From The Editor

A Century Old Industry Still Has Room to Evolve

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MCN Editor Dan Markham Next month marks my 18th anniversary with Metal Center News. No presents, I insist.

To celebrate my tenure at MCN becoming legally eligible to vote (though not drink or rent a car), I began to reflect on the ways the industry has changed just in my time covering it.  

One of the biggest changes is something we’ve seen reflected in the annual Top 50 Service Center listings, featured once again in this issue. As part of our data collection, we ask service centers to list the processing services they perform. Over the years, that list has ballooned. 

Over the course of two decades, the number of distributors performing traditional downstream processes has grown from the low double digits to well more than half. Moreover, whereas once the typical service center who was doing some fabricating largely kept that hush hush to avoid an issue with customers, today’s distributors are far more open about all the processes they’re capable of performing and just why they’re being offered. 

Another significant change is how service centers have embraced risk management techniques, particularly in the area of buying and selling steel. Years ago, every conference I attended featured someone from the financial sector urging the industry to adopt hedging to mitigate the risk that comes from such a cyclical pricing industry. But those pleas were typically greeted with skepticism from the bulk of the assembled executives, and outright scorn in the case of some mill participants. The steel industry didn’t need to be at the mercy of Wall Street types with no skin in the game, the argument went. 

Today, many service centers are using financial tools to hedge against steel’s ups and downs, even if the adaptation is not quick enough for some in the industry.

But perhaps no change has been as profound as the elevation of safety in importance, a topic also covered in this issue. When I first started speaking with service center executives, the topic simply never came up. And when I visited a facility running a slitting line or sawing equipment, I might be asked to don a hard hat, but my own pair of specs was good enough without throwing on some truly protective eyewear.
That’s all changed. Safety is not just a prime topic with any executive, it’s often the first one shared. That was decidedly true a year ago when I spoke with Olympic Steel’s Richard Marabito for our Executive of the Year feature.

A subsequent visit to a service center facility with our new Associate Editor Karen Zajac-Frazee was an even bigger revelation. We not only had to wear all of the standard PPE, but we donned gloves to protect our delicate digits. All this in a facility with just a handful of pieces of processing equipment and no cranes.  

Unlike my years of covering the industry, this is something actually worth celebrating. 

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