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6 Massive but Little-Known Public Companies Behind Everyday Things


The products they make have changed the way we live, but most consumers have never heard of these major American innovators.

When a product that makes life easier comes out, it's embraced and integrated universally. The name of the company behind the product, however, often falls by the wayside.

Consider the 3M Company (NYSE:MMM), for instance. It may be the king of unrecognized yet incredibly handy innovations. From packaging materials to water filtration to Post-it notes, 3M has its hand in businesses and products that most companies wouldn't bother exploring. The first traffic sign bearing 3M's reflective sheets was put up in Minneapolis in 1939. The reflective tape that makes road markings easier to see is also the work of the innovative giant.

Most people do not identify 3M as the maker of these little life changers, but that doesn't prevent the company from profiting from them. Here are five more little-known companies who play a big role in everyday life.

Akamai Technologies

Contrary to many a teen's popular belief, knowing how to use Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and Twitter is a far cry from truly understanding computers. The technology behind the scenes that provides access to nearly infinite amounts of information is incredibly complex. From hardware to software, and from gaming to email, servers provide the very foundation for the Internet as we know it today.

Akamai (NASDAQ:AKAM) provides a large network of servers in various data centers that allow for content to be delivered through the Internet. The company is estimated to handle between 15% and 20% of all Web traffic, a statistic that is certainly worthy of investors' attention, as it doesn't appear that Web traffic will be slowing down anytime soon.

The Massachusetts-based company was founded in 1998 and its stock has shown the ability to recover, displaying a generally steady or upward trend since the bursting of the Internet bubble. Last week, Canaccord raised Akamai's target price to $51 from $46 following improvements to its business and cost structure.

In an industry fueled by the demands of giants like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), Akamai is not alone. Level 3 Communications (NYSE:LVLT) and Limelight Networks (NASDAQ:LLNW) are two of Akamai's smaller competitors. With Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) Web Services taking the industry by storm, hosting 11.6 million websites as of this month, Akamai's undisputed position atop the Web optimization business could be challenged, but likely not until late 2013 or early 2014.

Dover Corp.

Whether two or twenty stories, most buildings will spare their inhabitants the demanding task of climbing stairs. Elevators and escalators might not be viewed as incredibly innovative anymore, yet they are utilized by millions, if not billions, everyday. Dover Corp. (NYSE:DOV) is certainly not alone in this market, but it is a major player in the industrial field.

In its over 50 years as an Illinois-based corporation, Dover has also played a part in providing the consumer goods industry with the means to track products. The laser printed numbers on canned, bottled, and packaged goods are just some of the services Dover provides players in the food and delivery markets.

Meanwhile, when those Dover-labeled foods and drinks get thrown out, they may very well find their way into the back of a Dover-owned Heil Inc. garbage truck.

The company, which was valued below $70 per share at the beginning of the year, is now worth just under $80 per share. Dover's long-term issuer default rating and senior unsecured notes is currently ranked an "A" by Fitch.

According to Zacks Equity Research, Dover plans to part with its communication technologies segment in order to focus on its key growth areas: energy, drilling, refrigeration, and printing and identification.

Valero Energy Corp.

A barrel of crude oil has many other uses beyond just gasoline.

Valero (NYSE:VLO) signs may only be posted in front of the company's service stations; since its founding in 1980, the San Antonio-based firm has been paving its way, literally, around the country. Valero is the second largest producer of asphalt in the United States.

From roofs to highway repairs, there is a near constant demand for asphalt. Some current and past projects of note for Valero are the George Washington Bridge, the Dallas Cowboys stadium, and the New Jersey and Pennsylvania Turnpikes. These works are a little harder to ignore than the asphalt itself.

In the ever volatile oil industry, Valero shares have more than doubled in value over the past year, while competitor Shell (NYSE:RDS.B) has struggled to gain traction, despite the recent oil boom.

Standex International Corp.

More and more people are dining at restaurants these days, but customer concerns over how ingredients are being kept fresh in the kitchen likely won't be trumping the importance of a good meal and polite service anytime soon. Food safety is something most North Americans take for granted.

Still, someone has to supply the equipment to properly store, refrigerate, and cook all the goods we like to consume. With its eight flagship companies making up its Food Service Equipment Group (FSEG), Standex International Corp. (NYSE:SXI) is a market leader in the food service industry.

From hot dog rollers to walk-in refrigerators and refrigerated warehouses, Standex provides restaurants and retailers with the means to preserve and cook their food. The winner of the National Restaurant Association's 2013 Kitchen Innovation Award in new refrigeration technology, Standex has proven to be on the cutting edge of food industry advancements. This is critical, as durable and efficient refrigeration and cooking products enable a retailer or restaurant to spend less and lose less money throwing out unused and spoiled products. In the food industry, the need to optimize calls for constant innovation.

The FSEG is just one of five manufacturing segments in the Standex family of companies. The conglomerate, which incorporated in 1975 and is based in New Hampshire, also works in engraving, engineering, electronics, and hydraulics.

While Standex's most recent earnings were not very promising, its inventory is composed primarily of raw materials and work-in-progress products, suggesting new innovations to come, according to The Motley Fool.

NCR Corp.

The days of getting caught with too little cash on hand are almost completely behind us. With the advent of ATMs, bank accounts are easily and readily accessible. As far as the actual ATMs go, however, most of us care about getting our money securely, but few are concerned with the company behind the machine.

NCR Corp. (NYSE:NCR), a major producer of ATM machines and software, was founded in 1884 and is based out of Georgia. NCR ensures that financial transactions run smoothly. The company is also behind the increasing presence of self-checkout machines, settling on a $100 million deal with Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) in late 2012 to install 10,000 self-checkout units.

NCR, however, faces stiff completion from Diebold (NYSE:DBD) in the self-service industry. Both are valued rather similarly, with shares in the $32 range; Diebold, however, which was founded in 1859 in Cincinnati, has analysts feeling more bullish lately, thanks in part to a recent deal with North Carolina-based State Employees' Credit Union to upgrade 1,100 ATMs.

NCR might have another ace to play, however. In April, it announced the release of the APTRA Interactive Teller, its next big product, in the Middle East. The new machine allows users to video conference with an actual bank representative and conduct transactions beyond withdrawals and deposits, making it a potential game-changer.
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