Marshalltown Really Builds Upon a Legacy

State-of-the-art valve testing facility occupies site of historic factory

By Mark Rosenzweig, Editor in Chief

Editors get around. It's an occupational perk or hassle, depending upon your point of view. Another chief editor at Putman Media revels in globetrotting. Having been posted abroad for a number of years and traveled extensively over my career, I don't share his unbridled enthusiasm. Nevertheless, I do frequently get out of the office.

For instance, in May, I went to Rosemont, Ill., for the Powder and Bulk Solids Show and to Houston to attend ABB Automation and Power World. In between, I traveled to Marshalltown, Iowa, for the formal opening of the Emerson Innovation Center – Fisher Technology.

I've attended the Powder Show and ABB user group conferences in the past; both always prove valuable. I've visited the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont quite a few times and Houston on innumerable occasions. However, I never had been to Marshalltown before.

The trip involved flying to Cedar Rapids and then driving 60-plus miles west to Marshalltown. The road, which was only two lanes wide for a long stretch, traversed rolling countryside and passed by at least one winery. (I never realized Iowa had vineyards.) Once in Marshalltown, I stayed overnight in a chain hotel, which, of course, could just as well have been anywhere.

From the hotel, it was only a couple-of-miles drive to downtown Marshalltown and the Fisher headquarters complex, which is close to the historic Marshall County Courthouse.

Fisher got its start in downtown Marshalltown in 1880. The new Emerson Innovation Center occupies the site of the original wood-frame Fisher Governor Co. building. A period photo shows William Fisher and his few employees standing in front of that building, which bears signs for the Fisher Governor Co. and also for bicycles. The company sold bicycles and Kodak cameras at the time to augment revenue from its fledgling pump governor and valve business.

The Fisher family continued to run the business for almost 90 years. In 1969, Monsanto, then a major chemical company, bought a 67% interest and assumed full ownership in 1983. In 1992, Monsanto sold Fisher to Emerson Electric. This led in 1993 to the formation of Fisher-Rosemount, which was renamed Emerson Process Management in 2001.

Emerson deserves lots of credit for retaining Fisher's historic ties to Marshalltown. Too few firms truly value their heritage and roots. Instead, many a company abandons its birthplace, casting aside loyal employees and leaving buildings to become desolate, promoting further decay and a spiral that has created industrial wastelands that afflict many American towns and cities.

The new building isn't about history, though, but about the future. The $30-million, 136,000-ft.2 state-of-the-art facility features what Emerson claims is the world's largest "flow lab." It, says the firm, allows large valves to be tested for the first time under conditions that replicate real-world plant operation — to check reliability, efficiency, environmental compliance and safety.

Galen Wilke, vice president, valves and actuators, showed justifiable pride in the center when he gave me a private tour before the formal opening ceremonies began. He noted that the lab has the capacity to fill an Olympic-sized pool in little more than eight minutes, and can test valves at pressures of up to 3,500 psi. The facility also boasts a 26,000-ft.2 sound chamber for assessing device noise levels. It incorporates almost 2 million lbs. of process piping, and features more than 1,600 ft. of 30-in. and 36-in. diameter pipe as well as seven underground air storage tanks, each more than 150 ft. long. The compressor house actually is in a separate building across the street connected via a tunnel.

"No other facility in the world can do what our Marshalltown Emerson Innovation Center can do — from seismically qualifying a 35,000-lb. control valve to testing a two-story-tall valve that controls the flow of feedstocks for a petrochemical plant," stressed Steve Sonnenberg, president of Emerson Process Management.

Customers clearly will benefit from the capabilities. Westinghouse Electric, for one, certainly sees the value for testing control valves for its latest generation of nuclear power plants. "We plan to take advantage of this new facility to prove out critical operating characteristics, under actual passive heat-removal system service conditions, for one of Fisher's unique large control valves designed to meet our requirements," remarked William Rice, Westinghouse's director of engineering.

William Fisher undoubtedly would approve of this new use for his original site.

Mark Rosenzweig is Editor in Chief of Chemical Processing. You can e-mail him at