Petersen thrives with custom plugs

Petersen Products Company thrives under pressure.

Petersen Products Company

421 Wheeler Ave., Fredonia

Industry: Pipeline and plumbing equipment

Employees: 17

If a river floods and storm sewers are backing up with water, Petersen’s inflatable pipe plugs can stem the flow. When a pipe valve breaks and the flow of liquid needs to be stopped, Petersen can provide the tools needed to plug the leak.

The Fredonia company prides itself on handling higher pressure, temperature and chemical resistance than some of its plug-making competitors, said Phil Lundman, president of the firm.

“It’s like a stopper in a bath tub, but a lot bigger,” Lundman said.

Petersen’s plugs are usually made of stainless steel, aluminum or carbon steel and rubber or fabric, and can be inflated to expand within a pipe and seal off the flow of liquids. It has made custom products with diameters as large as 21 feet.

The pressure per square inch limit on a plug depends on the size of the pipe, Lundman said. The manufacturer needs pipeline pressure, diameter, temperature, chemical resistance and seepage allowance specifications to design a custom solution.

“As the pipe size goes up, the pressure needs to go down,” Lundman said.

Petersen plugs are often used in the wastewater and oil industries, so products are designed to withstand different substances depending on the application.

Usually, the plugs are sold to pipeline contractors who are engineering solutions for their projects. The custom turnaround time is usually between one and four weeks.

The 17-employee company also makes drain and sewer hydro flushers to clear obstructions, annular seals used to bridge the gap between differently sized pipes and the tools needed to stop the flow in a pressurized pipe. In addition, Petersen buys and stocks standard plugs. In all, the company sells about 1,500 products.

But it didn’t always solve pipeline problems. Petersen was founded in 1916 by George Petersen, Lundman’s grandfather, as a metal fabrication shop.

Lundman’s father took over and converted the business to manufacturing drain cleaning tools because a lot of fabrication business was being lost overseas. When people started using those drain cleaning tools as improvised plugs, the company got into its current niche of plug manufacturing.

“You either adapt or you go out of business,” Lundman said. “We have a lot of competitors for plugs, but not the kind we make.”

Some employees have been with the company for 25 years, and their experience is an asset as they have gained several valuable skill sets, Lundman said.

“The type of plugs that we’re making today we’ve probably only been making for 10 years,” Lundman said. “We can solve a lot more problems than we could 10 years ago.”

Petersen, which has always been in the Milwaukee area, moved to its current location, 421 Wheeler Ave. in Fredonia, in 1974. The production space is about 33,000 square feet, with another 7,000-square-foot building on the property for testing finished products.

The company distributes nationally and its products are also used by companies with an international presence.

Petersen has seen growing sales and profits for the last 10 years as it focused and improved upon its plug products. This year’s revenue will be about 10 times that of 2001, Lundman said.

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