Making the world a safer place
● By Steven Hoffman
Bearge Miller and his sister, Flossie Mohler, take great personal satisfaction in knowing that “Making the World a Safer Place” is much more than a tagline for Miller Edge, the family-owned company that their father founded nearly eight decades ago. Miller Edge's engineers and technicians do make the world a safer place by designing and manufacturing products to safeguard automated doors, gates, and machinery. These products have many uses—from the sliding front doors at the grocery store to the loading dock at the local post office to the hangar at the regional airport to the automated gate in a parking garage—and they help reduce the risk of injuries and property damage everywhere they are installed.
“Our name has become synonymous with safety,” Mohler explained during an interview at the company’s headquarters in Jennersville. “We never hear about the accidents that we are able to prevent, but there’s definitely a sense of accomplishment for knowing that we do make the world a safer place.”
The industry that Miller Edge works in is highly competitive, very specialized, and constantly changing. The company has always prided itself on being at the forefront of what’s coming next. Miller explained that he is continually looking to develop new products that will perform an important function or address a specific need for clients, and the company now manufactures between 40 and 50 different products that are on the market. In addition to the aforementioned uses, Miller Edge’s products can be found on driveway gates, storefront grills, mass-transit vehicles and in automated manufacturing plants.
“There are so many diverse applications for our products,” Miller explained. “Our designs and manufacturing techniques are really unique to us.”
Miller, a resident of West Chester, Pa., heads up the Jennersville facility that includes the company's East Coast manufacturing, engineering, sales, and marketing departments. The company holds nearly 150 patents and has built a growing list of long-standing customer relationships to show for its product innovation through the years. While the general public might not be aware of the many places that they encounter the company’s products each day, Miller Edge has earned a stellar reputation within the industry, and its products are favored by door professionals, plant safety managers, gate professionals, architects, and transit system designers.
The products are primarily used in the United States and Canada, but the company also exports to Mexico, Europe, and South America.
One of Miller Edge’s core products is the Sensing Edge, which is a touch-sensitive switch that sends a signal to start, stop, or reverse a motor. Sensing Edges can be used for many different applications because they are so varied in their height, width, and length. They are used for everything from the leading edge of a motorized door or gate, along the length of a conveyor, as a pinch point protection on various machine applications, or on the bumper of an automatic guided vehicle. The sensing devices reduce the risk of personal injuries and costly damage to equipment caused by automatic systems in industrial environments. To accommodate the needs of customers, the Sensing Edges are offered for direct mount, for non-contact, as slide-in extrusions with mounting channels, or they can be customized to suit the individual needs of the client.
Another core product is specialized safety mats that can be used at manufacturing plants, airports, banks, hotels, and gymnasiums.
“Eighty percent of what we do is our core products,” Miller explained. “The other 20 percent is custom work.”
Miller Edge traces its roots to 1936, when Norman K. Miller, a recent immigrant to the United States, started manufacturing products with his two brothers in the basement of a Philadelphia home. They were in pursuit of the American Dream. He became a U.S. citizen and later enlisted in the U.S. Army, serving in the 182nd Infantry in the South Pacific during World War II. He had a knack for improving things, and during his service time he found a way to improve the Reising gun so that it would jam less frequently. Later on, he started putting safety padding inside tanks to help prevent U.S. soldiers from getting injured. This innovation was a success, too.
Following his time in the Army, Norman continued to build his business. He also married his wife, Virginia, in 1949. Then Norman received a phone call from Gen. Merrill Burnside, who remembered his ingenuity in developing solutions to product issues. Burnside asked him to develop a safety product for use on hangar doors at Wright Patterson Air Base in Ohio. Norman developed the product, which he called the electrically activated safety edge for hangar doors, in 1957. It turned out to be the first of many innovations that he would get patents for. Over the years, he attained over 100 patents on products manufactured by the company, and he continued to grow the business with the help of his two brothers. For decades, the business was called Miller Brothers.
When the second-generation joined the family business, the company became Miller Edge. Today, Miller and Mohler work alongside their three siblings, Karl, Norman, and Ginny. They all received their introductions to the family business early in life. Mohler fondly recalls being paid in ice cream cones after they would come in to sweep the floors on Saturday afternoon.
“We were convinced that it was fun coming to work,” Mohler said with a laugh. “The business was always something that was a part of us.”
At the time Miller and Mohler were growing up, the plant was located in Upper Darby. It was eventually relocated to Concordville, and then to Jennersville in 1992. The second facility in Arizona came after that.
Miller and Mohler both credit their father for encouraging them to build and create at work, and for instilling in them a drive to own and operate a business.
“We were raised with that entrepreneurial spirit,” Mohler explained. “My goal in life was to work for myself.”
Miller added that their father always taught his children to invest in themselves, which is an important lesson to learn. Miller said that he knew from the time he was 14 or 15 that his future was in running the family business. Mohler, meanwhile, studied marketing and worked at an advertising agency before she joined Miller Edge when she was in her mid-twenties. They were able to seamlessly transition into their leadership positions, always carrying with them the business lessons that they learned from their father.
One of the most important lessons that they learned pertains to protecting the engineering and manufacturing techniques that the company utilizes to develop new products.
“We are very heavily patented,” Miller explained. “Dad always told us that if you have a good idea, patent it.”
Miller explained, “We listen to our customers and find a solution. We will create whatever we need to so that we can come up with a solution.”
Other ideas are born out of necessity. The company is already prepared for the new UL-325 safety standards for doors and gates that are going into effect in January. They have five new products that were specifically developed to meet the needs of clients who must comply with these new regulations.
“We make sure that we are always informed about any changes in safety standards,” Mohler explained, noting that the majority gate opener manufacturers recommend Miller Edge products. She added that she thinks her father would be thrilled with the new standards for safety the company’s products provide.
Mohler and Miller are both extremely active in the industry, which is one way that they stay informed about new trends or changing regulations. Mohler serves as the vice president of the International Door Association, and Miller will be the president of the Door and Access System Manufacturers Association.
They also make a point to be involved in the local business community, and to participate in local efforts like a recent toy drive.
Another thing that they picked up from their father is the firm belief that providing a positive atmosphere and good work environment for the staff is important to any company’s success. Many of the employees have worked at Miller Edge for years.
Miller is also glad that the company moved to the bucolic southern Chester County community, with its large and dedicated workforce.
“We love this area,” Miller explained. “It’s a slice of heaven. It’s one of the prettiest places you’d ever want to live.”
The siblings are also proud of the fact that their father's inventive spirit live on in the company that he founded almost 80 years ago.
According to Miller, the legacy of innovation could move to a new generation as there are some avenues open for a third-generation of the family to eventually take over the business.
Miller and Mohler agree that it would be great if the next generation of the family is interested in continuing the company's legacy of innovation in the industry.
For now, they both take a great deal of pride in knowing that the company helps to make the world just a little bit safer.
“There’s a fulfillment you get out of creating products that protect people and make their lives better,” Miller said.