When Leonhard Packaging Solutions (LPS) was founded by Robb Leonhard and his older brother Rick in 2002, the company started small, with Rick serving as President and Robb filling the role of Vice President. The brothers had the drive and talent for finding the right people and empowering others, a quality they brought to the newly formed business. In the next few years they brought in RC Huhn and Scott Miller to the ownership team. Both brought strong skill sets that complemented the team.
Selling original equipment manufacturing (OEM) products, the company grew, bringing on additional staff to fill key roles in sales, service, engineering, and programming. Bringing on others and creating a solid leadership team saw LPS build a solid client base. Looking for a new name that sounded rugged and would fit in manufacturing, the pair came up with ‘Viking’. And Viking it was, after clearing the new name with the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings, appliance maker Viking, and Viking Trailers. In just a few years, the company changed its name to Viking Packaging Technologies, Inc.
In 2006, the brothers partnered with internationally known packaging equipment giant Masek based in Vlasim, Czech Republic, and their company is today known as Viking Masek Packaging Technologies.
Vision and dedication
Today, the company that began as a two-man operation has expanded to encompass hundreds of staff spread across Viking Masek’s worldwide locations including its North American headquarters in Oostburg, Wisconsin, Viking Masek Robotics and Automation headquarters in New Berlin, Wisconsin, and the European sites, including Viking Masek’s Czech facility.
Along the way, the business built and expanded its Oostburg facility, premiered innovations on the Discovery Channel, was named Sheboygan County Manufacturer of the Year in 2017, 2019, and 2020, and was awarded Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Top Workplace in 2020, 2021, 2022.
For the company and the Leonhard family, 2021 was full of highs and lows. That year saw Viking Masek make a 33,000-square-foot facility expansion and welcome the formation of Viking Masek Robotics and Automation. Sadly, it also saw the passing of Robb’s older brother Rick in July after a brief, bravely fought battle with cancer.
Serving as Executive Vice President until that time, Robb was the logical choice to take over as company President, continuing to fulfill Rick’s vision for the future, passion for the industry, and commitment to Viking Masek’s staff and customers.
“Looking back to when we started this journey 19 years ago, we were in a much different position and facing different issues, but the spirit was the same,” said Leonhard when his presidency was announced on August 21, 2021. “We were a small, driven team on a mission to bring simple, automated tote-to-pallet packaging solutions to customers around the world. Today, automation has become so crucial, but our mission remains the same.”
For Leonhard and the entire team at Viking Masek, it was crucial to carry on Rick’s legacy, keep advancing the business, and strengthen the company’s involvement in the community.
“One of the things Rick and I were passionate about was giving back, being really involved and a crucial part of the community,” says Leonhard. This included re-inventing the company’s café-themed lunchroom as a European pub, naming it in Rick’s honor, and using it as a venue for a free Thanksgiving meal for the less fortunate. “Rick was very passionate about that, and it’s something we continue to do.”
Offering packaging solutions for virtually any industry, Viking Masek works with customers every step of the way to ensure success. If products are dusty, wet, heavy, or even sticky, the experienced team at Viking Masek is there to offer machines, service, and solutions custom-made to the needs of every client in food and beverage, health and medical, and non-food product sectors.
Just some of the products packaged with the company’s cutting-edge equipment include coffee, cheese, candy, individual quick frozen (IQF) items, cereals, nuts and snacks, pasta, beans and rice, pet food and treats, cannabis, pills and capsules, medical testing kits, and more. The California-based Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) is one valued customer, and as Leonhard describes, “That’s a market we’ve focused on since day one. We provide a lot of automated machinery lines to regional coffee roasters, from very small to very large, for packaging ground coffee, whole bean coffee, flavored coffee, and more. We love the coffee industry.”
Able to pivot quickly to meet market demands, “During COVID, our machines were used very heavily to package COVID test kits, along with other test kits,” he explains. “We sold a lot of machines for packing COVID test kits.”
Highly knowledgeable about the packaging industry, Viking Masek advises its customers on the best equipment for their needs. Coffee and tea, for example, can be packaged through Vertical Form Fill Seal (VFFS) machines, Flat Bottom, Quad Seal, Premade Bags, Stick Pack Equipment, or Bag-in-Bag VFFS Machines.
For cheese packaging, the company’s breadth of machines includes the Viking-8SD-235, the VFFS Solitaire, the VFFS Velocity, and more. Packing cheese through intermittent and continuous motion, Viking Masek’s line of VFFS Machines can package everything from small, consumer-sized, three-side seal bags with zippers to large pillow bags intended for restaurants and food service customers.
For the first-timer
As packaging industry experts, the Viking Masek team works with both longstanding customers and new ones looking to buy their first automated lines. Realizing that purchasing automated packaging machines is a big decision and a big investment, the company maintains an informative “First-Time Buyer” FAQ section on its website. “To help customers with the buying process, Viking Masek has developed an extensive library of resources for first time buyers including downloadable PDFs: vikingmasek.com/packaging-machine-resources/first-time-buyers.
In the past decade, the company has partnered with clients embarking on their automation journey much earlier in the process than was the case previously, often in the pre-construction stages. Years ago, companies would call up asking for a vertical bagger; today, Viking Masek is doing much more full-line automation and becoming involved in the early stages of everything from plant design to room layout.
Becoming a one-stop shop was both intentional and driven by market demand. Building on years of combined experience, Viking Masek has the talent, technology, and skills needed to latch onto the process at the start and make valuable contributions through to the very end.
This approach includes not only engineering, design, programming, and automation, but also service, parts, and preventative maintenance packages. All pre-owned equipment sold through Viking Masek undergoes a minimum 25-point maintenance and safety check. Thoroughly inspected by the company’s certified technicians, all used equipment “is certified to perform to Viking Masek’s exacting standards.” And just like new pieces, pre-owned equipment can be modified to suit specific customer needs.
Automation for all
In the future, Viking Masek will continue its quality work with clients of all sizes—from those who need multiple lines running to those who need just one. And of course, the company will continue to develop new innovations. Its fast Twin Velocity VFFS machine is a unique offering, rated at over 500 bags per minute. First unveiled at the Pack Expo show last year, this September saw the company bring the popular machine back for this year’s show in Las Vegas.
“The businesses we deal with all require automation, automation, automation,” Leonhard emphasizes. “That’s been good for us because we’ve been ahead of the curve. We can do the whole thing—supplying that tote-to-pallet, fully automated line instead of just little pieces—so we’re a one-stop shop for customers who need automation,” he says. “Right now in the industry, automation is king. Everyone needs to automate because employees are getting harder and harder to find.”
At present, the company’s Robotics and Automation Division is exploring other areas, such as food preparation machines. And even though the company keeps growing, it continues to uphold its foundational values.
“We have been very fortunate and blessed. We started as a family organization, and we’re still a family organization. We view our employees and teammates as family, and we invest in them. Some people just say that, but It’s important to us and we do it. Our machinery is only going to be as good as the people who design it, maintain it, train on it. Our machinery has come a long way since the beginning, and that’s a testament to the talent, determination, and drive for excellence of our people.”