Wenger Manufacturing, Inc., has begun work on a $13 million renovation project to expand and modernize the Wenger Technical Center in Sabetha, Kan.

The Wenger Technical Center is a facility dedicated to innovation and continuous improvement of extrusion process systems for food, feed and industrial applications. The Wenger Technical Center houses full-scale extruders, dryers and ancillary components to provide a real-world development environment for extrusion-based products and processes. A recognized proving ground for innovation and training, the center is used by clients, academia and other industry partners for accelerating product development and operational training.

“This renovation is a strategic reinvestment into a facility that has long served our industries as the critical hub for innovation and continuous improvement,” says Lafe Bailey, Co-CEO and President of Sales and Corporate Development. “The Technical Center has held global importance to the extrusion industry since 1954, and we are committed to both renewing, and expanding, the roles and responsibilities that the Wenger Technical Center holds in the industries we serve.”

The new construction will increase the existing 22,000-square-foot center’s capacity by 40 percent, making the facility more scalable and extending its lifespan long into the future. The modernization will include enhancing preventative measures for food safety, and the added square footage will make the center more versatile. It will expand the scope of market-facing services while also further enhancing existing innovation projects already active in the Wenger pipeline.

“As our industries face increased scrutiny over food safety, the new Wenger Technical Center will provide a low-risk environment to evaluate prototypes and make sure new products and processes adhere to safety and quality standards,” says Brend King, Vice President and Technical Center Director. “We’re very excited for this expansion as it will allow us to continue helping clients—and Wenger—move ideas from concept to market more quickly.”

By operating commercial-scale equipment, Wenger has the ability to scale up production runs to achieve real-life capacities, which is usually not possible in an R&D environment. “By staging a full-scale production setup, clients can truly see what these machines can do, and they don’t have to settle for a projection of performance based on calculations,” Bailey says. “No other innovation center of its kind has this breadth of capabilities.”

The approach to this renovation is unique in that the new Wenger Technical Center will provide a low-risk environment to evaluate prototypes and make sure new products and processes adhere to safety and quality standards,” says Brend King, Vice President and Technical Center Director. “We’re very excited for this expansion as it will allow us to continue helping clients—and Wenger—move ideas from concept to market more quickly.”

By operating commercial-scale equipment, Wenger has the ability to scale up production runs to achieve real-life capacities, which is usually not possible in an R&D environment. “By staging a full-scale production setup, clients can truly see what these machines can do, and they don’t have to settle for a projection of performance based on calculations,” Bailey says. “No other innovation center of its kind has this breadth of capabilities.”

The approach to this renovation is unique in that the new building will be constructed over top of the existing facility while operations continue inside.

The first phase is construction of a modern, tension fabric structure that will completely enclose the original building. The second phase entails taking down the original steel structure underneath to create a new space with greater height and depth as well as a greatly improved process flow. The larger capacity will fit full-scale, commercial versions of nearly every piece of equipment Wenger manufactures, whereas today it houses six extruders and two dryers.

“This innovative approach originated from our need to build a world-class innovation and development facility, all while maintaining continuity of current customer and Wenger projects,” King says. “That continuity is important because the market relies on this facility to meet their goals, and we are committed to keeping it open throughout this process.”

King says the company believes this is a responsible approach that clearly aligns with the Wenger culture of Integrity, Ingenuity and Initiative. “Instead of tearing down valuable infrastructure and starting over at another site, we’re repurposing a well-functioning and widely utilized facility that’s already positioned right where we want it,” he says. The Technical Center is in very close proximity to Wenger’s primary manufacturing facility in Sabetha, which allows the industry convenient access to other key aspects of Wenger capabilities, as well as other important industry partners located in the region.

The improved and modernized Technical Center operational design was led by the expertise of Wenger’s Corporate Project Services division and incorporates current and trending industry best practice and usability features in regard to layout and design, processing and facilities management.

“We have a visionary partner in Legacy Building Solutions, who helped us design the new facility and bring this concept to reality. We believe the Wenger and Legacy approach can also be useful for many of the existing and older operations of our clients,” King says.

“Wenger also is very grateful to the City of Sabetha and the surrounding community, both of which have been exceptional partners since Wenger was first established here in 1935.” Bailey says.

Wenger hired PMI Nebraska LLC as general contractor and will be working with other contractors and suppliers on various aspects of the project, including Pinnacle Electric, PCI Mechanical, Schenck Process, Scott Equipment and IPS.

The project plan was approved and construction began in November. Normal Wenger Technical Center operations will run in parallel with construction until project completion during the fourth quarter of 2020.