Category Archive: Uncategorized

Aitkin Facility Addition Complete

On July 19th, our team here at Stern kicked off a 10,000-square foot building addition at our facility in Aitkin, Minnesota.  This expansion, doubled the size of the plant, and will increase the work force that is currently there, by over 50%.
The plant in Aitkin is currently used to produce our 4’’ through 12’’ gate valves, and the new building will play host to our current 14’’ through 24’’ gate valve production, that we have been manufacturing at our Staples facility.  This move of product will free up space at our main plant for new projects, and allow us the opportunity to produce even larger gate valves at the Aitkin facility, due to the higher ceilings, and increased work space for our overhead cranes that are needed to move the larger valves.  This also frees up some of our workforce in Staples to work on several new projects that we have won.
Although the building project was a little slow getting started due to some logistics, regarding the property and building ownership, we got things rolling as quick as we could in late August.  Hammers Construction, based in Perham has done a great job at getting the project designed, and completed as efficiently as possible.
With the completion of this project, we are excited to begin reorganizing the two facilities, and have the opportunity, to bring more work to the Aitkin plant, as well as have added space for incoming projects in Staples.

Great Turn Out for CEO Ice Fishing Event

A few week ago, our blog featured an upcoming event in the Staples area, put on by the Central Minnesota CEO class.  Myself, along with several other Stern members, including General Manager and CEO Board Chair Bob Jackson, Purchasing/Inventory Supervisor Connie Krueger, and Aitkin Plant Lead Sam Vipperman, had the opportunity to attend the event hosted on Dower Lake.
Things kicked off at 11am Saturday morning, with just shy of 75 fishermen on the ice.  Although the day started out slow, the first fish made its way to the weigh-in table around 11:30.  The event offered prizes for the top three pan fish, and top three game fish, with door prizes being drawn throughout the day.  In the pan fish category, perch dominated, with several weighing in at a whopping .03 pounds.  As for the game fish category, the northern pike was the common fish being brought in, ranging from 1-2 pounds. Fishermen all across the lake used several different techniques, from jigging to tip ups, and even a guy with a deep-sea rod tried his luck.  The students made and sold lunch for participants, and worked hard to keep everyone informed throughout the day.  By the end of the event at 1pm, several fish in each category had been brought in, and it was a tight race for first right up to the end, with the winning pan fish being rushed to the table right as the final buzzer went off.
Although myself, and my Stern companions had no luck when it came to catching fish, not all of us went home empty handed. The students worked hard to gather nearly 100 raffle prizes, and 6 prizes for the top fish, which included a guided fishing trip with local guide Walleyedan, a 2 night stay and a day of fishing in an ice house on Lake of the Woods for first place, $100 cash for second and a Vexilar gift set for third.
Overall the students sold nearly 200 raffle tickets, and put on an event that was well organized, unique, and most of all a lot of fun.  Although this is only the 2nd class to come through the Central Minnesota CEO program, this event will be hard to top.  All of us in the area, look forward to what next year’s creative minds are able to develop.

Warm Weather Brings Concern to Outdoor Events

The last weekend in February plays host to two of the largest outdoor events in the state of Minnesota, The Frozen Fore on Gull Lake in Brained, and the Eelpout Festival on Leech Lake in Walker.  As attendees began to get excited over the events, Mother Nature had a different idea.  With mid-day temperatures reaching nearly 65 degrees in some areas a couple weeks prior to both events, the threat of poor ice conditions lingered, but with temps quickly dropping just in time, both events got to go on.
The Frozen Fore, is an ice golf event, typically played all across the Gull Lake area, with different holes at each restaurant and resort around the lake.  The questionable conditions brought the event from the on the lake, up onto the grass, with even the big party tent being set up in a large field in Nisswa, rather than on the lake.  Many still got out to enjoy all the fun to be had around the area that day, even if they couldn’t ride their snowmobiles or play on the ice.  You can read more about this event here.

As for the Eelpout Festival, the warm temps had little effect on Leech Lake, and nearly 2 feet of ice remained.  With the minor adjustment of no vehicles within the event area, thousands still flocked to Walker for one of the largest events on ice, designed to celebrate on of the ugliest fish in the area.
Although these unusual temps brought glimmers of spring to the area, they were not enough to bring an end to some of the largest winter events in the state, and just outside of our back yard here at Stern.

