What defines a company as “big”? The size of the marketplace? The number of employees? Revenues?
In the particular case of Yalesville, Conn.-based Intergrated Industrial Systems, (more commonly known as I²S), it could be the size of the products it manufactures. I²S produces custom-built cold rolling mills; both vertical stack and 20 roll cluster types. Some of these mills are massive machined steel castings mounted on huge welded bases that can often reach over 20 feet in height. The product can be so large in fact, that a 125-ton overhead crane – one of the largest indoor cranes in New England – is required to move construction materials during the manufacturing process.
I²S mills are engineered to specific customer requirements and they are used for a wide variety of materials including precious metals, copper and copper alloys, carbon steel, stainless steel, and special high-strength super-alloys. The investment in these mills typically ranges from $1 million to more than $15 million, though mills larger in size and value are not uncommon. For example, I²S currently has a stainless mill under contract with a total project cost that exceeds US $20 million. The company has already manufactured four similar stainless steel cold rolling mills for POSCO’s plant in China. POSCO is one of the top five metal producers in the world.
Louis Nizet, the Senior Director of Marketing at I²S, says, “We are the only integrated mill builder in the United States that has such a wide range of capabilities from design to in-house manufacture, installation, start up, commissioning, after-sale service and 24-hour service support worldwide.” In addition, I²S also “modernizes” existing mills and makes coil handling and auxiliary equipment (as well as the controls and automation systems that support the mills). This is why the company bills itself as “The cold rolling one-stop shop.”
In addition to the cold rolling of common metals, I²S mills are rolling exotic and composite materials for making fuel cells, solar cells and batteries. The materials for all U.S. coins are cold-rolled on I²S mills, from the penny to the Silver Eagle U.S. dollar. They provided the special mills that process bonding of multiple layers for the coins of different metals such as the 10 cent, twenty-five cent, first cent, and dollar coins. Last year I²S produced two specialty mills for making the world famous “Zildjian” cymbals and a mill for superconducting materials.
I²S mills have a wide array of capabilities that their customers can utilize. The company’s mills roll metals that range in width from 2 inches to 100 inches. The mills can produce material at speeds that vary from 10 feet per minute to 5,000 feet per minute. Examples of metals that customers are currently rolling using I²S mills include: gold, silver, platinum, titanium, uranium, copper, zirconium, beryllium, zinc, aluminum, tantalum, nickel, and all alloys of steel.
In addition, I²S is the only mill builder that manufactures noncontact thickness gauges.
Precision metal measurement is the key to quality. I²S manufactures Gamma, Beta, and X-Ray gauges and is licensed by the NRC. It has over 400 thickness gauges in operation worldwide.
I²S’ diversity also extends to the company’s markets. Presently, this small Connecticut-based company is exporting equipment to Korea, Mexico, China, Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, El Salvador, Canada, Germany, Poland, Romania, Slovenia, The Philippines, Brazil, and the Middle East.
“The intent from the beginning was to serve a highly specialized, unique market,” Nizet explains. “We only produce cold rolling mills; we don’t make hot rolling mills. We manufacture cold rolling mills for flat metal products, not for long products. As a result, customer relationships are very important to us. Most of our business comes from repeat orders, as well as from referrals. We don’t strive to simply satisfy customer expectations; instead, we exceed them with the latest and most innovative technologies and with the best possible service.” This generates customer loyalty more than just satisfaction.
Nizet adds, “Time is money, and when a customer’s machine is down, that time costs a lot of money. When a customer calls us for help, they don’t get an automated voice prompt system. They get a real live person who knows what they are talking about. Our knowledgeable service team is available 24 hours a day and seven days a week. If we are unable to satisfy the customer’s request immediately, we will locate someone who can provide the right answer within a matter of hours. Last Christmas, for example, we had an emergency in Asia. The customer there doesn’t care that it is a holiday halfway around the world in the U.S. The customer is solely focused on an issue that needs resolution.” Customer satisfaction is not good enough. I²S thrives to develop and continually strengthen customer loyalty.
If it’s an issue that requires an on-site service call, I²S can dispatch any of its 15 technicians strategically located throughout the world. I²S maintains offices in South Korea, China and the Philippines. In addition, it has representatives in Mexico, Brazil, The United Kingdom, Poland, India, and Taiwan.
