Sukup: Steel, Bolts and Relentless Innovation

For the largest family-owned and operated grain bin manufacturer in the world, success is measured through customer and dealer satisfaction. That responsiveness, coupled with ingenuity, has earned the company a reputation for innovation and safety.
By Matt Thompson | July 13, 2020

FROM JULY 2020 ISSUE

For Sukup Manufacturing Co., a builder of grain bins and grain handling equipment based in Sheffield, Iowa, ethanol is a vital part of their business, according to commercial accounts manager Brent Hansen. He says that as corn yields increased for growers, and the ethanol industry also grew, the need for on-farm storage rose dramatically. “We believe in the ethanol industry—the benefits it has for us both environmentally and for rural America,” Hansen says. “It helps us all in many ways.”

Sukup was started in 1963 by Eugene Sukup and continues to be family run. “It’s the largest family-owned and operated grain bin manufacturer in the world,” Hansen says. “We have a close, personal relationship with most of our dealers and customers.”

Sukup’s original product was an in-bin stirring machine. And, as farming operations have evolved, so too has Sukup’s products. “We’ve just continued to evolve and be innovative,” Hansen says. “Eighty-five percent of the products we make today, we didn’t make 15 or 20 years ago, so we’re constantly being innovative and changing with the times.”

An example of that innovation is Sukup’s quest to eliminate moisture from large bins. Large bins tend to take on moisture, and it was formerly considered an inevitable drawback of sizing up. “That wasn’t a good enough answer for us,” Hanson says, “so we conducted research, and took bins apart, to see where it was coming from.” That resulted in Sukup’s patent on a double-ended stud bolt, which addresses the moisture issue. “Innovative engineering like that has kept us on the leading edge,” Hansen says.

Sukup was also the first company to use bolts with a better coating to prevent rust in older bins. “We went to a lot of old grain bins and noticed that the first thing to start rusting was the bolts,” Hansen says. “So we went to a higher coating on the bolts, and since then, other companies have followed.”

And Sukup’s no stranger to the large bins used by modern ethanol plants. Hansen says Sukup manufactured bins for Elite Octane LLC in Atlantic, Iowa, which hold nearly 2 million bushels each, and at the time they were installed, were the largest bins of their kind, Hansen says.

In addition to innovation, Hansen says Sukup focuses on safety. “We always put safety first, and often make safety-related upgrades before they are required,” he says. Features like pulleys inside the bins, and large decks around the peaks, make Sukup’s bins safer.

Sukup performed work on one of the ethanol industry’s newest plants: Ringneck Energy LLC in Onida, South Dakota. Hansen says Sukup manufactured all the plant’s elevators, grain bins, buildings and conveyers, along with the support structures. “It was a big project for us,” he says.

For ethanol producers, Hansen says the return on investment for grain bins can be very quick. “A lot of our customers have come back and told us that the return on a grain bin was one of the fastest returns,” he says. “Commodity prices are lower in the fall when harvest is going on, so they’re able to buy at a lower cost, which can save a tremendous amount of money.”

Hansen says for plants considering upgrading or adding storage, the quality of the product is an important consideration, as is working with the company to find optimal solutions. “I would say don’t always look for the cheapest thing,” he says. “We like to spend time with our customers and really hone in on their specific needs. Sukup’s goal is to set the standard for the best customer service in the industry.”

Hansen says Sukup offers a line of products specifically for agriculture applications, but also offers an industrial and commercial line as well, which was designed for manufacturing facilities like ethanol plants that operate on a continuous basis. “We established a more industrial design for processing facilities and ethanol plants,” Hansen says.

Sukup’s customers aren’t limited to the United States. Hansen says the company has a global reach. “We do business in about 85 different countries, so we’re a global manufacturer,” he says, adding that the company uses U.S. steel, and their products are made in the U.S. “We take particular pride in that,” he says.