Volume 11 | Issue 3 | Year 2008

Being part of a larger corporation has its advantages, not the least of which is the synergies among complementary products that in combination can add value to customers, both in terms of performance and expense.
Just ask Brian Leary, general manager of commercial door systems for Steelcraft.

“We sell hollow metal frames and doors for various institutional applications. In addition, we have complementary business units within our parent company, Ingersoll Rand Security Technologies, which make and sell components such a hinges and locks. This allows us not only to share a common sales force, but to offer customers integrated opening solutions. This addresses an emerging need in the commercial construction industry: one way to keep costs down is to eliminate labor. By providing customers with a complete door system, as opposed to parts that they have to assemble on-site, that reduces their labor. It’s a value add that’s very attractive in today’s marketplace.”

Steelcraft was founded in 1933 by Al Levinson as a family-owned building products distribution company in downtown Cincinnati, Ohio. In 1942, it began manufacturing various building products such as doors and steel casement windows, as well as other prefabricated steel buildings and aircraft parts in support of the war effort. By 1959, it began to focus exclusively on commercial metal doors and frames, and, after various changes in ownership, was purchased by Ingersoll Rand in 1996.

Today, Steelcraft products include frames in all jamb depths for virtually all entryway requirements, with steel doors in a wide range of styles, sizes and finishes to fit virtually any commercial need. It also has a line of severe weather products called Paladin™ designed for tornado shelter construction as specified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and H-Series to withstand hurricanes and tropical storms that comply with the Florida Building Code and similar mandated requirements in coastal areas. Another relatively new product line, GrainTech™, combines the beauty of wood with the durability of steel to please both aesthetic considerations as well as the most stringent fire and life safety requirements.

Leary notes, “Steelcraft has invested in research and development programs that pioneered many of the product innovations now recognized as standards of our industry. Today, Steelcraft continues the commitment to provide architects, specifiers, owners and end-users the finest products and services in the commercial steel door industry.”

He adds, “Steelcraft is a strong believer of performance testing and specifications. Our products are subjected to one or more of the recognized performance test standards, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL) or the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), under the control of the testing agency at their locale or under the control of their employees and necessary reports issued. If products are tested in-house (manufacturer plant) an independent testing agency must witness the test and issue complete documentation.”

Primary commercial and industrial markets encompass institutional government, schools, healthcare, retail, transportation and multi-family buildings. Steelcraft sells to distributors throughout the U.S. who in turn market to building contractors. The company has also begun to supply to Mexico and the Caribbean, which Leary characterizes as growing markets.

Steelcraft has 1,100 non-sales employees and maintains three manufacturing and regional distribution facilities: 650,000 square feet in its Cincinnati headquarters; 100,00 square feet in Athens, Ga., and 75,000 square feet in a Los Angeles, Calif. suburb.

“We’re very much focused on continuous improvement throughout our operations,” Leary notes. “Last year, we conducted about 150 kaizen-type events. An added advantage of these initiatives is that when we opened up our Atlanta facility about a year ago, we were able to apply what we had learned to start off with a manufacturing process that was optimized for efficiency. Just-in-time delivery is the norm for our industry, and the more we can automate and utilize information technology to streamline our processes and respond to end-user needs, the more valuable we are to our customers.”

Indeed, according to an Ingersoll Rand press release, “Ten or fifteen years ago, lead times for custom doors and frames averaged eight to 12 weeks from receipt of order to shipment. Today, the time to ship the same products has shrunk to 10 days or less. Previously, manufacturers used a batch system in which they tried to maximize the efficiency of their equipment by grouping all similar items that required a given operation. For example, they would try to produce all the 18 gauge doors that were due within a week at the same time. If the doors were scattered among 300 different customer orders, the manufacturing operations for those doors were completed, but the rest of the items on the orders may not have been. Today, the focus is on producing all the items on a customer’s order and getting it on its way to the field. This is possible in large part because of the flexible production equipment used today, which requires less special tooling and is more easily programmed to handle a variety of parts or operations.”

Leary points to Steelcraft’s flexibility to “efficiently make a hundred different enclosures in a hundred different sizes. While we have standard stock sizes, we can easily configure customized dimensions.”

But even while improved efficiency reduces expenses, raw material prices continue to spiral upward. Says Leary: “Steel prices have risen in double digits over the last three years. However, we were able to offset most of the increases and, in fact, we just instituted our first price increase in 18 months.” He adds, “We only deal with steel coil to make our products and we only use domestic suppliers. We don’t go the spot market. Over the years, we’ve developed a good working relationship with all of our suppliers so we’re able to respond to changing market needs as needed and there has never been an instance where we weren’t able to get steel, even when supplies were tight.”

He notes that while pricing is not always the end-user’s primary concern, it depends on the project and the marketplace. “Contractors can either negotiate a contract, or they have to bid it. In many markets, particularly government, low bid wins. So in that case, of course, the focus is finding the least expensive suppliers that can help you bring in the winning low bid. On the other hand, there are also bid contracts that have certain specifications that have to be met. One good example is an application where security is paramount; there, you aren’t going to go with whatever happens to be the least expensive. Even for more general projects, brand name, reliability, serviceability frequently count for as much, sometimes more so, than cost.”

Steelcraft shines in all respects. In terms of security, the company’s door systems have been used in nearly every type of government building, including the White House, the Capitol Building and the Pentagon, as well as federal and state courthouses and prisons, U.S. military bases and U.S. embassies and consulates around the world. In addition, Steelcraft has supplied major airports and seaports, scientific laboratories, hospitals, and schools. “Both Steelcraft and Ingersoll Rand are well-recognized quality brands,” Leary adds. “On top of, the fact that together we can offer a complete integrated system makes it both easier for the end-user and ultimately less expensive.”

The company has enjoyed strong and steady sales over the years through organic growth. “So far, our markets haven’t been affected by the slowdown in the economy in the same way that residential construction has been affected,” Leary says. “That said, the question for us is going to be the fourth quarter of 2008. It looks as though office vacancies are increasing, and that could result in the softening of some commercial markets.”

Steelcraft, however, is nicely positioned to open up any future opportunities for commercial door systems more smoothly than anyone else. That’s a closed deal.

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