Originally created 05/01/00

Local firm Tranter goes global



While many midsized American companies were talking about "going global" during the last several years, Augusta-based Tranter Inc. was busy doing it.

A string of acquisitions during the mid-1990s transformed the small domestic manufacturer of industrial radiators into a full-fledged global player.

"We doubled in size and became an international company," said Jack Ditterline, Tranter Inc.'s president since 1998.

The company that once derived all its income from North American sales now boasts 60 percent of its $150 million in annual sales from overseas.

Tranter, whose radiators and heat exchangers keep factories and electrical transformers cool, has been manufacturing products in Edgefield, S.C., since 1970 and has been headquartered in Augusta since 1985.

It employs 150 people locally (850 globally) and has been a unit of New York-based holding company Dover Corp. since 1979.

But its roots go back to 1932 in Lansing, Mich., when businessman J.R. Tranter began manufacturing delivery truck refrigeration units based on a patent he bought from automaker R.E. Olds.

The company started producing heat exchangers in the 1940s to help the country's manufacturers keep control over their water, oil and chemical temperatures.

In the 1960s, a young Tranter product engineer named Ken Kaltz designed and patented a plate-type radiator for electrical transformers that rendered existing tubular-style radiators obsolete.

The company eventually selected the young engineer to oversee production at a time when Michigan's tight labor market forced the company to build its products elsewhere. It found what it was looking for in Edgefield.

"We were very much impressed with the local folks," said Mr. Kaltz, who is now retired and still lives in Edgefield. "The people had a good work ethic, and we weren't concerned with GM building a plant in our backyard and consuming all the available work force."

Mr. Kaltz transferred what was left of Lansing manufacturing operations to the Edgefield plant shortly after becoming executive vice president in 1985. He moved the corporate offices to Augusta soon after.

He became president in 1987 and embarked on a growth-through-acquisition campaign using Dover Corp.'s deep pockets.

First on the list was New York-based Dean Products, a major domestic competitor. Then came Ontario, Canada,-based Koolrad and Design Manufacturing, Switzerland-based Heat Transfer Technologies; and ReHeat AB and SWEP AB, both based in Sweden.

SWEP was particularly attractive because it produced super-compact, high-performance heat exchangers sealed with brazed metal instead of rubber gaskets. The acquisition made Tranter, already a leading producer of gasket exchangers, the world's No. 1 producer of brazed products.

Despite all its recent growth, Tranter is still small compared to its biggest competitor, industry heavyweight Alfa Laval AB of Sweden.

Mr. Ditterline got a glimpse of how his rivals do business when he ran SWEP's European operations before coming to Augusta.

"They're scary competitors," he said. "They're very, very good. They've got the attitude that there's no place they can't go."

The 49-year-old North Augusta resident and his local staff are going to new places, too. Last year they began work on a $9 million assembly plant in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that will serve customers in Southeast Asia, a developing market, when it comes on line during the fourth quarter.

For the most part, Tranter and the 50 other companies in the Dover family operate autonomously under the parent company's decentralized structure. Dover, a $4.4 billion company, has only 50 people working at the corporate level.

"They tell us to run these businesses like we own them," Mr. Ditterline said.

There may be another wave of acquisitions on the way. Tranter is currently in talks with several companies whom Mr. Ditterline said he is unable to disclose.

"We've got several balls in the air," he said.

PROFILE

Company:

Tranter Inc.

Founded:

1932, Lansing, Mich.

Headquarters:

Augusta, 1054 Claussen Road

Employees:

1,000 (150 locally)

Ownership:

An operating unit of Dover Corp., a New York-based holding company controlling more than 50 manufacturers, including Heil Trailer, Waukesha Bearings and A-C Compressor.

Products:

Manufactures plate-type heat exchangers (both gasket and brazed), electrical transformer radiators and truck refrigeration units.

Local operations:

Two Edgefield plants produce transformer radiators, refrigeration units and brazed heat exchangers for North American markets.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486.