Shortage of Butadiene Concerns Rubber Industry

Butadiene is one of the most common components that is used in the process of making synthetic elastomers.  With its two carbon-carbon double bonds, it is one of the most useful chemical building blocks, that is able to convert a monomer to a polymer, and then form a strong polymer chain that leads to the final product.  Butadiene became very popular during and after WWII, due to the shortage of natural rubber.  This synthetic product was a revolutionary alternative, that is still used to produce tires and many other rubber products today.
Here at Stern, we use two types of rubber that use butadiene as one of the starting components, and those are SBR (Styrene Butadiene) and NBR (Nitrile Butadiene).  SBR is used in many of our products, and is typically mixed with other compounds to form a less expensive material, that offers the flexibility of SBR along with the resistant properties of things like neoprene or natural rubber.  As for NBR, we use this material in a very similar way, but it also offers some great resistant qualities of its own that can protect it from harsh conditions like gasoline and extreme heat.
With butadiene based products being very popular here at Stern, they are also one of the most common forms of rubber used by many other manufactures around the world.  Yet like anything with a great amount of demand, comes the need for a large supply.  Nearly all the butadiene used in the world is a byproduct of ethylene steam crackers.  Yet these steam crackers are also a heavy cracking feedstock that is able to produce the butadiene, the heavier the feedstock the more butadiene produced, and this is where the problem lies.  With a change in technology and ethane becoming fairly inexpensive, many are moving toward lighter, less expensive feedstocks, which is leading to less and less butadiene.  Experts do not see this issue improving any time soon either.  Countries all across the globe are experimenting with new, more efficient forms of cracking, with even the largest producer of butadiene, China, beginning to create a new process of making ethylene that extracts the product from coal.  Although the reduction of butadiene is currently the trend, many believe it will not be for long, as engineers are looking to develop ways to extract butadiene through forms other than steam cracking and believe it may be more effective than old methods.
Just as SBR came about due to the shortage of natural rubber, butadiene will rebound in a similar way.  Whether that is finding a new method of extraction, or a more economical alternative, the production of synthetic rubber will not come to an abrupt halt, but rather a smooth transition.

Local CEO Class to Host Ice Fishing Event

The Central Minnesota CEO class, is a conglomerate of the Staples and Wadena school districts that allows students to develop real life business skills, while working toward their final goal of starting a business of their own.
This year after touring multiple different businesses, and getting all the information they need to start the business they envisioned, the class as a group has worked to organize a “ice fishing jamboree.”  This event will be held on February 25th on Dower Lake just outside of Staples.  This event will feature many prizes such as fishing equipment, gift cards and a grand prize of a guided fishing trip from local outdoorsman, Walleye Dan.  All the prizes were donated by local businesses and collected by the students.  This project tests all of the skills that the students learned during their time in CEO this year, including working with donors, planning and coordinating the event and location, as well as making flyers and marketing for the affair.
With this being only the second year that CEO has been in Central Minnesota, the students, as well as the local area, are excited to host the event.  The jamboree is open to the public, and tickets are $10 for a adults and $7 for children, available at the local high schools, as well as several area businesses.  For more information on the fishing event, visit the CEO website, and for more information on the CEO class, check out our earlier blogs or the Midland Institute’s website.
Stern Rubber is proud to be a supporter of the Central Minnesota CEO program and hope to see you all on Dower Lake February 25th at 11:00am.

Big Changes at Two of our Largest Customers

January was a month full of change, for two of our customers here at Stern Rubber.  Recreational vehicle manufactures, and competitors, Polaris Industries and Arctic Cat, both announced modifications to their companies for the future.
The alterations to the companies began with Polaris’s announcement at the beginning of January, that they would be cutting their motorcycle line, Victory.  This change would be effective immediately, with all production coming to a halt, allowing the company to put all their focus into their recently purchased motorcycle brand, Indian.  Although Polaris worked hard for 18 years with the brand, Victory had slid to just 2 percent of the entire motorcycle industry last year, with the Indian making leaps and bounds in the market against their partner brand.  With the line of bikes coming to end, Polaris promises to continue to supply parts, and service for ten years, while honoring all warranty coverage, along with working hard to grow their new brand of motorcycle.
Another, even bigger transformation occurred for Polaris’s nearest competitor, Arctic Cat.  After several years of financial hardship, the Minnesota based company sold to Textron Inc. for 247 million dollars.  Textron, best known for their work in the aviation market, with brands such as Bell Helicopter and Cessna aircraft, are continuing to diversify themselves in the realm of off-road vehicles including popular brands like, E-ZGO and Cushman.  The acquisition between Textron and Arctic Cat, occurred following several years of pressure in the recreational vehicle market that has broken down many companies in the industry.  Although the purchase of Arctic Cat is a big change, Textron plans to keep things similar, including the production of the machines in Minnesota, as well as keeping the jobs in current factories, while also continuing to grow the brand.
Much like our company here at Stern, our customers continuously work to grow, and expand, even if that includes making major changes to their platforms.  With Polaris and Arctic Cat being long time customers, we look forward to what these new changes have to offer them as they continue to diversify themselves in the recreational vehicle market.

