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Published: Sunday, 3/20/2011

Toledo-born firm a global presence by measures both large and small

BY DAN GEARINO
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

A welder at a Mettler Toledo factory in Columbus assembles components for a truck scale that will be able to weigh 18-wheelers A welder at a Mettler Toledo factory in Columbus assembles components for a truck scale that will be able to weigh 18-wheelers
TOM DODGE / THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge
COLUMBUS -- Imagine you need a scale precise enough to weigh a particle that is one one-thousandth the size of a grain of sand. Then imagine you need a scale big enough to weigh an 18-wheel tractor-trailer.

Both scales are made by the same central Ohio company: Mettler Toledo International Inc.

This high-tech manufacturer, which began in Toledo 110 years ago as Toledo Scale, is well known in the pharmaceutical, food-manufacturing, and food-retail industries, but it might be unfamiliar to the public.

"Most of our products, people don't see," said William Donnelly, the chief financial officer and the top executive in the Americas.

If you have seen the company's name, it was probably on a scale at a grocery store or on the six-story building off I-71 at Polaris Parkway. The local offices are one of the company's two world headquarters; the other is near Zurich.

Mettler Toledo has a lineage that goes back to 1901; it left its namesake Ohio city for Columbus in the mid-1970s. From this Rust Belt origin, the company has grown into a worldwide provider of measuring devices, an example of an Ohio company that has gone far beyond its initial products and customer base.

The present-day company was shaped by the 1989 merger of Toledo Scale with Mettler, a maker of laboratory scales based in Switzerland. Mettler Toledo now has a mix of American and Swiss character, with shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange. It has about 11,200 employees worldwide, of whom 3,000 are in the Americas. Most of the 700 in Ohio are in the Columbus area.

In a plant in Worthington, the company produces the main components of its truck scales. The results are corrugated-metal platforms measuring 23 feet by 12 feet and weighing 8,400 pounds.

To arrive at the final product, workers put together wide metal sheets and long crossbars. Sparks fly from the welder as an employee melts a thin metal cord to connect two long sheets.

Everything at the plant is big. Overhead cranes are at almost every step of the assembly process to haul the materials to the next station. Near the end of the line, the platforms enter a three-story painting room, where the door closes and sprayers coat the surfaces.

About a mile north is the region's second Mettler Toledo plant, which makes scales for grocery stores, along with other small components. It is more similar to a laboratory than to the plant in Worthington.

William Donnelly, the chief financial officer, says, 'Most of our products, people don't see.' With him at company headquarters is a scale that people do see, one used by grocery deli departments. William Donnelly, the chief financial officer, says, 'Most of our products, people don't see.' With him at company headquarters is a scale that people do see, one used by grocery deli departments.
TOM DODGE / THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH Enlarge
Its employees are some of the only Mettler Toledo staff who get to see the results of their labor in their everyday lives. "It feels good to go and see the product that I contributed to," said Bill Yochus of Columbus, who has been with the company for 27 years. "It's a good feeling."

The majority of the company's products go to highly specialized uses at drug makers, chemical companies, and food and drink producers.

One prominent example can be found in the neighborhood near the plant. The Anheuser-Busch brewery on Columbus' Far North Side uses Mettler Toledo instruments to measure ingredients and monitor the acidity and oxygen content of the beer. The goal is a uniform flavor, said Kevin Lee, the brewery's general manager.

Once the beer is bottled and packed into cases, it is stacked on wooden pallets and loaded onto trucks. The trucks pull onto a Mettler Toledo scale to make sure the load is below the 80,000-pound legal limit for highways.

The scale also reveals whether the weight is evenly distributed within the truck.

Colleges and universities are among the top buyers of laboratory scales. Pablo Jourdan, an associate professor of horticulture at Ohio State University, has used Mettler products since the 1970s. The brand name is synonymous with ultra-precise measuring devices, he said.

The company's fastest-growing divisions tend to serve the most-specialized customers.

Mr. Donnelly doesn't mind if the public hasn't heard of the company. He sees that as an essential part of what he calls its "quiet" culture. "We keep our heads down and try to deliver results," he said.



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