JONESBORO, Ark. — Boxes whisk along a conveyor belt at 8 mph in a vast room of the Hytrol Conveyor Company's technology center on East Highland Avenue in Jonesboro.
On the second floor of the center, another conveyor sorts smaller packages, while visitors look at a virtual reality studio that shows how the belted systems work.
A 6,500-square-foot area on the eastern side of the center with 10 testing bays is dedicated to research and development of new products.
"It's pretty complicated stuff," Hytrol president David Peacock said of the conveyor industry. "Every day, we come to work to figure out how to do it faster and cheaper."
The technology center opened its doors to the public last month to show off its recently completed $1.5 million renovation project, including a large mezzanine for incline testing of conveyors and the reality studio. As visitors walked past the studio, an employee donned virtual reality glasses and looked at a wall that projected a scene of a working conveyor system. As the employee turned his head, the view on the wall turned.
Ben Moyer, director of research and development for Hytrol, said prospective clients can use the studio to see how systems operate before buying them.
Work on the 45,000-square-foot expansion was completed in April and is located about a mile from Hytrol Conveyor Company's 666,000-square-foot production plant, the Jonesboro Sun reported.
"This inspires us to act in a progressive manner," said Robert Jones, chairman of Hytrol's board. "Without our workers, this is a bunch of useless rock, plastic and steel."
He said the company's goal is to earn $500 million a year by 2030. Hytrol sells customized conveyors to scores of businesses, including UPS and Amazon.
Jones credited Arkansas State University for creating the College of Technology and Engineering and creating a pool of potential employees from which Hytrol can hire.
"We're seeing a change in the mindset of education," Jones said. "It's not just how many are enrolled anymore, but how successful (students) are when getting out of college."
Hytrol began operating in Milwaukee in 1947. It received its first U.S. patent for a portable conveyor system on Nov. 3, 1953, and moved to Jonesboro in 1962 where Tom Loberg oversaw 26 workers in a 27,000-square-foot building. Loberg died in 2004.
Today, 1,200 people work there.
Ruth Poston, Loberg's daughter, recently toured the technology center, stopping to look at several operating conveyor systems on display.
"I am just awed," said Poston, who was 4 years old when her father founded Hytrol. "I am very impressed with this."
She said she was pleased at how the company modernized its operations to keep up with changing customers' needs, such as e-commerce.
"We've come a long way," said Poston, who lives in Memphis. "If we didn't, we'd be out of business. My dad would be so impressed."
An AP Member Exchange shared by the Jonesboro Sun.