In the world of belt conveyors and seed handling, one company has made strides that no other has. KSi Conveyors, Inc. of Sabetha, Kansas, has applied a special group of employees, coupled with research and development knowhow, to conceive of and develop a patented cleat belt technology that outperforms conventional augers and conveyors and ensures greater efficiency. We spoke with Chief Executive Officer Paul Kaeb and Marketing Director Rick Smith to find out more.
KSi is a privately held family business that began in 2000, and its principals came from a background in livestock and crop farming. That gave them the insight to improve agricultural operations.
“We are very motivated and hard-working. I know what it’s like to get up at 6 am for work. It taught us to have ideas that would make things better and gave us some flexibility. We also developed a risk tolerance and decisive decision making,” says Paul.
The primary talent of KSi is its ability to work together to produce quality products and bring in good employees to maintain relationships built on trust, transparency, and leadership. Paul is confident that this will expand.
KSi prides itself on manufacturing agricultural conveyors for value-added commodities in the seed and specialty crop business. The company is also heavily involved in automation and other technology that deals with integrating the equipment.
There is much technology that goes into seed handling. Every seed counts and needs to be handled with care. “Augers tend to move grain by friction and force where we have the ability to build a conveyor with a cleated belt that carries and gently handles it at the same capacity with a higher level of care and technology,” says Paul.
The new technology gave the ability to work at steeper angles than the augers. When the idea was first considered, many people in the industry were skeptical of whether it could be done. Other companies have tried to match or copy the cleated belt technology, but none have mastered it.
KSi has a couple of license agreements and has sold the technology. What it has found most interesting is that people value more than just the products. “They see the value of doing business with KSi because there are a lot of integral parts that go along and enable that cleated belt to be more professional in the industry we are in. The success I see is in keeping the technology in-house but selling it as a completed product line. Not just the cleated belt but the entire conveyor unit in a system that works fully integrated together,” says Paul.
From there, the technology led to complete integration of handling bulk seed and seed treatment application systems through automation, an integral part of repeatable processes. “It empowers us to make intuitive and robust controls. What we like about it is, as we build around the conveyors, seed equipment, and mechanical equipment, we can also build automation that can be upgraded and kept up to the current technology standards that customers want for their software,” says Paul.
KSi will help its customers succeed with whatever needs they have. The employees want to be challenged and are continually asking about the next thing needed by customers. “I recognize there are things we are developing that people are not ready for yet. We have enough knowledge of this industry, so as our customers make that paradigm shift in their minds, they will see the value. We always want to be ahead of the curve,” says Paul.
Growth is an essential aspect of any business. What Paul sees as growth is the company expanding its knowledge in other market spaces using controls and automation to venture more into the areas of crop protection and seed treatment. These areas are providing an excellent opportunity for KSi but Paul recognizes that KSi must maintain its values and does not want the company to be spread too thin in its search for markets.
“We want to stay within our core values and market space; however, an international presence is important for any company, and exporting is valuable for growth. We will take what we learned in the past twenty years and see how we can help other industries or the same industry in other countries to succeed as we have here in the U.S.,” says Paul.
As for challenges, the agricultural industry is full of them. It has a seasonal, cyclical sales cycle, and every year brings different weather and commodity values that change how people want to reinvest, improve, or buy equipment.
“Agriculture is a big industry that is challenged to produce enough food for the world. It is an industry that will always be vibrant and tends to have a positive attitude even through difficult times,” says Paul.
As a business owner and manufacturer who started from nothing and grew to build a product and sell it, Paul recognizes the importance of free market society to small businesses.
Regulations will always be a part of any industry, but some may limit the resources of small businesses and can create obstacles. This can restrict the growth and opportunities that companies like KSi have.
“A free market society that allows small businesses to operate without unnecessary regulations doesn’t limit success, and that is critical to us. We need to ensure that we know what is needed in the industry, and we are as attuned to this industry as anyone out there,” says Paul. He adds that he has travelled extensively in many other countries, and there is no other country like the U.S. where you can start with one idea and be successful.
Rick has been most impressed with the management of this company. Paul worked for a manufacturer for twenty-five years before starting KSi, in addition to farming on the side. Service has always been a big part of the company, and that has led to everything else Paul does.
“We find ourselves as a relatively small business with less than one hundred employees, working with some of the absolute largest names in the agricultural industry, both on the manufacturing side and agriculture and seed companies. That leadership has led us into places that otherwise we wouldn’t have been to for a company of our size,” says Rick.