Oven maker celebrates 100th anniversary.

Anthony Fabiano, president and COO, reviews monthly quality performance measures posted in each workstation.
Proving the difficulty of business longevity, less than 3 percent of all American companies last a century. Contrary to this trend, Despatch Industries, Minneapolis, one of the pioneers of thermal processing, recognizes its centennial in 2002.

For a 100-year-old, Despatch shows no sign of slowing down. Through its standard ovens and custom thermal processing equipment, the company is helping drive innovation in such new-age industries as data storage, electronics, semiconductors and biotechnology as well as in the automotive, aerospace, pharmaceutical, medical device and industrial products industries. With its headquarters and manufacturing facilities in the Twin Cities, Despatch has offices in eight countries and serves 350 of the Fortune 1,000 companies.

The success of Despatch, according to CEO Patrick Peyton, derives from a never-say-never philosophy permeating the company. "Our customers have demanded solutions to their heat processing issues for a hundred years. Thanks to the innovation of our employees and our 'can do' attitude, we have met every challenge."

If he were alive, Despatch founder A.E. Grapp would agree about the "can do" attitude. An incorrigible inventor, Grapp got his start in 1902 by conceiving and installing heating coils in Minneapolis' new electric streetcars, helping spark a ridership increase during the cold Minnesota winters. Next, Grapp invented an electric oven that a fledgling firm called Pillsbury needed to accurately test its flour in recipes.

Over the past three decades, Despatch has flourished under the leadership and vision of Warren Christianson, a successful Minneapolis businessman who saw the potential in Despatch's people to grow and develop world-class products in a global market.

Despatch employees gather in 2001 on the eve of the company's 100 year anniversary.

A Common Element to Longevity

The fact is, companies like Despatch that have achieved the centennial milestone have succeeded specifically because their focus on customers has never wavered. Despatch prides itself on creating innovative thermal processing solutions that have addressed real customer issues time and again. And the company's ability to apply technology to a variety of industrial and clean process thermal applications has helped its products achieve market success. Innovations over the years include:

  • An oven system to treat electric refrigerator components in 1929.

  • A 200', fully automated oven for John Deere in 1948.

  • A lab oven for David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, in 1955.

  • A commercial self-cleaning convection oven in 1968.

  • Multiple burn-in ovens for the electronics industry in the 1970s.

  • An automated brake-lining cure system in 1980.

  • The first U.S.-made self-sterilizing depyrogenation tunnel in 1987.

  • A magnetic annealing oven for manufacturers of read-write heads, in 1993.

  • The largest-ever drop-bottom aluminum solution heat treatment system for Alcoa in 1994.

Patrick Peyton, chairman and CEO, displays a vintage Despatch box oven from 1927 and the company's modern high performance benchtop oven.
To Peyton's mind, customers choose Despatch because of the technical contributions of the company's employees. "Our innovation comes from our guys in the trenches, the ones confronting customer problems first-hand and designing and creating solutions that truly work," he said. "Innovation, speed, flexibility?his is our foundation and our strength."

Hans Melgaard, vice president of research and development, exemplifies the Despatch employee. He joined Despatch in 1960 as a 20-year-old and has stayed ever since, collecting 25 patents in the process. "The driver behind Despatch's growth has been our heat transfer solutions that work not just by themselves, but fit with a customer's manufacturing process," Melgaard explained.

Despatch's new LCC clean process ovens are stackable.
In a competitive market filled with quality products, Despatch must continuously demonstrate how its external and internal quality control procedures make a difference in the final product. Through its corrective-action system, Despatch systematically collects product improvement recommendations from customers and employees and puts them into action. As a result, "Despatch is consistently a high-quality producer," said Anthony Fabiano, president. "Our job is to prove to all of our customers that the experience we've gained in 100 years, 165,000 ovens and 50,000 previous customers comes across in each and every new product we make."