Klein Steel, a Rochester, N.Y., service center, has ventured into first-step manufacturing and kitting with its new automated sawing line.
Last summer, Klein Steel opened a new hub to house a one-of-a-kind, highly automated sawing and production line, pushing the service center’s processing capabilities to new heights.
Joe Klein, president and CEO, has but one regret. The company greatly underestimated the customer response, he says. Initially, it planned on 40,000 square feet to house the new line and material, and two shifts to operate it. To handle the demand, it upgraded the facility to 90,000 square feet and three shifts.
“We probably could have done a better job on the market analysis side of understanding how popular it would be,” says Klein. “Of all the problems to have, that’s a good one.”
The expansion has allowed Klein to grow its business in a declining steel market. While industry shipments overall dipped by 6.3 percent in 2016, according to the Metals Service Center Institute, Klein Steel experienced 18.7 percent growth in material shipped.
The new hub is located a short walk from the company’s Rochester headquarters. Klein Steel is leasing the building in an area with available commercial property, which proved useful given its changing space demands. The line itself was produced in consultation with several leading equipment suppliers, each delivering a piece of the operation. Italy’s FICEP “quarterbacked the project,” integrating other pieces of equipment from Wheelabrator and Keyence, Klein says. “We’ve always done processing, and we were really good at it using the equipment we had. This takes it to the next level.”
In addition to two saws, the new line handles in-line shot blasting, applies a rust inhibitor, and has two separate out-feed stations to facilitate the kitting of multiple parts. The line is producing nearly 500 cuts per day with every piece shot-blasted and rust-inhibited. “Everything is automatic and in-line, and allows us to have high-production, high-precision and efficient flow for kitting,” says Klein.
Through the process, Klein Steel learned that “a streamlined manufacturing process that optimizes advanced manufacturing works extremely well in a service center environment,” says Harold Miltsch of Miltsch Consulting, who has worked with Klein on the expansion.
Customers appreciate what Klein says is simply a better finished product. “Most times, you don’t have a shot blaster integrated with saws, which are integrated with marking and finishing. That usually requires multiple, manual operations, which take time and open up a lot of room for error,” he says. “By the time a piece comes off the line here, it’s more cost-effective, it’s finished better and it’s packaged better.”
Since its launch, the company has continued to fine-tune the sawing and finishing operation. “We’ve taken time identifying the operational bottlenecks, and what we originally thought were going to be bottlenecks. We didn’t anticipate them all,” Klein concedes.
Klein Steel is interested in expanding to other sites, either those already served by Klein or new geographies. But it will take a measured approach. “We don’t want to go too fast and make mistakes. Supplier-customer relationships are very important, so we want to do it at the right pace. You really need a year under your belt to work through all the issues, and then it’s time to match it up to market demand in other areas,” Klein says.
The eventual rollout of similar processing lines is part of the company’s strategic plan, which calls for a significant increase in its employment base, demand growth from new and existing customers, expansion of its geographic footprint, and additional investments in digital and intelligent operations.
Klein recently resumed leadership of the business after taking a multi-year sabbatical to work on an initiative aimed at fixing the urban education system for underprivileged children in Rochester. “I am grateful to our senior leadership team, managing the company through some challenging years with industry pressures. We are well positioned to seize new opportunities that will result in more firsts from Klein Steel and more satisfied customers,” he says.