In addition to outstanding, personalized service, I²S is equally well-regarded for its stellar engineering. Nizet notes, “We are known for various cutting edge technologies including automation, mechanical, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems, which are all the brainchild of our talented engineering staff. Our engineers, assemblers and machinists have a combined industry experience of over 1,000 years. Like the United Nations, we have a very diverse staff that hails from 17 different countries. In addition to I²S, our employees have worked for companies such as Sendzimir, Waterbury Farrel, Ruesch, Davy Loewy, MECO, Fenn, Fagersta Steel (Sweden), Ansonia Copper, Salem Stainless Steel (India), HMSS Sczopience (Poland), Republic Steel, SMS, and Wean/United, among others. Our engineering staff also has extensive experience in control systems, having worked for ABB, General Electric, AEG, Pratt & Whitney, and Siemens.”
The company was founded in 1974 by current President and CEO John Herbst with his father, Robert Herbst, Sr., his mother, Marie Herbst, and his brother, Robert F. Herbst.
The company’s track record over the last 34 years demonstrates a sustained history of growth and success. It’s remarkable that it is also debt free. In its first year, annual sales were $10,000. This year sales are expected to exceed $100 million. I²S has also grown from four employees to 150. Approximately one quarter of the employees are dedicated to engineering, which makes I²S the largest engineering employer among U.S. mill builders.
When the company was founded, it was operated from Herbst’s basement. Currently, I²S operates a modern 135,000-square-foot plant in Yalesville. The facility contains tools to machine large mill housings weighing in the 100-ton range. CNC machines are linked with a CAD system by Smart CAM. All engineering is performed on CAD with over 80 terminals on line. The design process employs the newest computerized geometric element analysis (GEA) technology, which provides for more precise solid modeling.
I²S has manufacturing and assembly bays capable of assembling several large mills at a time. Production times tend to be fairly long. “Obviously, a $5 million mill can be made faster than a $15 million mill because there is less complexity and less engineering, so our turnover depends upon the customer’s requirements. Again, because these are custom products, a lot of upfront time is spent on the engineering design. As a result, it could easily be 10 to 16 months before we complete an order,” Nizet says.
Nizet adds, “From our beginning in 1974, I²S has independently modernized over 120 Sendzimir type cluster mills and manufactured 35 new ones. Additionally, we have modernized over 200 2 Hi, 4 Hi and 6 Hi mills and manufactured another 58 new ones. All of the mills that we produce are custom-designed to suit the customer’s needs.
I²S began exporting 25 years ago and the percentage of foreign contracts has risen from 10 percent to 70 percent during that time. While about 15 years ago most of the sales were primarily Domestic, Nizet says that business has gradually shifted overseas. “In many cases we followed the cold mills that were shutdown in America and resold around the world” Nizet points out. “Consequently, our largest growth area has been in the Far East, which has been experiencing an extremely high rate of industrialization. That being said, we have recently noticed a trend towards more domestic orders but they are primarily mill modernizations. Obviously, we’ll continue to go to where the market is.”
PARTNERING TO ACHIEVE OBJECTIVES
In today’s global economy, it is critical for I²S to establish and maintain strong partnerships with its suppliers. Building a rolling mill can be compared to building the ultimate stereo system. Each mill has its core components and the customer can select from a wide variety of auxiliary systems that I²S purchases from suppliers all over the world. Examples of I²S’ main suppliers include electrical and automated shape control systems from ABB Finland and ABB Sweden, hydraulic components from Rexroth in Germany, and programmable controllers from brand-name icons such as General Electric, Allen Bradley, and Siemens.
Nizet says, “There is a huge misconception that all U.S. mills are built in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, but those great days have come and gone.” Today, there is a mill builder in the suburbs of Yalesville that is making its mark worldwide and, because of the company’s specialized niche, growth will likely continue to move forward at a consistent pace.
Nizet further explains, “The best sign of success is repeat customers. At I²S, we pride ourselves on the fact that the majority of our business comes from long-term customers. The combination of manufacturing capability, a strong engineering foundation, the latest in controls technology and a genuine desire to fully support our customers has allowed I²S to enjoy continued growth.”