Hilliard Featured in Local Business Profile

Posted February 29, 2012

Hilliard powers Elmira, and the world
By G. Jeffrey Aaron, The Star-Gazette

There are a few important items one needs to know about the Hilliard Corp., a family-owned manufacturing company located at 100 W. Fourth St. and 1400-1700 College Ave. in Elmira.

The first is there is no longer anyone named Hilliard involved with the 107-year-old company. The founder William Hilliard left the business in 1912 -- seven years after he established the Hilliard Clutch & Machinery Co. in a small brick building near the Erie-Lackawanna railroad tracks on West Fourth Street. The company is now run by the third generation of the van den Blink family.

The patented front-end differentials the company now makes, which transfer power from a vehicle's drive shaft to its wheels, are found on every four-wheel-drive utility and all-terrain vehicle made by the Polaris company of Minnesota. Hilliard-made differentials are also used on products made by Toro, Ariens, Briggs & Stratton and MTD. Its clutches are used in refrigeration units made by Thermo King, also of Minnesota.

And finally, Hilliard industrial filtration systems, designed to clean the fluids that lubricate factory machinery, are used on the power-generating turbines made by General Electric, Siemens and Dresser-Rand. The filters are also used on the specialized machinery used by natural gas transmission companies.

"Anytime you flick a light switch or turn on the gas, it usually involves our products," said Jon Williams, a Hilliard vice president and director of its Hilco filtration division. "Our stuff goes worldwide; it's shipped to 50 to 60 different countries."

An array of products

Hilliard's product menu, which includes a diverse selection of clutches, brake systems and fluid contamination control systems, is a very long way from the single product the company made in its early days. From 1905 to 1925, Hilliard's bread and butter was a device called a disconnect clutch, used to start and stop production equipment in the early days of the machine tool industry.

But by the mid-1920s, factory machines were built with their own individual motors. They no longer needed Hilliard's clutches to connect them to the centralized motor-and-belt system used to power all of the machinery in a particular factory.

With its lone product now outdated, Hilliard was about to go belly-up until it ventured into a new manufacturing activity -- building oil reclamation systems for General Electric.

The systems removed particles and liquid contaminants from the lubricating fluids that ran through GE's power turbines, allowing the fluids to be reused many times over.

Hilliard engineers eventually began designing their own line of industrial filtration products, which were tested and built in-house by the company's metal fabricators and machinists. The product line now includes a variety of portable and fixed industrial filters, vent mist eliminators which remove oil mist from the air and machine tool coolant recyclers. It's also commonplace to see many Hilliard filtration units hooked up to the machine tools the company uses to make its products.

All Hilliard filtration products are grouped in its Hilco division and account for about half of the company's business. The other half comes from motion control products, which are all designed by the company's engineers and used in a variety of applications.

For example, Hilliard clutches are used to control the large ventilation fans that circulate the air in the Lincoln Tunnel. A reconditioned version of its disconnect clutch is used on the merry-go-round at Eldridge Park.

A growing business

The Hilliard Corp. still operates out of its original building on West Fourth Street. But its metal fabrication and machining shops have grown to incorporate the area bordered by West Fourth and West Fifth streets, the Erie-Lackawanna Railroad tracks and North Main Street.

The former Moore business form building, at West Fourth and Magee streets, is where Hilliard industrial clutches are assembled and where its research and development work takes place. The company has also built a new addition, across the parking lot from the original building, where its filter cartridges are manufactured.

In early 2004, Hilliard purchased the former Hardinge property at 1400-1700 College Ave., which now houses its drive-train operations.

"In the 1980s, Polaris came to us for help in designing a clutch," said Jan van den Blink, Hilliard's chairman and CEO. "We did the clutch for them and it was used in their front drive ATV. Now, we provide Polaris with all of their front-end differentials."

In all, said van den Blink, Hilliard now incorporates about 353,000 square feet of manufacturing space, more than 75,000 square feet of office space and about 76,000 square feet of storage space. The company employs about 600 people -- 400 at its main campus and 200 at the drive-train facility on College Avenue.

Close to 80 people have been hired over the past two years, said Executive Vice President Steven Chesebro, and there are between 60 and 65 skilled job classifications, including welders, engineers, shippers and machinists, within the company. But like many other local manufacturers, it's getting harder for the company to find qualified employees.

"So we stay close to Corning Community College and (the Pennsylvania College of Technology) to develop a pipeline," Chesebro said.

Made from scratch

In an era when many manufacturers assemble components provided by outside suppliers and sell the finished product, Hilliard designs and makes almost all of the components for its products from scratch. The exception is the external housings for the company's clutches, which are cast by an outside vendor but based on Hilliard's designs.

Otherwise, the raw material -- carbon steel, stainless steel and engineered paper for the filter cartridges -- comes into Hilliard's West Fourth Street campus, where it is cut, rolled, bent and welded into its final shapes. The company has recently purchased machinery that allows it to handle parts of its manufacturing processes that were completed by outside companies.

Hilliard is also in the midst of installing a second robotic assembly line at the College Avenue facility that will increase the efficiency and capacity of its Polaris product production. The project's targeted completion date is March.

"Doing as much as we can ourselves allows us to keep our costs down and give us a higher measure of quality control," said van den Blink. "We can design, test and build our own products and there aren't many manufacturers left who can do that."

(For original story and photos, visit http://www.stargazette.com/article/20120228/NEWS01/202280328/Hilliard-powers-Elmira-world?odyssey=tab|topnews|text|Local News)

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