Kenosha firm’s specialized centrifuges used worldwide (Entrepreneur of the Year)

Saturday, October 4, 2014

BY JAMES LAWSON

“If you want something done right, do it yourself,” as the adage goes. After many years of repairing and servicing centrifuges for water and wastewater treatment purposes, Michael Kopper, founder and chief executive officer of Centrisys Corp., decided it might be time to design his own — one that needed less maintenance and would be more energy efficient.

The Kenosha company’s reputation for service became so widely known that one municipality, Honolulu, wanted to order a centrifuge that would be manufactured in Germany, but serviced by Centrisys. That order was jeopardized when the foreign manufacturer decided it could not make what Kopper wanted. He knew he could not fail. He had to fill the order.

“I shut myself up in my office and began designing my own,” he recalled. “I knew what I wanted because I had worked for another German company that made them here in the U.S. I’m the kind of person who sees a need and then will see if I can fill that need.”

Kopper doesn’t seem like your typical CEO. He seems to be more of a hands-on person who wears jeans around the office and is not afraid to be seen without a tie. He fits the mold of a devoted entrepreneur who feels comfortable moving from unit to unit in the company. “I like to work on things,” he said.

His entrepreneurial spirit recently netted him the “Entrepreneur of the Year” award from the Kenosha Area Chamber of Commerce and the Kenosha Area Business Alliance. Built car, then company at an early age, one of the first things Kopper worked on was putting together a car for himself. He went to the junkyard, got a German version of an American-made car, found an engine and built his first set of wheels. Fulfilling that first contract and Honolulu’s need was a major mission for him. He had a reputation to uphold. The outcome became a customized, high-powered machine that separates water from solids.

Centrisys’ initial niche was developing a machine for water and wastewater treatment purposes. However, they can be used in the oil industry, and any other type of industry that needs to separate and purify water. Moved to Kenosha in 1999. Initially established in Libertyville, Ill., in 1987, the $40 million company, relocated to 9586 58th Place in the Business Park of Kenosha in 1999. After building its headquarters on the site, Centrisys has added two more buildings — one where it builds new centrifuges and another across the road where it warehouses parts and supplies.

He estimates the company’s revenues to climb to $80 million in four years. It now employs 85 people. A joint venture arrangement with a German company, SH + E, that produces dryers and other equipment, will add another facility and capability to the complex.

Products ship worldwide Centrisys now services, manufacturers and ships centrifuges and related components to Brazil and other countries across the globe. The company entered into an agreement to produce water processing equipment to the City of Shanghai, and he’s working arrangements for other cities in China. Domestically, Centrisys is making equipment for Miami, New York City, Stockton, Calif., and Lufkin, Texas.

Kopper proudly touts that his centrifuges are made in America. A large $400,000 centrifuge that he is shipping to Brazil has an American flag emblem and the words: Made in the USA. “Sixty-five percent of the parts and components we use in our manufacturing process come from local businesses,” he explained. “They come from companies within 75 miles of here.”

When one local supplier was about to go out of business, Kopper bought the company and retained the workers. “We needed what they made,” he explained. “They were important for us.” Agreement with city Kopper’s newest development is a thickening centrifuge that further reduces the amount of byproduct sludge from wastewater. The machine produces a byproduct gas that can be used to produce energy and another byproduct that can be rated Class A sludge that may be used as fertilizer.

Centrisys has entered into a special partnership arrangement with the city of Kenosha that updates the city’s wastewater treatment process and is expected to save the city at least $200,000 annually. It is also expected to help the city cut some of its energy costs because it will be able to use a specially designed centrifuge to convert gas to electricity. Future additions to the upgrade will allow the city to sell byproduct for a further profit.

The new technology is to be a model for other cities. Centrisys will market the new technology to other municipalities, but under different financial arrangements that it has with Kenosha. “Kenosha wanted to be in the forefront of technology,” Kopper said.