Rick Archer jokes that after 36 years, the family-owned business in Reidland is finally manufacturing a product that more closely fits the company’s title.
“A lot of people mistake the name and think we’re an environmental contractor,” Archer said. “That’s not it. We manufacture parts that go on conveyors.”
Arch Environmental Equipment Inc. serves any industry (mostly coal) that transports rock, sand, coal or any other type of raw material with conveyor systems. In March, the business teamed with Dean Rosendall of Michigan, who had an idea to harness and recycle energy created by raw material falling off conveyors.
The product is called the Dean Energy Harvester (DEH), and one operates on the conveyor running across Wayne Sullivan Drive at Federal Materials Company. Workers installed it in early April to test it out as the conveyor moves sand.
The Harvester is as unique and unexpectedly complex as Arch Environmental at 5929 Benton Road near Reidland Elementary School. Founded in 1975 by Neil Archer, the inventive company has grown from three to 40 employees, mostly from finding solutions to technical problems in the aggregate and coal industries.
And telling the story of a conveyor system that powers lights and cameras from falling rocks hints at how a locally owned business grows to one shipping parts and components to every state and 30 countries.
The DEH looks like a small water wheel attached to the end of a conveyor above where material falls. The falling raw material spins blades — officially termed a power rotor — which generates kinetic energy, Archer said. The energy is sent to and stored at a power storage unit, or battery.
Though the amount of power stored isn’t enough to run an entire conveyor belt, it can power components that come in handy, Archer said. The DEH also features an illumination station, or two mounted lights, to illuminate the area around the conveyor belt. It also features a mounted wireless video camera that records footage of the goings-on around the conveyor belt. Archer said the footage can be streamed online, and watched in real time on a computer monitor, or the footage can be saved to a built-in memory card.
Having an additional power source also means the camera and lights keep running even if power to a company and its conveyor system is shut down, Archer said.
The spark for the DEH’s design comes from Rosendall, a partner at First Companies in Grand Rapids, Mich., who makes a career of sustainable construction.
“There are certain applications where there’s not enough sun for solar, and there’s not enough sustainable wind force,” Rosendall said in a statement.
“But this is a constant, whenever you’re running your plant, you have power.”
All of the manufacturing and design ingenuity for the DEH is completed in-house at Arch Environmental.
“A lot of the things we’ve developed have come about like this where it’s an individual who has a good idea in the industry, and we’re able to take the product and work with it,” Archer said. “And we manufacture everything right here in Paducah.”
Archer said the case with the DEH typifies how the company has grown over the years to necessitate a 4,800 square-foot facility with its own fabrication division, machine shop and custom urethane production unit.
Problems and solutions
“I bet you we can” became an oft-repeated phrase for Neil Archer, and later for his sons Rick and Mike Archer.
Neil moved to Paducah in the 1970s and officially launched Arch Environmental in 1975. He said one of the company’s earliest products was a water pumping system that pumped sludge away from coal mines.
Neil said he was told pumping the sludge wouldn’t work. “I said, ‘I bet you we can,’” Neil said.
Despite a couple of failed attempts, he did devise a product that worked, with help from Greg Watson, who is still with the company now as a general manager. The company moved toward conveyor systems, and more than half its business today is from a product it developed that scraps material off a conveyor.
Rick joined the company in 1988, and is now the president. Brother Mike joined in the early 1990s to head the company’s electrical division.
Neil retired more than two years ago and serves on the company’s board.
Walking through Arch’s facility reveals its development. As the company needed more resources and equipment for various designs, it expanded its building with five additions, the markings of each visible as one walks through the facility.
An example is the facility’s custom urethane production area, which is warm in the winter and blazing hot in the summer.
In 1992, products called for a 10-foot urethane mold, a dimension the Archers were told couldn’t be bought for under tens of thousands of dollars, Neil said.
So the company came up with its own urethane production process and still runs it today.
“It’s been that way since day 1,” Neil said. “We latch on to an idea and we make it happen.”
The company’s manufactured products and services fall into two categories:
n Electrical: conveyor belt scales to measure the material moving on the conveyor. Pull cord switches, pre-start alarms, conveyor management systems, metal detectors, speed monitoring, rip and tear detectors.
n Mechanical — Belt cleaning systems, sealing systems, belt alignment devices, belt support and impact systems, chute liners and access doors.
Neil and Rick aren’t nearly as obscure in the local community as the finer points of Arch Environmental’s processes. Neil is chairman of the McCracken County Board of Education, while Rick is chief of the Reidland-Farley Fire Department.
But the products and growth at the company are examples of a locally owned business carving out a niche and surviving the ups and downs of the economy.
“We were happy that through the downturn there, I guess two years ago, we didn’t have any layoffs,” Rick said. “We kept everybody working. It was pretty lean at times, but business seems to be coming back really good now.”
Contact Adam Shull, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.