“MiniGrated” Steel Keeps Acme Steel ahead of the curve. Michael Terreri files this report.
In the highly competitive world of steel production, innovation can make the difference between brilliant success and barely surviving. Acme Steel’s production facility in Riverdale, Illinois, has integrated slab casting and blast furnace technology to produce what it calls “MiniGrated” steel, a process more than a product, which combines traditional big mill quality with mini-mill efficiencies, blast-furnace purity and the low cost structure of a mini-mill establishing the company as one of the strongest steel competitors in North America.
Acme Steel began officially in 1899, when McMasters & Company of Shelbyville, Missouri, in business for just nine years, merged with the Acme Flexible Clasp Company of Chicago, itself four years younger. Both firms manufactured barbed steel staples for the packaging market. The quality and availability of steel at this time, however, was less than optimum. The new company was frustrated in its attempt to acquire the materials needed for its product. The innovative solution was simple: Roll your own steel. Acme Steel purchased several small rolling mills to control the supply.
While maintaining its connection to the packaging industry and continuing to supply it with its original product and with steel strapping, the company recognized the importance of the flat-rolled steel products that were going out the doors of the mills. It changed its name in 1925 to the Acme Steel Company and forged ahead in steel production. The Great Depression and the munitions requirements of World War Two slowed the company’s commercial growth, but post-war recovery was phenomenal. New acquisitions in steel, packaging, and consumer products set the stage for unprecedented advancement.
By 1957, Acme Steel had a successful steelmaking operation in its plant in the Chicago suburb of Riverdale, the current location. The company flourished, and in 1964, the company merged with Interlake Iron, a wedding that combined Interlake’s mining and coke production activity with the steel production of Acme. The new company took the Interlake name and became the nation’s 11th largest steel producer. In addition, new products were introduced in the areas of material handling, powder metallurgy, and aerospace.
Growth continued, but it was accompanied by growing pains. The separate directions of steel and non-steel production posed a management problem. The company reorganized in 1986, with Acme once again becoming a public company, concentrating its effort in steel production and domestic steel strapping operations. Plant modernization and technological advances brought further growth and diversification through the remainder of the decade.
In 1992, a holding company, Acme Metals Incorporated, was created, overseeing the operations of its three operating subsidiaries, Acme Steel Company, Acme Packaging Corporations, and Alpha Tube Corporation. The reorganization streamlined each subsidiary and effected a surgical precision in Acme Steel’s marketing activity: By competing in the high-quality, narrow hot-rolled U.S. steel- markets, the company established a presence in the profitable value-added markets of custom-produced steels in special chemistries and widths, and in small quantities – the “MiniGrated” Steel process.
Acme Steel’s clients number over 400. Since 1994, it has invested over $400 million in technologically advanced continuous thin-slab strip mill equipment. The hot strip mill is the most powerful hot strip mill in the world. The process is unique. The “MiniGrated” steel facility combines state-of-the-art mini-mill casting and rolling technology with Acme’s high quality, low-cost traditional liquid steel-making operations.
Acme Steel offers a product capability unique to the steel industry, producing low carbon through 1095 including 1300-1500 series steel grades. They also produce a wide range of alloy steels including 4100 to 9200 AISI-SAE grades, high-strength, low-alloy steels up to 80k psi. Acme Steel hot mill offer superior gauge control, is not duplicated in North America, and offers gauge capability from .040 to .500 in thickness.
Acme Steel’s commitment to advanced technology parallels the success of “Mini-Grated” steel. In addition to the full automation and computer control, the company’s commitment to remain at the forefront of information technology for improved customer service is without peer. The goal is to provide immediate information access to all customers at anytime, and from anywhere. This means getting questions answered quickly, The company’s state-of-the-art Web site can be visited at www.acmesteelco.com.
The marketing effort is fulfilled by sales offices scattered throughout North America. Riverdale, Illinois, of course, is the flagship. However, Satellites in Westerville, Milford, and Youngstown, all in Ohio and others in St. Charles, Missouri, in Anaheim, California, in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, in Birmingham, Alabama, and in Oakville, Ontario, support
the marketing in the North American sectors, and in Europe and South America. Acme Steel supplies all major steel-consuming markets including agricultural, cold-roll strip processors, automotive service centers and pipe and tube, just to name a few.
The company is managed from Riverdale by a crack team of experienced steel men headed by Jim Howell, president. Dennis Russell, commercial senior vice-president; James Little, vice-president of planning; and Ken Leonard, vice-president of operations. In a larger sense, the corporate mission is fulfilled by all of Acme Steel’s dedicated employees. They are highly dedicated toward the company and toward the company’s clients. The company plans to forge ahead into the 21st century with the intention of doubling its current capacity, possibly in just two or three short years.