Nippon Pneumatic Mfg. Co. LTD (NPK Japan) has been designing and manufacturing attachments for construction equipment since the 1950s. NPK Construction Equipment, Inc. was formed in 1985 as a partnership between NPK Japan and business associates in Cleveland, Ohio. NPK Construction Equipment became the sole distribution and support network for NPK products in North and South America. We spoke with NPK President Dan Tyrrell.
“NPK started making hydraulic hammers in the 1970s. It is debatable who developed the first hydraulic hammer, but NPK was one of the first companies, along with only a few others, that manufactured these hammers. We sold their products out of the box from Japan early on, then continued to grow the manufacturing, machining, and assembly here,” says Dan.
Many of NPK’s competitors have changed names and ownership several times over the last twenty-five years. NPK is one of very few that has remained the same since inception. The company’s quality employees, dedication to quality products, and customer-first mindset make it clear why the company has endured where others have struggled.
In the late 80s as product demand grew, a new fabrication facility was added in Wickliffe, Ohio. This enabled NPK Construction Equipment to better and more quickly serve its clients’ needs by manufacturing some parts in the United States. Further growth in the 90s and 2000s led to NPK purchasing additional buildings in Walton Hills to allow for even more manufacturing and assembly to be done in-house. In 2013 NPK acquired long time machining partner Holmes Manufacturing which increased the company’s capacity and led to the implementation of the machining division.
“We are open to and always looking for opportunities. We bought the machining company, and rather than outsourcing all of our machining needs, we increased our manufacturing ability,” says Dan.
Also in 2013 NPKCE partnered with a German mining equipment manufacturer, Hermann Paus Maschinenfabrik, to start a mining equipment division. Paus did not have a mining equipment distributor in the U.S. and Canada. “We have been selling them hammers for a very specialized custom application and developed the hammer for them. We partnered with them to start selling in the U.S. and Canada,” says Dan.
NPK Construction Equipment invested in infrastructure and procedures to expand into the mining sector, and expects a thirty to forty percent growth rate for mining sales over the next four to five years as the market is huge and the economy is currently booming.
A large volume of design and manufacturing takes place in-house, performed by 125 employees including the company’s design group. All mounting brackets, hydraulic hammer brackets, plate compactors, sheet pile drivers, pedestal boom systems, hard car unloaders, and material handling systems are designed, manufactured, and assembled in Walton Hills. Hammer power cells, concrete crushers, material processors, demolition shears, and pneumatic hammers are manufactured at NPK Japan. Hammer power cells (model GH7 and below) and the latest “A” style concrete crusher models are now being assembled in Walton Hills. Demolition and sorting grabs are manufactured at NPK Europe.
New products are developed based on U.S. market and manufacturing standards, and this helps ensure that the company is more responsive to the target market and maintains product quality. One of NPK’s unique products is its hard car unloader that is specifically designed for unloading grain-carrying train cars. In the ethanol market, dried distillers grain is a byproduct of making ethanol from grains. That byproduct is sent to feed mills to make animal feed but is difficult to unload from the cars. A two-section hydraulic boom, which mounts on a support framework straddling railroad tracks, manipulates a vertical probe that loosens material inside the railcar.
“Being involved with the customers and getting our engineers right out to the site, we are able to design the products that satisfy that niche market. The main reason we have no competition with these is because we got such a head start. It was a behind-the-scenes product at first, but now it is like Kleenex. When asking for hard car unloaders, NPK is the only name in that industry for that product,” says Dan.
Another specialty area for NPK is demolition equipment. In the 1990s, Japan put together NPK Research, a team of engineers to design products specifically for the U.S. market. The markets in Europe and Japan are very different from the United States. In Japan and Europe, the emphasis is on concrete demolition, but in the U.S. there is still much clearing of new areas. Therefore many of the products for the North American market are focused on rock demolition and breaking. Most of NPK’s competitors are based in Europe, so have designed products for concrete.
During his time as part of NPK Research, Dan lived in Japan for a year, from 1991 to 1992, working side by side with the current leadership in Japan. “We built super strong relationships with NPK Japan. We have great trust between organizations and keep things squeaky clean,” says Dan. The equipment company has exclusive distribution though a Dealer Network from Alaska to Argentina. And just like with NPK Japan, NPK maintains a strong partnership with each of its dealers and is truly service oriented. “One of our strengths is in getting unmatched product support, and we strive to exceed customer expectations every day,” says Dan.
NPK Construction Equipment was recognized for the Case Western Reserve University Weatherhead School of Management’s list of the top fifty businesses in Cleveland. This award recognizes the fastest growing companies in Northeast Ohio. “The forecast for 2018 is thirty to forty percent growth over  which was the second-best year on record for the company,” says Dan. “We set records just about every year in terms of growth.”
Dan boasts that NPK has the best employees in the industry. The company has a significant number of twenty-five-year to thirty-year employees, which is impressive considering that the company started only thirty-three years ago. NPK has done very well with employee retention, but in ten years, some true veterans of the industry will be retiring. Because of this and the huge increase in demand this year, it has been necessary to hire a host of new people.
“As for new recruits, we hired twenty-five this past year, mostly on the manufacturing and product service support side of the business. We hire people that treat their customers like they treat their grandparents,” says Dan. Due to being sales-driven, NPK is extremely fast-paced and customer-oriented with a sometimes frantic pace and priorities changing daily. The present group is awesome, according to Dan, and the new people are adding to that standard.
The biggest challenge, especially this past year, is in finding and acquiring personnel to keep pace with the company’s growth. NPK is not involved in many industry fairs and has not done much in the way of recruiting. “We have just been so busy growing. To be honest, we just hired our first human resources person in 2018, so we are finally engaged with that now. In the past, we had gone through temp agencies and search firms, but now are working with trade companies and trade schools. There is just not a lot out there,” says Dan. With the unemployment rate down, there are not as many people looking for a job. And with the boost in the economy, companies everywhere are looking for good people.
To combat the shortage of manufacturing job candidates, NPK has invested in automated manufacturing. This began 10 years ago but has accelerated in 2018. NPK purchased $1 million in robotics this year and will be buying a $600,000 blast machine for next year, along with a $1.4 million machine center for 2019.
Recent corporate tax reform has allowed NPK Construction Equipment to put the savings back into the company. “For a small company, we are reinvesting a lot of money in our employees and our facilities which will help our growth as time goes on,” says Dan.