Pure Passion –

Rubber equipment from the “Land of Oz”

How the colleagues at HF Rubber Machinery live and work.

HF Rubber Machinery, Inc. is located in the heart of Tornado Alley in the centre of the United States. Although the last major tornado that hit Topeka was in 1966, the threat is very real every spring through the summer months.

Topeka is a city located in East Central Kansas with a popu­la­tion of 128,000 people. It is the state capital of Kansas with the Kansas River running through the centre of the town. In addition to being known for the Wizard of Oz, Kansas has also been referred to as the “Heartland of the US”, “The Bread Basket of the World” and the “Wheat State”. It is located in an agricultural area. Many of the local businesses and much of the local economy is tied directly to the fertile, irrigated, river bottom ground that produces corn, soybeans, wheat and milo. Because of the abun­dant production of grains, the area also produces large amounts of beef and pork.

Topeka is located about one hour from Kansas City, which is the largest city in Kansas and the home of the world champion baseball team Kansas City Royals and the American football team Kansas City Chiefs. Many of the employees of HF Rubber enjoy a weekend in Kansas City in the summer, taking in a Royals game and enjoying the big city atmosphere that Kansas City provides. Topeka is also located between two major sports colleges: Kansas State University (Wildcats) in Manhattan, Kansas, and Kansas University (Jayhawks) in Lawrence. The rivalry of these schools is ongoing during the football and basketball seasons. Hunting, fishing, camping and many other outdoor activities are very popular year round in the Topeka area.

With the majority of rubber production being located in the eastern and southeastern parts of the United States, many people wonder how a machinery manufacturing company the size of HF Rubber ended up in Kansas. As with most business starts, it has a unique history. Although it does not have the hundreds of years of production like our European counterparts, it has been in business for 55 years. Leonard Smith was the original founder and started the company in 1960 under the name of Midwest Machine Works. Leonard was an employee at the local Goodyear Truck/Bus/Off-Road tyre plant and saw a business opportunity to rebuild tyre moulds for the plant. He took this idea and started the company. It began in a 2,400-square-foot building that housed both manufacturing and office space. As Leonard’s contacts grew through the years of working with Goodyear in Topeka and Akron, so did his contacts with other tyre producers. In the early 1970s, Leonard was able to acquire the mixer rebuild business for all the Firestone Tire Co. plants and this was the beginning of manufacturing rubber mixers in Topeka.

As his business grew, additional manufacturing space was added and a two-storey office building separate from the manufacturing was constructed. Through the years of growth, Midwest Machine Works not only furnished new and rebuilt mixers but also developed other equipment for the rubber industry.

A machine that is still used today in limited quantities are bead-wrapping machines. These machines were very innovative at the time and many tyre plants used them for manually wrapping tyre beads with string or mesh. The Adams T-Mix was also redesigned during this time by reducing the overall length of the equipment and freeing up valuable floor space in manufacturing plants. Larger single-screw dump extruders were also manufactured. These ranged from the smaller 6" screws to the larger 20" × 24" extruders.

As Midwest Machine Works grew and established a high reputation in the rubber equipment industry, it caught the attention of Werner & Pfleiderer (W&P) located in Freudenberg, Germany. Werner & Pfleiderer was a well-known rubber equipment manufacturer in Europe and wanted to expand their business into the North American market. It began its search to purchase an established manufacturing company in North America and found Midwest Machine Works in Topeka.

In 1989 Werner & Pfleiderer purchased a portion of Mid­west Machine Works with the option to have full control by 1994. The name was eventually changed to Midwest Werner & Pfleiderer and the company began marketing the “GK” style of tangential and intermesh mixers in North America. Through the years, the German parent company changed names, which resulted in name changes in the US as well. Krupp Rubber Machinery and ThyssenKrupp Rubber Machinery were among the name changes. With the change of owners – the parent Thyssenkrupp elasto­mer­technik was acquired by the Possehl Group in 2005 – the current name of HF Rubber Machinery, Inc. (HFRM) was established.

After the Possehl Group acquired the company FARREL in 2009 all the US-based rubber mixing business in terms of equipment rebuild, spare parts supply and service was transferred to Topeka. This additional business required more manufacturing area and after the addition of a new assembly/warehouse in 2014, HFRM currently occupies 100,000 square feet manufacturing and 20,000 square feet office space. In the machine shop HFRM manufactures high-quality machine parts with state-of-the-art CNC machines and the latest welding technology. With a total of 101 employees HFRM today services customers in the tyre industry as well as companies in the field of technical rubber goods.

The strength of HFRM lies in:

  • Rebuilding all mixer types and sizes back to original specifications
  • Supplying mixer spare parts out of a strong stocking programme
  • Installing and maintaining rubber mixing equipment including upstream and downstream equipment

As part of the HF Mixing Group, HFRM continues to grow and introduce new and innovative products into the rubber market.