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Joint venture aims for environmental market

GRANTS PASS -- A new three-way joint venture links a Southern Oregon engineering company and partners in Japan and Germany with plans to design and produce environmental testing equipment.

It's a way three small companies can combine efforts to produce quality products at a lower cost, said Holger Sommer, who founded Team Engineering in Grants Pass.

The other two partners are Argo GmbH, a German manufacturer of watches, hydraulic systems, filters and valves; and Rion Corp., which produces seismic and vibration testing equipment and air monitoring instruments.

The venture will combine their initials to become ART Instrumentation Corp., or ARTI.

The partners participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday and toasted their agreement with Japanese sake, German beer and Oregon wine.

Because the German and Japanese companies already have distribution systems, the engineers can focus on design and manufacturing without worrying about setting up distribution systems, Sommer said.

After nearly one year of marketing planning and market research, we have quite a few interesting products, said Christian Kienzle of Argo.

Sommer said one product of particular interest to Argo is a device that would monitor contamination in hydraulic fluid, a major source of down-time for expensive equipment.

Other products would measure contamination in water, air and other gases, he added.

The company includes 17 staffers, most of them engineers, and plans to hire four more people for the instrumentation design team. They're working in a former bank building on a wedge of land between Redwood Avenue and Redwood Highway in southeast Grants Pass.

Dave Hall, field engineer of the Oregon Manufacturing Extension Partnership, said Sommer wanted a building with lots of light and open space in which engineers could collaborate. They were considering a new building when Sommer located the former Security Pacific branch.

Hall said he produced a plant design within 48 hours to meet the company's timetable. It takes advantage of secured areas for expensive equipment -- even the vault will come in handy as a shielded testing site.

Sommer said the company will employ about 60 people when it starts manufacturing. That may commence in the basement of the present site or someplace else, Hall said.

We are just born, said Soichi Koyama of Rion. We can grow with your support.

We want to involve engineers all through product development -- right to the consumer, Sommer said. We want them to be champions of their products.

Under terms of the venture, negotiated for the past year, the German and Japanese partners will provide most of the financing and commit to purchase the jointly developed products, Sommer said. Team will provide much of the intellectual resources.

This is a way we can react to the global economy even if we're not at a big, corporate scale, Sommer said.

Sommer and his wife, Lillian Dominguez-Sommer, formerly worked for Met-One in Grants Pass. He's originally from Germany with a doctorate in mechanical engineering. She's from Texas with a degree in electrical engineering.

They formed Team Engineering in 1995 and were involved with consulting in the environmental testing industry. She remains president of Team and is handling marketing for ARTI; he is president and chairman of ARTI.

We're all involved in the same kind of work, Sommer said. We all share the same philosophy.

Argo, like Team, is a privately held company, founded in Germany 50 years ago. Rion is a publicly owned company, Sommer said, adding, It's good to have a public company among us for quality control.