Steel Industries describes its modern forging process as “blacksmiths utilizing computers and hydraulic presses.” Dating from the infancy of the auto industry, the company has moved itself into the 21st century by continually investing in state-of-the-art equipment and systems that have fueled growth and facilitated entrée into new markets.
Founded as United Forge in 1913 as a small hammer forging shop in Detroit, the company, being in the center of the burgeoning automotive industry, followed the natural transgression to supplying the tooling and die sector. The founder of United Forge died in 1971 and employee Paul Sakmar purchased the company and moved it to Redford Township. Sakmar led the company through a period of expansion and growth, adding state-of-the-art equipment and technology. Upon Paul Sakmar’s retirement in 1998, the firm consolidated under the name Steel Industries Inc., was sold to an investment group in Texas, and again in 2002, to the Ameri-Forge Group, owned by Tanglewood Investment Company. The other Ameri-Forge Group companies are Texas Metal Works, Taper-Lok, Coffer Corp., Forged Vessel Connections and Ameri-Forge Corporation, all similar metalworking companies in Texas.
Through the years the company counted as its milestones the continual upgrade of machinery and technology, beginning in 1974, with the installation of the first Bliss press of a new design and state-of-the-art for its time. In 1993 Steel Industries installed its first Wagner ring mill and in 1997 a much larger Wagner ring mill expanded the production capability to 160-inch outside diameter rings.
President Keith Woodland relates: “We supply very little now to the automotive industry, except some tool and die forgings through second and third tier suppliers. We’re mostly involved in power generation, mining, construction, machine tool and oil and gas.
We supply the forgings that will be manufactured into components and products servicing those industries. As we enter more demanding areas of the market, such as aerospace, we are increasingly responding to specifications that are more demanding.”
Specifically, through its ISO 9001:2000 certification, Steel Industries is certified for the manufacture, machining, heat treating and process design of ferrous and non-ferrous custom forgings that include rings, sleeves, bars, discs, spindles, hubs, blocks, plates, or other custom shapes. It has been able to endure in a volatile industry by offering its customers grade and product variety and unequaled customer service – two chief characteristics that help set it apart from its competition. For the future, the company plans to maintain its lead through continual investment in people, technology and processes.
Investing in the future
Still located in Redford Township, Mich., Steel Industries maintains three facilities within close proximity measuring a total of 148,000 square feet. Currently, Steel Industries is involved in another expansion that is set to propel the company to further growth.
“In 1992 through 1998 we invested over $10 million in capital, the bulk was expanding our ring rolling capability,” Woodland says. That investment figure was reduced to just $3 million, however, through 2004 because of the market downturn. Now the company has launched an 18-month expansion including the purchase of $8 million in land, buildings and new equipment. “It’s a fairly major expansion taking place to help us facilitate growth,” Woodland says. “We are now making a significant investment in our heat treating and machining capabilities with the latest technologies.”
Steel Industries’ total focus is on custom forgings, non-commodity products, as opposed to high-volume repetitive work. “This way we are less impacted by overseas competition fighting for the commodities market,” Woodland says.
The company maintains that its individual upset forgings offer a distinct advantage over castings, plate, and weldments providing improved strength and toughness, increased mechanical properties, less material waste, and increased component life. Its open die forgings are produced on three hydraulic presses (750-, 1200- and 1500-ton) utilizing computer-sizing controls for near finish sizes. Steel Industries is able to supply small or large quantity orders as well as individual forgings up to 18,000 pounds.
For the seamless rolled ring market, Steel Industries’ products offer a controlled grain flow, which gives added strength and fatigue resistance not found in welded rings or torch cut rings. These rings are produced on the company’s state-of-the-art Wagner radial/axial ring mills to yield a smooth product with concentric, tight tolerances. This benefits the customer through reductions in weight and machining costs. CNC programming ensures repeatability on single or multiple piece requirements from order to order. Forged bar products are also available. The company also offers a select list of rough turned round bar cut to required lengths for immediate shipment. In-house turning, milling and boring, heat-treating, and mechanical and non-destructive testing enhances the list of Steel Industries capabilities.
As the company refined investment strategies and exited non-core businesses, it has experienced “substantial growth” in 2003, Woodland reports. “From 1993 to 2002, tool steel bar distribution was a significant part of our total business,” Woodland says. “Once the decision was made to exit this business, we were able to fully focus on our core business, manufacturing custom open die forgings, and this enabled our business to grow.” How much has it grown? “Between 2003 and 2004 our year over year business increased over 60 percent.” Updating the manufacturing side and its capabilities enabled such growth, he adds.
Woodland continues: “Our dedicated skilled staff has also been an integral part of our growth. We have a ‘do what it takes’ attitude when working with our customers -it’s a culture our employees participate in and this has enabled us to develop strong, long-lasting relationships. We are known in the industry for our outstanding customer service and unequaled delivery performance.”
A philosophy of continuous improvement combined with a knowledgeable staff has garnered enduring loyalty from the company’s customer base. Proof of this lies in a survey in which customers told Steel Industries that they were 100-percent satisfied with the company’s prompt response to their needs. It also received excellent ratings in the areas of quality and technical support. “We’re in a unique position in the market,” Woodland says. “We have a very broad product and grade offering with extensive post-forging value added services, so customers can come to us for most, if not all, of their needs.”
Still, the company has faced its challenges with the volatility in the steel market coupled with rising fuel costs. “There are still challenges involving steel supply, including both availability and pricing. We’re able to overcome this by having strong relationships with steel mills – these are longstanding arrangements that benefit us to this day. The price of natural gas has more than doubled, and that’s had a huge impact on the bottom line. We’ve been able to minimize the impact by building our own fuel efficient furnaces, and this is paying dividends.”
It is just another way in which Steel Industries employs the resourcefulness and know-how to turn a negative situation into a win-win business strategy for both its own operation as well as those of its customers. Pointed in a positive direction, the company is headed for more milestones in the years ahead.