Dai Family Visits Stern Rubber Company

Last week, the Dai family that owns Stern Rubber, came from a visit.  Stern Rubber was purchased by Zhongli North America, which is based in Detroit, in October of 2015.  Zhongli North American is owned by Zhongli Corporation, which is a family run Chinese corporation, that is owned by the Dai Family.  Several members of the family are involved with the day to day operation.  Johnny Dai is the President of Stern Rubber Company, and Zhongli North America.
Last week, members of the Dai Family visited the Stern Rubber facilities in Aitkin and Staples.  They spent one afternoon in Aitkin, where they were able to check on the construction of the building addition, and then spent the next day in Staples.  They spent some time in the manufacturing plants, and made sure to take some pictures with many of the employees.

Wipaire Floats

Our customer base here at Stern is very broad, and ranges from tiny  hearing aid pieces to massive gate valves.  Our team is able to produce custom rubber parts for almost anything.  One of our customers has sent our product flying high over wildfires, and that is Minnesota based Wipaire.
In the late 1940’s, World War 2 veteran and aircraft mechanic, Ben Wiplinger, began converting surplus military aircraft into corporate planes at the South St. Paul, Minnesota Airport.  As the 40’s came to an end, Ben had begun operating Wiplinger Aircraft Service, which offered fuel service, aircraft maintenance, restoration and sales, as well as upholstery.  As the decade soon changed, so did Ben’s focus.  In 1951, he purchased his first seaplane and began flying north on fishing trips, while continuously growing his passion for seaplane flying.  His passion led him to tinkering with the floats he had on his planes, and even developed an improved hydraulic system for the Edo floats on his craft.  By the end of the 1950’s, Ben had sold his FBO business and began focusing on sea planes.
In 1960, Ben created Wipline Inc., and got to work on developing his first set of floats.  With help from a Cessna 185 to test the floats on, Ben worked 3 long years to develop a better float.  With help from the 3M corporation, Ben was able to use a custom metal bonding technique, that allowed the use of few rivets, and led to a lighter, smoother float.  This initial idea then led to Ben creating the first flat top float, which allowed for easier access in and out of one’s aircraft.  With his first set of floats being sold in 1962 to Ontario Central Airlines, another company named Cessna soon added Wipline floats to their 185 and 206 model aircraft.  Within 10 years, while operating out of Fleming Field, Wipline produced 30 sets of floats.
In 1970, Ben’s son, Bob, began working at Wipline Inc., and in 1971 the company moved to a new 160 acre facility along the Mississippi River, establishing a seaplane base.  By 1974, Bob began to come up with some new ideas of his own, and in 1974 founded Wipaire Inc., which performed maintenance as a certified Cessna service center at Fleming Field.  As the 70’s came to a close, Bob purchased Wipline Inc. from his father and combined both companies under the Wipaire name.
The 1980’s brought a great amount of growth for Wipaire.  The company introduced the Wipline 6000 float for the de Havilland Beaver in 1982, and had the opportunity to develop more than 10 modifications for the craft.  The 80’s also led to the development of Wipline’s most popular float, the 8000 floats, that were installed on the Cessna Caravan aircraft, until being replaced by the 8750 in 2012. By the end of the 1980’s, Wipaire had grown to 35 employees, and had sold 700 sets of floats, while also adding a refinishing department and an avionics department.
The 90’s brought continued success for Wipaire, as they continued their work with Cessna and Beaver, and also led to the development of Wipaire’s smallest float family.  Although the 90’s were strong for Wipaire, the turn of the century led to one of Wipaire’s most impressive creations.  In 2003, the company introduced the Fire Boss float, which is designed to be used as an initial response air tanker for fighting forest fires from the air.  This float, that is capable of being filled through a skilled touch and go type maneuver, is used by firefighters around the globe, and utilizes all of Wipaire’s float technology, with the added ability to gather water for fighting fires.
Today, Wipaire has two locations.  The main location is still at Fleming Field in St. Paul, and the other is a service center outlet in Leesburg, Florida, that allows customers in the southeastern United States and the Caribbean to receive float maintenance and other necessary repairs to their seaplanes.  After over 55 years, Wipline is still the industry’s leader in float plane floats, from their work with Cessna to the Fire Boss craft, their design, quality and overall product is second to none, and those of us here at Stern, are happy to have them as a customer.

