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Red Metals Profiles

Red Metals Companies Power Through COVID

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MCN Editor Beth Gainer Aviva Metals and Atlas Bronze are red metals experts who offer a plethora of products as diverse as their customer base. These companies have truly made their mark in an important industry.

Aviva Metals
Established in 1983, Aviva Metals is an important player in the red metals industry. Headquartered in Houston, the manufacturer and master distributor specializes in brass, bronze and copper alloys. “We have a portfolio of over a hundred different alloys that we manage in every form and shape that you can imagine – from bar to rod to tubes to forgings, plates, sheets and wire,” says Norman Lazarus, senior vice president and third generation of the family-owned business.

The sectors Aviva serves are as diverse as the company’s offerings. “We have such a broad cross section of customers. Houston is the oil capital of the world. The oil and gas sector is very important and prominent for us,” says Lazarus. “It’s our biggest sector for sure.” Aerospace is another big sector for the company, as is a plethora of markets that include high-speed machining, general engineering, ship building, plumbing, home building, automotive, as well as the crane industry, electrical industry, power and energy, engine builders and the digital connector market. 

“You name the industry and we are in it,” he says.
Like so many metals businesses, Aviva Metals has had to deal with the pandemic. “The metals industry has been in quite a bit of turbulence since the second quarter of 2020,” says Lazarus. “The first quarter was actually very strong, but once the coronavirus kicked in, it affected us starting in the second quarter.”  Although Aviva Metals was forced to furlough people, the business stayed strong and in the black throughout the pandemic due to strict cost management and controls. The lack of travel and trade shows helped the company save money, as well. 

In spite of  the COVID-19 crisis, Aviva Metals has had a recent uptick in business. “We have actually seen a pretty strong resurgence of business starting again in September and October,” says Lazarus. “The whole metal complex based on the LME has been really strong; the last 90 to 120 days, we’ve seen a nice pickup in the values of copper, zinc, nickel, tin and aluminum, and, with that, we’ve seen a good strengthening of activity in the marketplace as well.” 

Product Capabilities
Among its many offerings, Aviva Metals has developed a lead-free machining brass alloy named Aviva Model 3, which can be used in a variety of industries, including plumbing, architectural applications, aerospace, defense and digital connector applications. 

“The digital connector industry is growing exponentially – with more electric vehicles, computers, cell phones; everything is becoming more digital,” says Lazarus. “We anticipate Aviva Model 3 brass being used in all these different products. We will be promoting Aviva Model 3 high-precision wire in coils, and in straight lengths in 2021.” The high-precision wire is available from diameters starting at 1/16 inches (1.6 millimeters). 

And Aviva Model 3 will be sold throughout North America and Europe and any other markets that become interested in this new product.  “We anticipate Aviva Model 3 taking over many leaded brass wire applications for the connector wire industry due to the fact that it is lead-free, and has many of the characteristics of leaded brass,” says Lazarus. “There is a very large initiative to go lead-free on digital wire connectors, and Aviva Model 3 wire can achieve these objectives, which is being driven by RoHS.”

Aviva Metals attributes its success to its experienced, highly competent, loyal team. Most employees have been at the company for at least eight years, with several members of the team being with the company for 20 to 30 years. 

Another reason for the business’ success is its philosophy of modernizing its plant and equipment.  In 2010 Aviva Metals began production in its new foundry in Lorain, Ohio, and in 2014 the business opened its new CNC machine shop, which performs high-precision milling and turning operations.  “We continue to invest heavily in our CNC machine shop,” says Lazarus, “and have purchased a new upgraded and automated CNC milling machine this quarter.”

“We are extremely innovative, creative and very competitive,” continues Lazarus, “as we believe in change and embrace the opportunity to invest in new software, machining and equipment when it makes good sense so as to ensure we maintain our competitive edge.”
“New equipment lends itself to greater efficiency, so you don’t have to expand into bigger areas,” he says. “We are utilizing the space better and having more equipment that is more efficient, faster and can introduce better production rates.”

Aviva’s success is also due to its abundant offerings, according to Lazarus. “We have a large and complete inventory of products in Houston and Lorain and in our warehouse in Toulon, France, to be able to service our customers.” 

For almost 40 years, Aviva Metals has also succeeded because of its leadership team and its shareholders’ participation. “We all come to work to be innovative, creative and successful,” Lazarus says.

Atlas Bronze
Located in Trenton, N.J., Atlas Bronze offers many products, such as cast flat, round and cored bar, forgings, made-to-order plates and made-to-order castings. During its 25-year history, the family-owned company has developed its process and business from a distributor of standard cast bronze alloys to distributor/manufacturer/mill representative of cast and wrought copper alloys specializing in wear plates, forgings and large castings. 

“We are a small fish in the big pond, but continue to be nimble, which allows us to pivot with the changes of the market,” says Anthony Mandrik, marketing manager. 

Customers usually include purchasing agents, engineers, owners or machinists who work in aerospace, manufacturing, naval, oil and gas exploration, power generation and machine shops. 

But the company does not limit its customer base; instead, it serves a diverse spectrum of customers. “We don’t keep all our eggs in one basket, so our customers are just as varied. We never know if the [next] phone call or email will be for a simple off-the-shelf piece of C93200 Bar or if it will be for an intricately finished brass- or bronze-machined forging that contains many steps and processes,” says Mandrik. “You just never know what customer is going to contact you next.” To prepare sales staff to handle all kinds of inquiries – simple and complex – Atlas Bronze offers a comprehensive training program. Staff preparedness is at the heart of this business.

