plastics processing, such as resin conveying systems, would call us and ask for our products. It was kind of new to us and we really weren't sure who we should be selling to. I visited our customers, and they were buying our competitors’ products from the U.S. They wanted to buy in Canada, and that's how we got into it.
After your parents retired, you took over the business and renamed it Lorenz Conveying Products. Why the new name?
Lorenz: We renamed the existing business to tell people what we really did. The business had changed since it opened in the garage. It was called Lorenz and Son back in the day. It was named after me because I'm an only child.
What part of your business is in the plastics industry?
Lorenz: About half of our business is plastics-related.
For the other half, what businesses would those be?
Lorenz: Food and chemicals, but some of the chemical business might be plastics-related. The food business includes flour milling and grain handling. We also do some pet food, spices and coffee.
What are the most popular products that you sell to the plastics industry?
Lorenz: One of our biggest products is our angel hair trap for removing angel hairs from a conveying line. The delivery of resin to an injection molding machine line often creates a byproduct called angel hair, which also is known as streamers or snakeskin. The angel hair traps are mounted in the material stream to collect these potential blockages and to let the pellets pass through. Lorenz inline angel hair traps are made for both vacuum lines and pressure conveying systems.
Why do you make all your products in-house?
Lorenz: It allows us to maintain our 97 percent on-time delivery target and our quality.
In September 2018, your company acquired Flow Valves International and its Syntron and SMS Iris flow-control valve product lines. The Syntron and SMS Iris flow-control valves serve a variety of applications and materials, including packaging and bagging of both free-flowing powder and granular materials. Why did you make this acquisition?
Lorenz: The acquisition was good for us because we didn't have that product line in our product offering. It was something we needed to do to keep up with our competition. Plus, at the time, Mr. Trump was discussing steel tariffs. I thought it'd be a good idea for us to expand in the United States in case we needed to ship more of our products to the U.S. It allowed us to get to our U.S. customers easier.
Who was your mentor?
Lorenz: My dad. He was very good at making things, but he wasn't very good at selling them. I’m very good at selling things, but I’m not as good as he was on the manufacturing side. Later in life, I did have a sales mentor, a dear friend of mine, Ron Lowe. He passed away, but he gave me a lot of good ideas for sales. He was from the rubber industry and sold us rubber for our couplings, and we got along very well. He died unexpectedly of a heart attack, and I spoke at his funeral.
What are some of the major challenges that you encountered as your business grew?
Lorenz: Our biggest challenge was to develop a consistent product line. Here's what we're selling, and here’s how you can get it. We make these products very well and you can see them in our catalog. The second biggest challenge was how to make these products consistently and repeatably. In the last few years, we've bought some automation equipment to help us with the repeatability of making products.
When you look back, what are some of the most important milestones that your company reached through the years?
Lorenz: From a management standpoint, my parents were very eager for us to be ISO-certified. Not just so we could say that we are ISO-certified, but because it really made us look at all our processes in our facility. It was a good management tool to get a handle on running the company. That was important. Buying our CNC equipment also was a very important step because it improved our deliveries and let us make the products in a repeatable way. Doing it by hand, you don’t get the same part every time. Years ago, my employees came to me and complained that the parts they were being given to weld were not as good as they should be. We needed to fix that problem, so we bought the CNC equipment. It does a better job of automating the production of the parts.
To what do you attribute your company's success?
Lorenz: We have a 97 percent on-time delivery rate within a two-week delivery. Currently, we've had 30 percent early shipments. I don't know any company that talks about early shipments, so that's been huge for us.
What is your company working on now?
Lorenz: We are working on more parts and products in our U.S. location, so we’ll have more inventory for customers. We are looking at acquiring some robots, not to eliminate jobs, but to do the jobs that people don't want to do.
Do you have any hobbies?
Lorenz: I love to golf and water ski. I used to be a competitive champion water skier back in the day. And I have two grandbabies.
What charitable work makes you proud?
Lorenz: The Lorenz family donated to build a hospice, and we have the naming rights. It's called Ed's House, named after my father, Ed, who is 90 years old. That's a big deal here because we didn't have a hospice in this area, so people had to go to the hospital to die. It's a 10-bed center that will provide 24/7 care. It’s going to be opening this spring in Cobourg.
Are your two children involved in the family business?
Lorenz: My daughter works here. She works in our culture and employee relations department. My son is a commercial pilot.
How would you like to be remembered? What legacy do you want to leave behind?
Lorenz: I’d like the company to be remembered as a very good corporate citizen in our community. We do a lot of charity work. Also, as a company that developed some interesting things for the plastics industry to help them automate some of their processes and help eliminate some of their problems.
Who is he: Peter Lorenz, president of Lorenz Conveying Products
Headquarters: Cobourg, Ontario, Canada