Portable plant pioneers: Bruno Nordberg

By |  March 20, 2014
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Editor’s note: We’ve all heard the saying, “You don’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.” In that spirit, PP&E looks back on the trailblazers who shaped the modern-day portable plant industry.

Bruno Nordberg founded the Nordberg Manufacturing Co. in 1886, and he achieved his first recognition and success in steam engines. Born in Finland, Nordberg emigrated to the United States with little in his pockets around 1880, eventually settling in Milwaukee. He found work at age 22 as a draftsman concentrating on Corliss steam engines, but his career took off when he formulated the idea of a poppet valve engine and a cut-off governor.

“Cut-off refers to the end of a cylinder stroke where you want to stop allowing high-pressure steam into the cylinder,” says Pekka Pohjoismäki, president of crushing and screening equipment at Metso Mining and Construction Technology. “At startup or during acceleration, you would want to continue to allow the steam into the cylinder until the end of the stroke to get maximum force for the full stroke.”

But at a high speed, Pohjoismäki says, more efficiency is achieved if the flow of high-pressure steam is cut off and the high-pressure steam already in the cylinder is allowed to expand through the end of the stroke.

“So you would need a cut-off valve that closes the steam valve earlier in the stroke as the speed increases,” Pohjoismäki says. “Cut-off governors were built with a safety device, which caused the engine to stop in case the governor belt breaks or runs off. The governors were built in such a manner that the engine was brought into [synchrony] by the operator at the switchboard who could vary the engine speed.”

According to Pohjoismäki, cut-off governors helped to increase the efficiency and safety of the steam engine process. Steam engines were used to operate pumps, compressors, hoists are ore stamps, he adds, and Nordberg’s design reduced downtime and increased safety for mines.

“Nordberg continuously improved his early designs and found new ways to utilize steam,” Pohjoismäki says.

To market and sell cut-off governors, Nordberg persuaded a friend, Frederick Hornefer, to finance a patent application, and he partnered with an entrepreneur named Jacob Friend to launch the Bruno V. Nordberg Co.

Long-lasting decision

Nordberg’s company quickly established itself in the field of steam engines, and it grew mightily through the first third of the 20th century. But just as technologies change today, they changed then.

Steam power gave way to diesel, and although Nordberg never felt steam could be replaced, he completed a license agreement in 1914 to manufacture diesel engines.

“All leaders realize a constantly changing business environment will impact their ability for continued success,” Pohjoismäki says. “Great leaders are the ones who anticipate these changes and have the willingness to accept them as something other than a passing fad.

“What is truly remarkable about Nordberg’s willingness to adapt is that it came during a time where marketplace changes were nowhere near as rapid as in today’s environment. It would have been very easy for Nordberg to stay the course, and in fact initially Nordberg felt nothing could take the place of steam. But his desire for improvement and willingness to change motivated him.”

By 1922, Nordberg had built 27 engines for Phelps-Dodge. And despite his death two years later, Nordberg had set the path for his company to venture into crushing, grinding and screening equipment for the aggregates and mining industries.

In the early 1920s, Nordberg’s company was already manufacturing horizontal disc crushers for Symons Brothers Co. Nordberg’s company later acquired the Symons cone crusher business.

“The work and relationships he developed with Symons Bros. paved the way for the future relationship and eventual acquisition,” Pohjoismäki says. “Symons invented the cone crusher in 1926, which revolutionized the crushing practice of the mining and quarry industries. Nordberg Manufacturing Co. acquired the Symons cone crusher business in 1928, and Nordberg engineers continued to improve on the original design.”

In his time, Nordberg held 58 patents on various machines and devices to his name. He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He authored several papers on engineering subjects.

Nordberg was active in his company throughout his life, and he was described as most happy when working at his drafting board.

“As an immigrant from Finland, Bruno Nordberg had little more than his engineering knowledge and willingness to work hard,” Pohjoismäki says. “He might have easily been content with his first job as a draftsman at the E.P. Allis Co., but he had an idea to improve the efficiency of steam engines, and he had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“He was driven by a genuine curiosity that kept him searching, striving and wanting to learn and create. He also was wise enough to know that his strengths were engineering and design, and brought in knowledgeable business associates to manage his growing company’s day-to-day operations.”

Today, thousands of rock-processing products bearing Nordberg’s name are still in operation at quarries around the world, and the Nordberg name remains a source of pride for the people at modern-day Metso.

“Nordberg’s name is still synonymous with highly efficient, innovative crushing and screening solutions,” Pohjoismäki says.

Editor’s note: Bruno Nordberg was inducted into the Pit & Quarry Hall of Fame in 2014. Pit & Quarry magazine is PP&E’s sister magazine.

and posted in Featured Story, People

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