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International Machinery Exchange offers affordable one-stop shop for cheese manufacturers

By Alyssa Mitchell

Photo courtesy of International Machinery Exchange
BAR SEALER — Pictured above is a bar sealer that cheesemakers and dairy manufacturers can use to seal product bags.
Photo courtesy of International Machinery Exchange
CUP FILLER — Pictured above is a two-lane, in-line cup filler used to fill cheese sauce and other food items.

DEERFIELD, Wis. — For nearly four decades, Wisconsin-based International Machinery Exchange (IME) has supplied the dairy and food machinery industry with new and refurbished cheesemaking and dairy equipment. With more than 40,000 square feet of warehouse and manufacturing space at its full-service dealership, the company offers cheesemakers an array of packaging lines and other options.

When Greg and Denise Mergen started IME in December 1979, their focus was providing quality used and rebuilt cheese and dairy equipment to smaller and overseas customers.

Greg Mergen, who has a food science degree from the University of Wisconsin and previous experience selling new and used machinery, says initially IME worked with startups on designing facilities and provided quality used equipment to companies both in the United States and abroad.

In 1980, IME moved from Windsor, Wisconsin, into the larger facilities of the former Deerfield Creamery Co. building in Deerfield, Wisconsin, where IME remains today. The company achieved increases in sales over the years and now has 16-21 employees, adding subcontractors when it works on larger design projects.

A large part of IME’s focus today is making used machinery better. The company offers custom fabrication, design and engineering, supply parts and installation.

“We are a complete equipment dealer with full lines of equipment and machinery available, backed by nearly 40 years of experience,” Mergen says.

IME serves mainly the cheesemaking industry but also can customize processing equipment specific to dairy processing needs. The company offers ice cream and butter machinery as well.

IME has large and small customers all over the world, including in Puerto Rico, Honduras and Indonesia. About 80 percent of its current business is in cheese and dairy.

“We sell to anyone with a cow up to cheese companies that produce millions of pounds of cheese a day,” says Jeff Klemp, vice president and general manager, IME.

For packaging needs, IME offers bag loaders, overwrap bundlers, case sealers, vacuum sealers, box-forming systems, case taping machines and more, and manufacturers include Arpac, Berkel, Brenton Engineering, Avpack, Cryovac, Dyco, Delkor and more.

Vacuum sealers in particular are a large part of its packaging equipment demand, Mergen says, and the company offers several varieties of this type of machine.

“We offer a broad range. Basically all cheese is packed in vacuum sealers; it’s just a matter of the degree,” he says.

Klemp says it’s helpful for smaller startup companies to have the option to buy used and refurbished equipment, noting reconditioned equipment is more affordable for small plants and startups, often about a third of the price of new equipment.

“If you refurbish something back to as close as new, you give it another lifetime,” Mergen adds. “We like to say, ‘why not buy used equipment? All the equipment in your plant is used.’”

For the equipment IME sells, it leaves the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) name on it, he adds.

Mergen, who also is a certified equipment appraiser and auctioneer, acquires the company’s inventory from various channels, from buying a whole plant to receiving surplus people bring in. Oftentimes when people buy new equipment, dealers don’t accept trade-ins, so IME purchases the older equipment.

“It has to go somewhere,” Mergen says. “We’re offering customers a lower cost option but with the same performance, and we’re addressing two market needs by fulfilling customers’ requests while clearing equipment from the market.”

Offering refurbished equipment does come with its challenges. Mergen notes when it comes to cheese packaging, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach.

“The key with packaging machines is they need to fit 99% perfectly — there’s not as much flexibility,” he says. “It’s either the right piece or it’s not.”

For example, if a customer wants a cup filler for cheese dips or cold pack cheese, they need a machine that fits the exact cup size the customer wants.

“We ask those customers to send us their cup so we can find the right solution,” Mergen says. “You have to be container specific.

“That’s true for most packaging machines,” he says. “It either meets the specs or it doesn’t. If it does, we can rebuild or refurbish it.”

And if they can’t, they can help the customer find it elsewhere, he adds.

“There are situations where someone may call us for a specific machine we don’t have, but we can reach out to other companies and see if they have the machine,” he says.

In addition to providing rebuilt equipment, IME will help design plants and processes for new startups and can acquire new equipment for them when necessary.

“We can help in the startup of the design as well as teaching them how to use the equipment,” Klemp says.

Beyond selling equipment and plant design, IME helps its customers throughout the process, providing service and support well beyond the sale. Klemp says some customers will call even if it’s about something IME didn’t sell them. Accessibility is a key draw for their customers.

“When companies are small, the owners do not have the time or knowledge to handle everything. We do have that service aspect. We won’t leave them high and dry after the sale,” Klemp says.

“If they are just starting a plant, it does take time to get everything in place, so that’s part of our design package to allow revisions and changes for up to a year,” Klemp says. “Usually when you start out with a plant, you have an idea, but it can take time for that to come to fruition, and tweaks are common. You may have an idea on paper, but as it comes together, it may need adjustments. It can be a year or more from idea to completion.”

To keep on top of emerging trends in packaging, IME continues to attend trade shows and stay active in the industry.

As technology advances, touch screen controls are one huge growth area in packaging equipment offerings today, Mergen notes.

Klemp adds that with increasing regulations on labeling, the company now is offering more labeling machines as well.

“It’s become a big focus for cheesemakers,” he says.

Mergen says what his customers appreciate most about doing business with IME is that it provides consistent, quality products.

“Packaging is probably the most expensive component of putting together a plant or system for a company, but it’s very critical,” he says.

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