You're Never Too Old to Learn to Swim

100 Years After Its Birth on the Great Lakes, Ellis Adds Automation

Ellis Drier was founded 110 years ago by Wynn Edward Ellis, who had developed a solution for drying grain salvaged from shipwrecks on the Great Lakes.

“My great-great grandfather, I’m now the fifth generation, made all sorts of implements to dry grain,” says Bob Fesmire, Jr., vice president and COO of Ellis in Itasca, Ill. Ellis, which began manufacturing wooden washing cylinders in the 1910s, has grown into an OEM now serving the laundry and wastewater industries with hydraulic washer extractors, tunnel washing systems and wastewater treatment systems.

Big controls for a big machine
Ellis’ largest custom washer extractor can hold nine 200-lb loads. Each module is driven by a 5-hp electrical motor, and both sides of the cabinet are used.

After a flurry of mergers and acquisitions had formed General Laundry Machinery, Ellis was the only company in the conglomerate to survive the Great Depression and moved to the Chicago area. “My great grandfather was an engineer, and he developed the first unloading washing machine and patented it in the 1940s,” explains Fesmire.

Ellis moved into wastewater treatment in the 1970s and washer extractors in the late ’80s. “When we got in the wastewater treatment industry, it was kind of an unknown thing,” says Fesmire. “We serviced industries that need a lot of wastewater equipment. Our primary customers are uniform rental and linen suppliers, as well as hospitality and hospital, and they all deal with lots of process water, so there was a natural synergy.”

Ellis eventually made the move to developing its own controls and automation. “Our customers have been driving it, and we’ve been driving it as well,” explains Fesmire. “We serve the uniform, hospitality and hospital industries. What’s driving them most right now is energy savings, which means a need for energy conserving equipment and energy monitoring.”

Ellis’ machine controls typically are PLC-based. “But we’ll sometimes have a PC-based aspect,” says Fesmire. “We use remote interfaces and safety interlocks, light beams and photo sensors. Some of the environments where our machines are used contain volatile organic compounds, so we make specialty air-purged, explosion-proof equipment.”

With its customer base solidly in North America, Ellis employs a variety of electrical and mechanical personnel, as well as programmers. “Some of our equipment rotates up to 350 G. We’re using a lot of proprietary hydraulic designs,” says Fesmire.

Automation has had a great impact on Ellis’ after-sales support. “This aspect has brought us into diagnostics so we can dial into a customer’s plant and see what the machine is doing,” explains Fesmire. “We’re trying to help them manage their systems. We’ve had to educate our customers. Automation is a wonderful thing, but the human aspect is where everyone needs an education.”

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