Flatness Demand Keeps Steel Firm Busy

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Leveling equipment has helped a Midwestern steel service center company take its business to the next level.
The company is McNeilus Steel, a family-owned firm that dates back to the 1940s. After beginning as a scrap yard, McNeilus moved into new steel, then added coil processing and grew more from there. Today, the business includes three service centers and a fabrication facility, as well as the scrap yard.
___ McNeilus operates out of three locations in the Upper Midwest. The corporate office is part of a 700,000 sq. ft. facility in Dodge, MN. The other facilities are a 500,000 sq. ft. plant in Fargo, ND, and the company’s newest addition, a 220,000 sq. ft. plant in Fond du Lac, WI.
Like other service center operators, McNeilus has been navigating through rough economic waters. The company’s success in these tough times can be attributed in part to equipment upgrades that have helped it meet the demands of sheet metal fabricators who have become more sophisticated about the steel they purchase.
___ “Our customers want better product to help them with their processes. They want steel that’s free of surface defects and coil memory,” reports Greg Head, general manager of the firm’s Wisconsin facility. “The goal is to create a consistently flat sheet product that our customers can be confident their processes will be consistent.”

Leveling Lines On the Job
___ One piece of steel-enhancing equipment now installed at all McNeilus service centers is a stretcher leveler. The firm opted for stretcher levelers because of customer demand for “the flattest product they can get without memory of being in a coil,” Head notes.
As the name suggests, a stretcher leveler eliminates coil memory by stretching coiled steel to produce extremely flat sheets. According to Head, this is important to the many customers who are now cutting steel with lasers. “When applying heat to material sitting on a laser bed, the material must be flat and remain flat,” he says. The reason, he explains, is that material flexing can cause problems with the laser heads, which often operate on unmanned production lines.
Down the production line, parts may go through other processes such as forming. Head points out that stress-free material from the stretcher leveler is key to the production of consistently formed parts that meet specifications.
___ McNeilus has purchased a total of four stretcher levelers in the last 11 years. In 2003, the company’s first stretcher leveler was installed at its Minnesota headquarters, as was the second two years later. The firm’s North Dakota plant got the third in 2010, and the fourth was recently installed at the Wisconsin facility. “Once we installed our first stretcher leveler, we recognized the value and benefits of the machine, so we continued to add them,” Head notes.
All four units were purchased from Illinois-based Red Bud Industries. “Our thinking was that if we were to continue adding these leveling lines, we wanted to purchase what we felt was the best,” Head says. “We think we’ve done that.”
___ The four RBI stretcher levelers can handle steel ranging from 20 gauge on the light side up to 5/8″-thick, 60″-wide material on the heavy side. Normally, material thicker than 5/8″ is in plate form already and so does not need to go through a stretcher leveler, Head explains, adding that McNeilus supplies but does not process larger product of this kind.

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Products and Markets
___ Stretcher levelers have given McNeilus a boost in its efforts to serve a number of markets that require flat sheets. These include agriculture, energy, manufacturing, and commercial construction. Steel from McNeilus leveling lines can be found in a variety of products, including trailers, grain wagons, cement trucks, lawn mowers, skid loaders, military vehicles, and wind towers.
___ Stairs and other wind tower components are part of the company’s healthy energy industry business. “We might not produce pipe that transports oil, but we produce the material used to build many other things that are part of the energy infrastructure,” Head says.
___ An added benefit for McNeilus is that activity in the energy sector trickles down to many other markets. For example, Head says, “people need to move dirt and other material in conjunction with the energy business.” With the energy industry booming in North Dakota, he adds, there is a “tremendous amount” of this trickle-down activity in that area—activity that in some cases requires metal products from the McNeilus plant in North Dakota.
___ In addition to North Dakota, McNeilus mainly serves customers in South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Iowa. The company also does some business in Canada.
___ At McNeilus facilities, workers are on the job 24/7, taking orders during the day and loading trucks at night. The company owns and operates a fleet of more than 100 vehicles that deliver material on a daily basis. “We can handle just-in-time service and many other types of delivery programs customers require,” Head says.
___ As for the newly installed line he oversees, Head claims it has given a boost to both corporate efficiency and sales. “We are close to our primary coil mills which cuts freight costs by eliminating four hours’ travel between here and Minnesota. So the new line enables us to be more competitive as well as opening up some new doors for us.”