A Minnesota Metal Company Forges Ahead

Standard Iron & Wire Works

What makes Standard Iron & Wire Works, Inc. unique? The firm’s wide range of services for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would be the most obvious place to start looking for an answer. It performs metal cutting, engineering, assembly, machining, welding, tube bending, structural steel processing, stamping, and more.
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“We’re a custom-metal fabricator for OEM customers. We don’t want to be Tier 2 or Tier 3 supplier; we definitely want to partner directly with OEMs. One of our other ‘uniques’ is our geographical locations. We’re spread out throughout the United States and Monterrey Mexico,” says Chief Operating Officer John Reynolds, Chief Operating Officer. “Where some people might focus on stamping or machining, we have a very wide range of services at each location to better serve our customers.” The company has two divisions: architectural metals and contract manufacturing. The latter is the biggest of the pair.

Standard Iron has extensive operations, with branches in Sauk Centre and Alexandria, Minnesota as well as Grand Island, Nebraska, Thomson, Georgia, and Mexico. It is headquartered in Monticello, Minnesota.

“Our newest facility is in Thomson, Georgia. We just started operations there at the end of 2017 … Although we started there in a 30,000-square-foot rental facility, we have actually purchased a 150,000-square-foot facility and are in the process of moving our operation into it. In Monterrey, Mexico, we work out of a 60,000-square-foot facility that has been in operation since 2010 … Then we have a 160,000-square-foot facility in Grand Island, Nebraska that’s been in operation since 2004. The Sauk Centre facility is 150,000 square feet roughly. That facility has been in existence since 1978. Our 80,000-square-foot Alexandria facility is about twenty miles away from Sauk Centre and is the primary facility for our architectural metals division,” he notes.

It is quite a change from 1930 when Standard Iron began with a much narrower focus. At first, the firm primarily did “various metal fabrications for the construction industry,” says Reynolds.

After working on metal fabrications for Liberty Ships during the Second World War, Standard Iron started offering fabrication services for manufacturers of farm implements. The company continued to grow at a measured pace, adding the Sauk Centre and Alexandria facilities in the 1970s.

Today, the firm’s contract manufacturing division still does quite a bit of work for construction equipment OEMs such as Case New Holland and John Deere. Other clients can be found in the agricultural equipment, transportation, power generation, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) sectors.

“On the architectural side, we’re doing work for the buildings themselves. We engage directly with the general contractors and provide miscellaneous weldments, staircases and railings, et cetera, for commercial buildings,” says Reynolds.

The architectural metals division has worked on numerous stadium projects as well as multi-story apartments, hotels, condominiums, shopping malls, and more. Typically, the architectural metals segment will build products in-house then have them delivered to job sites. Standard Iron has project managers who work with general contractors at building sites to make sure all fabricated metal items arrive in good time and good order. The architectural metals segment is currently “a geographically specific division. It currently focuses on Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Dakotas,” he adds. “But we are currently exploring the possibility of expanding that division to serve the Southeast United States from our new Thomson facility.”

By contrast, Standard Iron’s contract manufacturing services are more widely dispersed with facilities across the company network carrying out work for this division, he explains.

Standard Iron & Wire Works is an enthusiastic proponent of technology and uses business information modeling (BIM) software for design and engineering. High-tech software is complemented by state-of-the-art metalworking equipment. Its machining department, for example, boasts a series of high-end vertical and horizontal computer numerical control (CNC) machining centers, while the welding department has sixteen robotic welding cells and more than one hundred and fifty manual welding machines capable of MIG and TIG welding processes. Metal cutting is done with fiber laser centers and CNC turret presses while stamping equipment includes punch presses up to 800 tons. Painting and finishing services are provided via drive-through wet-coat paint booths and fully automated powder coat paint systems with conveyors.

At present, the company has about 650 employees, up from about five hundred last year at this time. This leap in personnel is mostly due to bringing the new Thomson, Georgia facility up to speed.

When it comes to corporate culture, Reynolds describes Standard Iron as “a values-driven company. We have four core values we use to not only to steer business and make decisions but also in hiring and developing personnel.”

Those ideals of safety, pride in work, continuous improvement, and respect are reflected in Standard Iron’s comprehensive quality assurance procedures. While the company is ISO 9001 certified, Reynolds is quick to point out that quality assurance involves more than just industry certification.

“Obviously, [quality assurance] starts with having the right structure in place, having processes documented that are known and followed by all. We have our internal auditing – layered process audits to make sure we are living up to what we say we are doing … Making quality ingrained into day-to-day activities and not making it a stand-alone effort,” he states.

The firm has adopted lean manufacturing, Kaizen and Six Sigma methodologies to boost productivity and morale and reduce waste. It has put much effort into incorporating elements such as “daily visual management and shop walks,” to encourage “bottom-up problem solving,” he explains.

A bottom-up approach also drives the company’s promotional efforts. It has a website and attends trade shows such as FABTECH, but only to visit not exhibit. The firm found the return on investment of renting a booth at such shows to be somewhat lacking. So when Standard Iron goes to a trade show, it is to seek out potential new customers and investigate new technologies, not operate a booth highlighting the company’s services.

Standard Iron’s trade-show strategy reflects its use of face-to-face encounters and word-of-mouth referrals for promotion, and the best way to secure positive word-of-mouth, of course, is to satisfy customers. Remaining customer-focused and building very close client bonds is one of the company’s greatest achievements, Reynolds says.

“There are lots of projects that were obviously fun to be a part of. Certainly, on the architectural side of things, it’s always fun to be part of big projects like the new Vikings stadium, the Lambeau Field remodel, and Target Field. Those are high visibility projects.” The new stadium for the Minnesota Vikings NFL team is called U.S. Bank Stadium and is based in Minneapolis. Lambeau Field is located in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is the home turf of the Green Bay Packers while Target Field is a baseball park in Minneapolis for the Minnesota Twins.

Work on Lambeau Field started in December 2001. This $7 million contract was the largest architectural metals contract in company history at that point. Six years later, Standard Iron took on a $7.3 million contract at the U.S. Bank Stadium. The $4.1 million Target Field contract was signed in May 2008.

“But I think what would qualify as our biggest accomplishment is the relationships that we build with our customers, says Reynolds. “When the chips are down, they always think of us and give us a call to see if we can help. I’m proud of the fact they reach out to us.”

He says that the biggest challenge facing both Standard Iron and its competitors is “the availability of trained labor. This is something our industry is struggling with.” Standard Iron & Wire Works faces a double whammy. Low unemployment means a smaller pool of potential new hires. On top of this, younger people continue to shy away from careers involving the skilled trades and manufacturing in general.

While Standard Iron “is not unique in this regard,” the company is making an effort to turn this situation around, says Reynolds. The firm supports local trade schools in the areas in which it operates and tries “to be part of the economic development discussion in all of our geographies to get marginally employed or underemployed people to consider pursuing the trades and provide them training opportunities to basically develop the skills we need them to have.”

As Standard Iron looks into the future, the company wants to maintain and enhance its current strengths rather than introduce new services. “Just expanding our capacities in those core processes is currently our focus,” says Reynolds.

In a similar fashion, the plan is to grow in a consistent, controlled manner. It is an approach that has served Standard Iron well as the company approaches its ninetieth anniversary.

“We have a very steady growth plan for the next five years. I would like to see us basically continue on that growth strategy and just continue to be a successful and stable company,” states Reynolds.

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March 26, 2019, 6:41 PM EDT