Keeping ahead of changes in the workforce and steel industry is inherent to the way West Central Steel does business. In its 60 years, the company has expanded its operations nine times—each time bringing in the latest equipment and technology. While many companies may be hesitant to expand, West Central Steel sees this as its edge in the manufacturing industry.
The latest expansion was building an 85,000-square-foot plant on the northwest side of Willmar. It is equipped with a 1,100-ton press brake, which bends up to one-inch steel plates at 30 feet and performs multiple processes of drilling, tapping and machining for precision parts fabrication. Another machine installed in the plant is a structural 3D plasma machine that cuts steel beams for buildings and bumpers for trailer and truck manufacturers. Opened in spring 2018, this plant is responsible for the company’s innovative Growth Accelerating Program (GAP).
“We realized the best way to help our customers was to give them the flexibility to focus on what they do best,” says Jeff Pattison, president of West Central Steel. “They told us that finding the people, capital, equipment and space was holding them back. Unable to grow fast enough on their own, our customers asked us to fill the gap by expanding our processing capabilities.”
For many years, West Central Steel has provided its customers with kits or a package of parts labeled and ready for assembly. Hearing more customers could benefit, the agile company took its current precision parts processing model and introduced GAP. This new program takes the steel customers are already purchasing and pairs it with efficient and timely part production by doing value-added processing.
Value-added tasks vary from cut to length, including miter cuts, bevels, slots, copes, holes, notches, counter boring and more, which constitutes a company’s parts production. West Central Steel’s GAP initiative looks to eliminate the percentage of labor that is consumed by capacity draining processes that are often done by hand, in multiple phases and on several different pieces of equipment. With its expansion, West Central Steel provides more precision parts, saving its customers up to 65 percent in labor time. “Our customers can concentrate on the manufacturing of their final product and let us replace a portion of or eliminate their in-house parts production completely,” explains Pattison.
Being a “Just-in-Time” steel provider, company leaders keep abreast of what is happening in the market. In 2018, three factors were driving the availability of steel: There was a heavy demand by U.S. manufacturers that was compounded by a trucking shortage and steel tariffs, limiting the supply and increasing product expense.
“We are always looking for new ways to refine what we do and give customers more options,” states Jeff Allinder, chief operations officer of West Central Steel. “We had to be innovative because of the healthy demand. As a steel service center, we worked hard to open different supply lines.” Through a combination of utilizing the Mississippi River and rail, new access points were established. “We ship five days a week, so it was vital we expanded our transit systems beyond trucking,” Allinder continues.
Going forward, the company expects to see the steel and manufacturing markets tighten. Therefore, the ability to respond quickly and provide customers with cost-cutting services, such as precision parts processing, is critical to helping customers meet their commitments.
“Our company’s goal is to always be one step ahead by going beyond the cutting edge of the industry with customer solutions,” says Pattison.
Featured story in the Summer 2019 issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine.