Made in Milwaukee: KHS USA works to fill products for global beverage companies

If you recently popped open a can of White Claw or Coca-Cola, chances are that can was filled with help from Town of Brookfield-based KHS USA Inc. The company makes filling and packaging equipment for food and beverage producers around the world. 

KHS USA is a subsidiary of Dortmund, Germany-based KHS Group, which officially expanded to Waukesha County in 1971. The company was known then as Holstein & Kappert. The area was selected for its strong, local German community and an extensive network of machine shops, said Glenn Huber, president and chief executive officer at KHS USA.

KHS’ biggest profit categories are parts, machines, and service and conversions. 

One of the company’s most popular products is its high-speed can filler. The largest can filler KHS creates is 184 valves, which can fill 2,300 cans a minute. Larger companies, including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and MillerCoors, use can fillers in this range. KHS engineers have also designed smaller fillers, called “micro-fillers,” marketed to the growing craft brewery sector.

“We have such a diverse customer base,” Huber said. “It’s made up of the largest companies in the world and then, on the other hand, you have the smaller craft industry.”

KHS has landed contracts with the makers of Red Bull and worked with brands closer to home, including New Glarus Brewing Co. 

John Turner, chief operations officer at KHS USA, said people don’t often think about how a liquid is put into a can or glass, but around 20% of beverages on shelves at a grocery store were filled by a KHS product. 

“Going into a Costco is like a trip to Disneyland to us,” Turner said. 

While many industries have been negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, KHS was provided an opportunity for growth. As bars and restaurants shifted away from using tap and kegs, cans became more popular. This put KHS at an advantage as one of the company’s strengths is their high-speed can filling. Huber said KHS saw 30%-40% growth over the last two to three years.

“The market shifted heavily to cans, which is where our best machines were,” he said.

It’s because of this increase in demand that KHS leadership recently gained approval from Town of Brookfield officials to expand its main Bahcall Court facility. The expansion project will give KHS USA an additional 18,237 square feet of assembly space to scale its product portfolio and an extra 4,620 square feet of office space. 

Huber said having a full suite of capabilities makes it easier for domestic clientele to see demos of KHS products – no need to make the trip to Germany. The company will also save on freight costs while customers will experience shorter wait times.  

KHS acquired Bahcall Court (where it has a campus of several buildings, totaling 125,000 square feet of space) from the town for the expansion project, which is expected to break ground in May and finish by late fall. Currently, the company’s 57,060-square-foot main Bahcall Court facility has about 340 employees, with 85 of those people working in tech services and traveling to various locations. The expansion is expected to result in the addition of 15 to 20 assembly jobs. 

Beyond the expansion, Huber said the company wants to make sure it remains a leader in the filling and packaging space by continually improving its equipment.

“We want to stay on top of the technology,” he said. “Technology for us is in the handling and the speed of the machines. Our speeds are always going up.”

Ashley Smart, BizTimes

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