SABETHA, Kan. — In early February, Wenger Manufacturing Inc. announced plans for a $13 million, year-long project to expand and modernize its Wenger Technical Center in Sabetha. The facility, used for continuous development, innovation and testing of cutting-edge extrusion technology, will remain operational throughout the renovations, the company said.

“This renovation is a strategic reinvestment into a facility that has long served our industries as the critical hub for innovation and continuous improvement,” said Lafe Bailey, co-CEO and president of sales and corporate development. “The Technical Center has held global importance to the extrusion industry since 1954, and we are committed to both renewing, and expanding, the roles and responsibilities that the Wenger Technical Center holds in the industries we serve.”

Currently, the Technical Center spans 22,000 sq. ft. The renovation will increase its capacity by 40%, install increased preventive food safety measures, and improve the center’s versatility with added square footage.

“As our industries face increased scrutinization over food safety, the new Wenger Technical Center will provide a low-risk environment to evaluate prototypes and make sure new products and processes adhere to safety and quality standards,” said Brend King, vice president and director of the Technical Center. “We’re very excited for this expansion as it will allow us to continue helping clients — and Wenger — move ideas from concept to market more quickly.”

The expansion will also increase the size and scope of projects Wenger is able to take on in the future, as well as improve innovation for existing projects. Construction officially began in November 2019 and is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2020.

In order to keep the center up and running during renovations, the new building will be constructed on top of the existing facility. First, a tension fabric structure will be built to enclose the original building. Then, the original steel structure of the first building will be removed to reveal a taller and wider operational space inside, Wenger explained.

“This innovative approach originated from our need to build a world-class innovation and development facility, all while maintaining continuity of current customer and Wenger projects,” King said. “That continuity is important because the market relies on this facility to meet their goals, and we are committed to keeping it open throughout this process.”

Participants at Wenger's PetFlex Demo Day in May 2019, where the company demonstrated extrusion and drying processes for a high-meat inclusion kibble and jerky-style pet treats.
Wenger's Technical Center currently houses six full-scale extrusion systems, two dryers and various pieces of ancillary equipment designed to simulate a real-world environment for testing new systems, product formulations and processing methods. Wenger hosts demonstrations and training sessions at the center, and it is used by its clients, academia and other industry partners, as well.

After these renovations are complete, the Technical Center “will fit full-scale, commercial versions of nearly every piece of equipment Wenger manufactures,” the company said.

Wenger went on to explain its reasonings behind renovating an existing facility rather than building a brand new one. The close proximity of the Technical Center to Wenger’s main manufacturing plant in Sabetha is highly convenient for the company, and for its clients and partners.

“Instead of tearing down valuable infrastructure and starting over at another site, we’re repurposing a well-functioning and widely utilized facility that’s already positioned right where we want it,” King said.

Wenger’s Corporate Project Services division spearheaded the design efforts behind the new Technical Center, which included modern best practices, usability features, layout and design features, as well as optimized processing and facilities management, Wenger said.

Legacy Building Solutions has also partnered with Wenger on this renovation, as well as PMI Nebraska LLC, Pinnacle Electric, PCI Mechanical, Schenck Process, Scott Equipment and IPS as general contractors in various areas of the project.

“Wenger also is very grateful to the City of Sabetha and the surrounding community, both of which have been exceptional partners since Wenger was first established here in 1935,” Bailey concluded.

Check back for updates as the Wenger Technical Center renovation gets underway throughout 2020.

Read more about pet food processing operations on our Operations page.