Apr 15, 2008 – The turbine flow meters made at Hoffer Flow Controls in Elizabeth City, N.C., are known worldwide. These high-precision instruments measure the flow of natural gas in Brazil; the fuel that drives professional racecars; oil that’s pumped through U.S. pipelines; and water in the reverse-osmosis systems aboard U.S. Navy destroyers. Even NASA’s
Space Shuttle engines are tested with turbine flow meters from Hoffer Flow Controls.
CEO and Board Chairman Ken Hoffer could have chosen a more metropolitan location to relocate his business, but he’s quite happy in Elizabeth City.
“The area has a lot to offer a tech company,” said Hoffer. “It has the atmosphere of a small town, but the people are technical. A lot of them were living in the region when we hired them.”
The origins of Hoffer Flow Controls began in Union, N.J., where Ken, an electronics engineer, worked as the production manager for Potter Aeronautical. Its owner, David Potter, invented the first modern turbine flowmeter.
“He thought of himself as a Howard Hughes-type,” said Ken, whose boss would occasionally up and disappear. “He was part of the famous Explorer’s Club in New York, and there is a mountain named for him in Alaska.”
After Potter Aeronautical closed in 1968, Ken founded his own manufacturing company. Years later, when he was ready to expand, he looked at locations in New Jersey and near the Outer Banks, a favorite vacation spot.
In North Carolina, he met with developers in Washington, New Bern and Elizabeth City. Because of the labor mix, especially the technical expertise of many who lived in the region, Ken decided on Elizabeth City and relocated his business there in 1990.
“It was a great move,” said Ken. “We found all of the technical people that we need, and the city has been very responsive.”
Hoffer Flow Controls employs 85 full-time workers – engineers, sales reps, machinists, electronic technicians and administrative staff. A number of the machinists were hired out of The College of the Albemarle’s machine shop program. “A great way to get qualified people,” said Ken.
On a recent tour of the company, Ken wound his way through the sales department, past engineering and electronics testing, to the spacious and well-kept machine shop. There, employees oversee the production of the turbine flow meters for which the company is named. The velocity-measuring device consists of a pipe bisected by an impeller – a rotor with blades that look like paddles.
“Gas or liquid passes through the impeller and spins, and the pickup coil counts the blades as they go,” explained Hoffer. “We can measure anything in a gas or liquid as long as it’s clean.”
Many of the turbine flow meters are custom made and are used in a diversity of markets. Hoffer Flow Controls products are on the job throughout the world in applications ranging from oil manufacturing and gas production and food processing, to aerospace and energy measurement.
“Nearly 50 percent of our sales are international,” said Hoffer.
In 2007, Hoffer Flow Controls reported more than $8 million in revenue and expects a 12 to 14 percent increase in 2008.
When they are not hard at work, company employees like to have fun. Photographs of recent luncheons and celebrations adorn the walls. There’s an annual trip to a ski resort, for those, like Ken, who enjoy the sport. And proceeds from recycling metal scraps in the machine shop are used for company parties.
“We don’t have a lot of turnover,” said Ken. At least half of his employees began working at Hoffer Flow Controls since it opened in Elizabeth City. “The people of Elizabeth City are very loyal and reliable.”
Just the Facts:
Ken Hoffer pioneered the use of the turbine flow meter in cryogenic liquid measurement. Temperatures for these super-cooled liquids can be minus 350 degrees and colder.
Turbine flow meters are used for a variety of applications, including snowmaking and pharmaceutical pill coating.
Hoffer Flow Controls is ISO certified, which means the company meets the criteria of the International Organization for Standardization, the world’s largest developer and publisher of international standards.
The company is strongly committed to the principles of Lean Manufacturing, which aim to continuously improve productivity and quality. In 2007, Hoffer Flow Controls received multiple state grants to enhance its Lean program.