WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. -- When Emil Koledin purchased the assets of the former Shenango Metalcraft Co. in 1975, he had every intention of gutting the building at 85 Garfield St. here, and selling off the equipment to make way for his construction company, Wesex Corp.
Then one day he went to the mailbox.
"He found that there were orders from companies such as Westinghouse and General Electric," recalls his daughter, Tanya McClafferty. "He realized that he had a great customer base and the equipment was already here."
Instead of gutting the operation, Koledin chose to enter the side business of manufacturing metallic nameplates for the heavy equipment and transportation industries while simultaneously operating the construction company there.
"He was a true entrepreneur," says McClafferty, now the vice president of Specialty Metal Products Co. Inc., the side business that has grown into its own over the last decade. "It was kind of a hobby for a long time."
The business has doubled its sales over the last 10 years and is expanding and reinvesting at the site, McClafferty reports.
Specialty Metal uses a chemical etching process to manufacture the metallic nameplates that manufacturers and other companies use for safety instructions, operational instructions, branding and other forms of identification, McClafferty says.
"These are plates that have to endure harsh environments," she says. "They have to withstand high heat, outdoors, underground and moving 100 miles an hour down rails."
Across the country are thousands of printers, but only about 40 that use a chemical etching process, McClafferty reports. "It's a true niche business."
Specialty Metal affixes information on metal plates – made mostly of stainless steel – for customers that range from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, McClafferty notes. "We started to see consistent growth during the mid-1990s," she relates. Since 2004, sales have doubled, which has prompted the company to expand its operations and markets. "We've seen growth at an average rate of about 5% over the last three years," she says.
The company employs 22, up from 10 during the mid-1990s.
Much of the recent business comes from the rail car industry while orders from other original equipment manufacturers and producers are also on the rise, McClafferty says.
The plates could hold important factory information such as serial numbers, production codes, safety instructions or cautionary signage, and therefore must be able to hold up in hazardous, corrosive environments.
Often, Specialty Metal's nameplates are affixed to newly manufactured equipment or products. Thus, the company often serves as a barometer of the manufacturing sector, which also presents a window into the health of the overall economy. "We can see a trend on how the economy is doing,” she says. “If manufacturing is doing well, we're doing well."
McClafferty says there are numerous industries that require rugged, durable placards designed to outlive the products or machinery they serve. About 40% of the company's business is associated with the transportation industry, another 30% is directly tied to rail car production, and 20% is derived from the mining industry. "Those are our biggest industries," she notes. "Even novelty and architectural signage, where the product looks good and holds up well outside."
The process begins in the company design shop where Specialty Metal's two graphic designers recreate a schematic sent by a customer. That information is processed into a film that will be used to transfer the image onto the metal.
"I remember we used to get things from a thermal facsimile," recalls Jan Podleyon, McClafferty's sister and sales manager who has been with Specialty Metal since 1976. "There were a lot of files, a lot of paper. Not anymore – we're moving into a very high-tech world."
All of the steel as well as the other materials the company uses are sourced from domestic manufacturers, McClafferty says. "It's a mixture of our own pride, customer requirements and the chemical composition of the material," she says. "It works best for us to keep it in America."
Most products are etched on stainless steel, but the company also works with other metals such as brass and aluminum.
Specialty Metal uses two methods of printing: a traditional screen process and a photosensitive lamination process that uses ultraviolet light. The images and designs are transferred to the surface of the plate with an acid-resistant coating, which results in a stenciled negative of the customer's design.
Once the acid-resistant coating is applied, the plate is transferred to one of two etch lines. Each employs a specified composition of chemicals applied to the plate. The chemicals interact with the surface of the plate and any area not protected by the acid-resistant coating is etched to a depth the customer specifies.
The company is capable of processing small plates that measure as small as one-quarter by one-half inch to larger plates that measure measuring two by two feet. "The thickest we can do is 1/8-inch in stainless steel," she says.
Once the plate is etched, the acid resistant is rinsed off and, if the customers requires, is painted. "We use an automotive spray paint that gives us the durability we need," McClafferty says.
Much of the equipment at the shop is dated, and by next year the company should have in place two new etch lines to replace them.
"We're expanding and renovating this building," McClafferty says, noting she was able to secure newer etch lines at an auction a year ago that will be re-engineered to suit Specialty Metal's purposes. Also, the company plans to install a new laser cutter that will add to operational efficiencies and add to its general fabrication services.
"We'll be able to double our capacity with new lines and larger sheets," McClafferty says.
Pictured: Jan Podleyon and Tanya McClafferty.
Copyright 2014 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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