Nothing says new beginning like a fresh coat of paint.
But in the case of Super Steel, a Milwaukee-based contract manufacturer whose sales once topped $100 million a year, it’s a re-invigorated electrocoat line that symbolizes the revitalization of the company, which is celebrating its 90th birthday this year.
“We’re back,” says Greg Gaberino, who was recently hired as the general manager to oversee operations of plant production, personnel and sales for the company’s new contract painting division, SS Coaters.
Gaberino was tasked with getting things in line and operational before throwing the switch to re-start Super Steel’s e-coat paint line, which has large-part capabilities and includes a seven-stage iron phosphate pretreatment system, and wet and powder topcoats. His job going forward will be to bring back to Super Steel e-coat work that was outsourced several years ago when the U.S. economy tanked, as well as to work with outside manufacturers to garner even more contract paint work for SS Coaters.
No Longer Mothballed
“We took it out of mothballs and put new process controls in place back in December, so we’re ready to go,” says Gaberino, who has several decades of experience in manufacturing and coatings.
Several years ago, not many would have thought that Gaberino and Super Steel would be hanging out the “Help Wanted” sign and looking at possible expansion opportunities in contract painting.
Founded in 1923 as a small manufacturing shop with just a few employees, owner Fred Luber is said to have grown the business through hard work, high quality, and outstanding customer service. Super Steel worked with some of the largest agricultural equipment and freight locomotive firms to build some of the biggest machines in those industries with capabilities such as engineering, fabrication, electro-mechanical assembly, and painting of metals ranging from 18-gauge to 12-inch-thick plate.
In fact, Super Steel’s 450,000 sq ft of manufacturing space on 25 acres of land has the capacity to again surpass $100 million in revenue.
Super Steel’s auto paint line can process parts as large as 6 × 4 × 10 ft at design speeds as fast as 10 ft per minute. It has an in-ground conveyor paint line (19 × 40 × 20 ft); nine batch paint booths with water wash and dry filter capabilities (15 × 15 × 100 ft); a powder coating booth with a cartridge-recovery system capable of automatically applying polyester, epoxy or urethane finishes (42 × 60 × 96 inches); three powder batch ovens (13 × 10 × 20 ft); a stress relieve furnace; a flow-through blast booth; and a blast room (12 × 14 ft).
Sales Dropped with the Economy
Despite high revenues at its peak, things begin to unravel for Super Steel along with the U.S. economy starting in 2008, after the Luber family sold its interest in the company to an investor group. Sales plummeted from the $100 million mark to around $25 million, forcing the entire company into bankruptcy proceedings.
That’s when employees were let go, the e-coat line was shut down and some of the coating work was sent out to contractors.
The silver lining in the rain cloud for the Super Steel workforce was that the Luber family repurchased the company out of the bankruptcy proceedings in March 2010 and set out again to make Super Steel the premier contract manufacturer in southeastern Wisconsin.
Dirk Smith became the new president and COO, and refocused the company on its core competencies, providing complex component manufacturing for agricultural, construction, rail, mining and power generation applications, as well as providing overall value-added service.
So far, the result has been excellent as the economy has recovered and manufacturing has picked up. Super Steel added more than $50 million in sales to its top line to reach $70 million in 2012 and now has more than 400 employees.
Getting Back to $100M
“Our plan and goal is to get above $100 million again,” says Paul Luber, son of the company founder and now CEO. “We’re a handful of years out from that.”
But they are getting close, especially with this effort to restart the e-coat line and go after new finishing work because of the expanded capacity.
Gaberino, who has a bachelor’s degree in industrial system engineering from the University of Florida and a master’s in industrial engineering from North Carolina State, has 6-Sigma Black Belt certification and is a Certified in Production and Inventory Management honoree in his 27 years in the business. He is working closely with Dan Hakes, SS Coaters’ operations manager, and Shannon Miller, who is leading the customer support department, to build the division into an operation that other manufacturers will come to trust with their coated parts.
“Our focus will be on smaller manufacturing shops that can’t afford to have their own finishing lines,” Gaberino says. “There’s quite a few within a couple of hundred miles of Milwaukee that we’ll be talking with in hopes of putting together a partnership.”
Smith says he believes the SS Coaters division will help jump start Super Steel’s recovery even more.
“I have tremendous confidence in Greg’s ability to implement the growth strategy to make SS Coaters successful,” Smith says. “We believe there is a significant opportunity for contracting painting in Southeastern Wisconsin, and, looking forward, we have plans to be a $10-million contract paint company and will be incrementally adding 30 new jobs.”
Gaberino’s job will be to emphasize the advantages of e-coat, which he says are better corrosion protection, improved appearance and greater economic value. In addition, he can boast SS Coaters’ topcoat capabilities as well, with both powder and liquid application.
“The biggest challenge will be prioritizing the work as it comes in, just to make sure we are able to meet everyone’s lead times,” he says. “We’ll be coating our own products from inside our plant, plus working on our outside projects. But it should all work very smoothly.”
The resurgence in Super Steel has been a shining light for a community that was hit hard in the recession, and everyone in Milwaukee seems to be glad to see it happen.n
For information on SS Coaters, please call 414-362-9100, or visit Supersteel.com.