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MCN Case Study: Steel and Pipe Supply

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Fielding a Dream Laser This service center’s investment in a sophisticated tube laser gives it special capabilities. By Tim Triplett, Editor-in-Chief Steel and Pipe Supply Co. Inc. is committed to value-added processing, so much so that earlier this year it invested in what company executives believe is the largest tube laser in North America. Part of the SPS family of companies with headquarters in Manhattan, Kan., Steel and Pipe Supply serves a Midwest market area that extends from the Gulf Coast to the Dakotas, with five service centers located in Kansas City, St. Louis, Tulsa, Houston, and Longview, Texas. The company also has a Flat-Rolled Division that distributes and processes coil steel products. EXLTUBE, a manufacturer of ERW structural tubing located in North Kansas City, Mo., is another major steel product producer within the SPS group. Steel and Pipe Supply commissioned the new laser in April at its facility in New Century, Kan., just outside Kansas City. The FL600 3D laser tube, pipe and profile cutting machine, made by Italian equipment manufacturer TTM Laser S.p.A., can handle 24-inch round and 16-inch square pipe and tube in lengths up to 60 feet, with wall thickness up to 3/4th of an inch, weighing up to 190 pounds per lineal foot. The company has had considerable success with the 8-inch capacity structural laser it purchased four years ago, which gave it the confidence to invest in the much larger 24-inch machine, says John Hess, vice president of marketing. The TTM laser gives the company unusual capabilities. “Our research indicated a need in the marketplace for the value-added processing capacities of this machine. It’s a little bit like Field of Dreams—build it and they will come. When you have a unique piece of equipment, there is a tendency for the work to find the machine.” Hess says, to his knowledge, there are just a handful of 20-inch diameter lasers elsewhere in North America, but none that can handle a full 24-inch pipe or beam. Company executives traveled to Italy to see the laser in action before they purchased it. “We were convinced it was the right machine for us. The attraction was not only its width capability. A machine that can handle almost 200 pounds per lineal foot is extremely heavy duty.” With its sophisticated 3D programming, the FL600 can do in 10 minutes what a worker with a torch might take two hours to accomplish. It can laser cut, notch and bevel at a rapid-fire pace and at tolerances of plus/minus 0.005 inch, Hess notes. TTM also supplied the highly automated material-handling system. The transfer systems can handle material 60 feet long on the inbound and outbound sides. Material is fed automatically through the machine used a four-turret system to position each piece. “Given that we installed this machine in Kansas City, with good accessibility to transportation, customers across the U.S. can affordably take advantage of the efficiencies of our tube laser,” Hess said. Currently, Steel and Pipe Supply is running two shifts on the laser, five days per week. It has more capacity to fill, either processing its own steel or toll processing material for other OEMs, fabricators or service centers. The new tube laser’s main customers include makers of agricultural equipment and parts for other industrial uses, such as posts for railroad signals. Hess sees architectural applications as another big growth area. “We are chasing bigger projects such as sports arenas or airports that have a lot of exposed structural steel.” Matt Crocker, president of Steel and Pipe Supply, notes that companies rarely have an opportunity to add a capability that is unique to the market. “The equipment is impressive, but purchasing equipment isn’t a unique competitive advantage. Our advantage, and a critical factor in approving this investment, is the experienced commercial team we have in place. They understand the significance of value-added processing for our customers.” Steel and Pipe Supply hopes for a quick return on its investment in the laser installation. “It was kind of like buying the big brother to the smaller machine, which has been very successful for us,” Hess says. “When we realized we needed a second tube laser, it made sense to go big.” At a Glance Steel and Pipe Supply Co., Inc. * Address: 555 Poyntz Ave., Manhattan, KS 66502 * Phone: 800-521-2345 Fax: 800-874-5176 * Website: * Key Personnel: Dennis Mullin, CEO; Matt Crocker, President/COO; Connie Casper, Executive Vice President/CCO * Locations: Five facilities in Kansas City, St. Louis, Tulsa, Houston, Longview, Texas * Products: Carbon steel long products, plate, flat-roll, pipe and tube * Services: Leveling, slitting, cut-to-length, laser cutting