Of course, no company was completely prepared for COVID-19. “We are glad to say, we have had no major interruptions in our service, but we would be lying if we said we hadn’t been impacted,” says Mandrik. 

However, thanks to prior experience when faced with adversity, the staff adapted as well as it could when the pandemic hit. “Early on we quickly set up an internal team to manage our response and communication,” he says. “They initiated our emergency plan, which we refined 10 years ago after Hurricane Sandy hit our area.” 

Having a solid emergency plan in place helped the business more effectively cope with the pandemic. Non-production employees began working remotely, and sales staff continue to work remotely. “Our warehouse team took steps to protect themselves from getting sick, such as temperature checks, social distancing, use of PPE and limiting access from outside vendors,” says Mandrik. “For operations and communication, everyone who is remote is set up using cloud-based services and softphones.” Daily video conferencing is now one of the company’s staples. 

Not only did the company rely on its internal resources, but it also sought external resources for financial aid. “We also worked to utilize the government resources available to us – from the original EIDL loan to the PPP loans/grants,” says Mandrik. “These have helped us to mitigate some of the lost sales and increased expenditures for our emergency plan and increased safety precautions. Ultimately, we expect a five to 15 percent reduction in sales over last year’s numbers, mostly in the heavy industry sectors.”

Copper’s Value
Worldwide, the value of copper was temporarily affected when the pandemic occurred. “When COVID first hit, there was a loss in copper value. Today the copper value seems to have stabilized for 2020,” says Mandrik.

Mandrik believes copper’s use will continue to increase because of its versatility and abilities. “With the continued development of handheld/shrinking technology from cell phones to smart watches and the expanding electric vehicle market, the demand for copper wire, circuit boards and battery materials will continue to climb,” he says. 

He also expects bronze to grow for related, but different, reasons. “As mining for copper and other precious metals continues, so will the usage of replacement bronze parts to run those machines, manufacture those devices and generate electricity to power them all,” says Mandrik. “We think copper’s biggest strength is what it does for the many bronze alloys it creates. For us, it is what copper does for development of bronzes and red metals that are used in today’s manufacturing, not what copper is on its own. For instance, you can get an aluminum bronze alloy that can compete with the strength of some low alloy steels and some that are stronger than stainless steel.”

And varieties of copper abound. “You would think that a metal that has been mined since 2,000 B.C., development would be slowing, but that is just not the case,” says Mandrik, who adds that there are some exciting developments in the bronze and copper industry, one of which is the development of a group of bronze alloys from Materion that are both reliable and strong, as well as safe for people and the environment.

“For instance, Toughmet is a good replacement for the beryllium alloys for high-strength applications. Beryllium has its drawbacks because of its health and environmental impacts,” says Mandrik. “But the development of heat-treated copper-nickel-tin alloys are surpassing the current high strength alloys by as much as 50 percent. They are also showing three times the life in several applications, especially in the mining and heavy equipment industries.”

Mandrik explains that more alloys coming out in the market will be more well-received and environmentally friendly. In addition, he says, the continued development of lead-free options – such as C89835, C90300, C95400 C95500, C95800 and C95900 – have opportunities to reduce lead from getting back into the environment, especially in food processing and clean water applications.

Mandrik continues: “There has been some activity in the mergers and acquisitions domestic and abroad – Wieland buying E. Jordan Brookes, Scott Brass, Chase/Olin, A.J. Oster and Diversified Metals Inc. and the platers Marjan and Nasco, in addition to some changes in ownership at Hussey Copper from one equity group to another. It will be interesting to see how these all impact global access and supply.”

When reflecting on their success, Mandrik is proud of being part of a small, family-owned business for the last 25 years, especially given all the mergers and acquisitions taking place.

Tom Smith started Atlas Bronze 25 years ago and has used innovative marketing to help grow the business. “When we started out in the 1990s the internet was starting its first major boom. So we were one of the first bronze distributors advertising using Google and other online advertising mediums. The internet has also made the world small. So we continued to use developed vendors domestically and abroad, to maximize their strengths along with ours. The company puts great effort into finding and developing its relationships with local vendors, as well. This allows Atlas Bronze to service its clients with on-time deliveries and fast turnaround on parts and materials. The company is up on the current buying trends by developing a full eCommerce store that helps customers maximize their buying power and is mobile-device and user friendly.

Atlas Bronze is on the cusp of celebrating its 26th year in business, with its vision toward 2021. With a new year comes a new president. “Every time there is a changing of the guard, there are impacts to our small business. Fortunately, our employees are already paid above the projected minimum wage increases, so this should have minimal to no impact on our operations,” he says, adding that healthcare is always costly, no matter who is in office. 

“If we continue to support U.S. manufacturing with ‘Buy American’ and other programs, we are in a good position to supply the needed bronze materials to keep up with the project demand of increased manufacturing,” he says. “But, based on what the elected officials promised during the pre-election months, we believe business will have some additional costs to pass on to the consumers. After all, the government does not generate money, it only likes to spend it.”

Overall, Atlas has enjoyed 25 years of longevity for a reason: the company focuses on the customer. “In general, what we have really learned is that there is no perfect formula and that you have to continue to make smart choices, help customers in good times and bad, and always look ahead.” 

The warehouse in Houston carries Aviva Metals’ offerings.
(Photo courtesy Aviva Metals.)