Press manufacturer, spinoff firm adjust to economic times
By James Schlett
COLONIE — As David Elfeldt’s employer of almost 20 years waged what increasingly looked like a losing battle in U.S. Bankruptcy Court during the autumn of 2006, the Schodack engineer started shopping around for a new job.
But instead of finding a new employer after Bruno Machinery Corp. temporarily shut down, Elfeldt and three other longtime employees of the Troy company founded a similar press manufacturing business in Colonie.
“We were riding the Bruno bus to the last stop and it stopped in October 2006,” said Elfeldt, 45, who was Bruno Machinery’s director of engineering.
Now, less than 18 months later, two press manufacturers are still attempting to establish or re-establish themselves in the Capital Region: Elfeldt’s Rhino Equipment Sales & Services and the reorganized Bruno Machinery, which a bankruptcy court judge handed over to the company’s creditors after owner Robert Bruno Sr. attempted to liquidate it.
However, the nation’s economic downturn is slaking demand for new hydraulic presses, which can be used to make everything from car floor mats to packaging materials. That trend is forcing Rhino and Bruno Machinery to focus more on their parts and services arms than on their manufacturing operations.
In December, Rhino assisted in the sale of its first press: a 40,000-pound die cutter that had been used to cut medical-grade foam for prosthetic devices. Rhino refurbished the 250-ton capacity press so it can make computer packaging materials.
The company is now refurbishing another press that was previously used for automotive industry applications. Rhino in October 2007 moved into a 7,000-square-foot facility on Cordell Road, near Mohawk Commons.
“With refurbishing, we’re able to show what we’re made of,” said Elfeldt.
At its new headquarters in the Clark Industrial Park in Colonie, Bruno Machinery’s new owners also are trying to show what they are made of. They are attempting to recoup the customer base the business had before financial woes drove it to Chapter 11 reorganization in December 2005.
Bruno Machinery Chief Executive Officer Raymond Dufresne said the company’s parts and services arm has established about 60 percent of the business the manufacturer had during its peak in Troy.
During its fiscal year that ended Feb. 29, Bruno Machinery also made 13 presses. While the company outsources work related to building presses’ steel frames, it handles the electronic machine control components in-house.
“I’m reasonably happy with our progress. I’m not delighted,” said Dufresne, who is also a board member of Unified Holdings, an Albany investment firm.
The bankruptcy court judge in October 2006 split ownership of Bruno Machinery between creditors Unified and Ken-Weld, a Worcester, Mass., metal fabrication company.
Part of Dufresne’s disappointment stems from $650,000 in unpaid utility, phone and other bills Ken-Weld and Unified did not know about until after they took over the business.
Bruno Machinery relocated to its 8,000-square-foot facility on Petra Lane in January 2007. The company employs four and occasionally hires three individual contractors — all whom were employed by Bruno Machinery’s former owner.
Although Bruno Machinery emerged from Chapter 11 over a year ago, it remains in bankruptcy court in Albany because of a lawsuit it filed against Troy Die Cutting and its owner Henry Chorbajian.
The reorganized company alleges Troy Die received over $500,000 in in-kind favors from Bruno Machinery while the business was owned by Robert Bruno Sr. Troy Die allegedly obtained a property lease and equipment at Bruno Machinery’s former Madison Street factory at prices below market value and it did not pay for staff services. Chorbajian last year sold Troy Die to Ross Valve Manufacturing in Troy.
At Rhino, Elfeldt expects to hire up to two workers over the following two years. His partners include Robert Tymchyn, Mark Sgambelluri and Keith Goodman.