HORACE — It’s grand in more than one sense of the word.
It was a grand opening this week for Korber Medipak Systems NA — formerly Fargo Automation — at its new 12,000 square-foot facility, located at 3301 124th Ave. S. in Horace.
It’s certainly grand in the sense of its size. The company, which manufacturers custom pharmaceutical and medical packaging and handling equipment, sells to a global market.
“We do a lot of thermoformers, cartoners, syringe handling,” said Brian Jacobson, Korber’s director of operations, “a lot of different accumulation solutions.”
That matters a great deal because the machines they produce, sometimes one-of-a-kind, move at a great rate of speed and a high level of accuracy.
“A lot of it is, if you think of the flu vaccines, the little glass syringes, what we’ll do is handle and package some of that stuff at, say, up to 600 [units] a minute,” Jacobson said.
It’s also big business.
“The growth of Fargo Automation over the past few years has been nothing short of amazing,” said President Doreen Buschhoff. “With an annual growth rate averaging 20%, we quickly faced a shortage of space on our shop floor. Besides the ever-expanding number of projects, we were also seeing the size of the projects growing, as well.”
When Korber AG, a holding company based in Hamburg, Germany, acquired Fargo Automation in January 2017, the newly-christened Korber Medipak Systems NA, Fargo Automation Division was given a five-year, 100% property tax exemption on a $900,000 expansion project for its 969 34th St. N. Fargo location, promising to double its workforce and add more than 5,000 square feet.
Not only has it made good on that promise, it’s had to add the Horace site due to the growth.
“We extended as far as our property line would go,” Jacobson said of the 34th Street North location, which he estimated covers 32,000 square feet.
Business, it seems, keeps on booming.
“With a historic order intake, a year ago, it was clear that we could no longer continue within the existing structure on 34th Street North,” Buschhoff said. “Finally, with a quick decision from our board, and the great support of our landlord, we are now celebrating adding 50% to our shop floor space.”
Officials confirmed the machining would be done at the Horace site, and the 34th Street North location would remain open for engineering and administration, as well.
The new facility houses the enormous computer numerical control machines, also known as CNCs, which produce the custom-made packaging and handling equipment Korber sells, usually for pharmaceuticals but also for medical devices, via coded and programmed instruction.
While the system is automated, it requires a team of skilled engineers and technicians to oversee its success.
Tucker Grimley, 27, is one of the technicians. He currently builds and services machinery at the north campus, but his job has taken him all over the world.
“I was in Germany last year, in the Munich area. I guess I’ve also been to Spain and Ireland,” Grimley said.
Working on the machines, either in Fargo or abroad, is never boring, he said. And variety is what he loves most about a job he never quite thought he’d be doing.
“I’m sort of a shade-tree mechanic myself,” Grimley said. “I just kind of fell into it and learned the trade.”
It's a trade that now has something of a grand potential. The new Horace site itself has the potential to grow quite a bit more.
“You can take this pod and take it times eight,” said Jacobson.
The “pod,” which is the current 12,000 square-foot finished space — he said a second floor would likely be happening at some point — has the potential to seamlessly expand.
“It’s built so when you add on you never have to shut this business down,” Jacobson said. “All the piping, everything’s there to expand.”
Jacobson said, eventually, they’d like to have the entire business under one roof, and the Horace site gives them that potential.
“It’s all in stages, though,” he said.
At this stage, they’re looking to hire more people.
“The limit for us,” Buschhoff said, “is to find enough talented, skilled people for our company.”
At the moment, they’re looking for technicians and CNC operators.
“It’s not the easiest task, in fact,” she said.
But, they all hope, it’s a task with a bright future ahead.