Minnesota’s Ugliest Fish

Whether you call it a lawyer, lush, lingcod or mud shark, the oddly  shaped slimy fish, better known as the eelpout, is considered to be one of Minnesota’s ugliest fish.
Receiving its common name for its eel like appearance, the eelpout is a bottom dwelling fish, that is closer related to the common cod, than its eel shaped counterparts.  Although many consider this fish a burden to catch while chasing other trophies, Brent Getzler now has a different opinion on the odd creature.  Brent and some buddies took a trip to the Lake of the Woods, in search of some trophy walleyes, but instead Brent’s recording setting catch was a new state record eelpout.  Weighing in at 19 pounds 11 ounces, the trophy fish just scraped past the old state record of 19 pounds 8 ounces, and added a huge exclamation point to Brent and his buddies trip.
With a new record setting fish captured on Lake of the Woods, 130 miles south in Walker Minnesota, is the world’s largest gathering of eelpout fishing fanatics.  Held on Leech Lake, 2017 will be Walkers 38th hosting of the International eelpout festival.  This 3-day event hosted every February, creates a new city on the ice that multiplies the population of Walker by 10, features a huge tent with an ice bar, mechanical bull and tons of fun.  Although the event started around fishing for eelpout, it has grown into so much more.  Many take the polar plunge, which is a jump into the freezing cold water, play different games and just hang out with friends on the ice, while searching for the illusive eelpout.
Although Leech Lake, and Lake of the Woods have put Minnesota eelpout on the map, many other lakes throughout the state contain the odd fish.  One of the local toolmakers that Stern Rubber uses, Garry Carpenter, has caught a few in the Crow Wing River, just a few miles from our Staples location.
So the next time you are in Stern Rubbers back yard, try you luck at catching one of Minnesota’s ugliest fish, and you may even be lucky enough to land a state record.

2016 Year In Review

With 2017 right around the corner, those of us here at Stern like to look back and reflect on all the things that 2016 had to offer our company.  From awards and certifications, to new customers and even some more expansions to our facilities, it was yet another great year here at Stern Rubber.
The ending of 2016, marks the first full calendar year of Stern Rubber since its acquisition by Zhongli Corporation.  This led to Stern working hard to receive a new TS 16949:2009 certification, which is needed in order to begin doing business in the automotive industry.  Along with the new certification, we were also able to renew our ISO 9001:2008 certification, which allows us to continue our normal operations at both of our facilities.  Along with our ability to receive and renew our certifications, our team here at Stern also received the Platinum Status Award from Arctic Cat for our great job in quality, on time delivery, and customer service.
Along with our new certifications and awards, both Stern facilities also got some improvements and expansions.  After a large addition to the Staples facility in 2015, improvements at the main plant did not stop.  2016 brought a new training room, which features some great technology, and is capable of holding nearly all of our employees at one time, which allows us to speed up the training process while making sure everyone is able to retain the same information.  Along with the new training room, we also renovated the old main offices into a new employee lunch room.  This new space allowed for more natural lighting and a cleaner, more updated environment for our employees to enjoy their lunch break.  Although the continued improvement at the Staples facility was a nice addition, the biggest expansion in 2016 occurred at our Aitkin facility.  In mid-June, our company approved a 1.26 million dollar building addition, that would expand the current facility from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet, and allow for us to expand our already established gate valve production, for customers such as American Valve and Hydrant and Waterous Co.
With these improvements to our facilities, and our awards and certifications, 2016 also brought several new customers to our team here at Stern.  We were excited to earn the business of all of these new customers, beginning with Innovative Injection Technologies Inc, in which we began making a seal for that attaches to a sub assembly before being sent to another one of our customers, Arctic Cat.  Along with this addition, Stern also welcomed Bre & Co. in 2016, with a new project that added to our already established watch band production, which continues to grow, as we add new styles, colors and customers.  DXP Enterprises is another new customer for 2016, for whom we began producing a large seal, that goes to a Pfizer plant.  Along with these three, GA Industries also became a customer, for who we have the opportunity to produce a solid rubber ball that is part of a plumbing check valve.
As 2016 comes to an end, Stern Rubber is excited to see what is to come in the new year. As with every year, we look forward to new production opportunities, as well as continuing to expand our customer base. Of course 2017 will be no different in the since of quality, delivery and customer service in which we strives to keep at the top of our priority list.

Happy New Year from all of us here at Stern Rubber!