S&K Steel strengthens sales, expands in Madison Heights
MADISON HEIGHTS – Increased demand for rail accessories made of a tough micro alloy put S&K Steel, Inc., on a fast track for growth in the United States and abroad.
“We’ve pushed over $4 million in sales with seven people,” President Myles E. Paisley said.
Now it’s time for the manufacturing operation and staff to grow, too.
The 23-year-old business is expanding into a 9,200-square foot building near its 12,500 square-foot facility at 850 Mandoline and it is adding workers.
The new building will house shipping, inventory and research and product development for a wide range of businesses, including railroads, metro transit systems, mines and sports arenas with retractable domes.
How did the lean S&K do it? Three years ago the small S&K staff advanced technology developed in the 1990s by Bethlehem Steel before it fell on hard times. The innovation has been a game changer of global proportions.
“The biggest thing is we’re bringing the business back from China,” Paisley said. “We have a rail bar that’s stronger and has less internal resistance so it’s more desirable. We’re winning back U.S. business.”
S&K’s major customers sell rail to Washington Metro, Atlanta MARTA, Amtrak, Chicago Transit Authority, and railroads all over the world, particularly North and South America.
Last year S&K filled a $248,000 order for joint bars needed for an iron ore mine in Liberia. Another $500,000 shipment went to Chile.
Using steel trucked from a Pennsylvania plant owned by ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steel company, S&K employees finish the raw material to customers’ specifications. They turn a couple hundred tons of steel every month into clips, fasteners and joint bars that hold rail together, and end stops that prevent large objects from falling off gantry cranes as they are hoisted.
Paisley is in the process of doubling the workforce to keep up with orders. He has filled three new positions recently, interviewed a fourth candidateTuesday and expects to add a few more employees to work on $300,000 of new equipment like CNC machines and roll stands.
CNC machines brought about the strides in production that poised S&K to gain market share from China.
“They take steel, get it hot and push holes in it,” Paisley said. “Unless everything is right, you get stress risers that keep growing and eventually fail.”
S&K takes steel and drills holes cold with CNC machines. There are no stress defects that can grow over time.
“The steel is 25 percent stronger,” said Paisley, 73, a Troy resident who “retired” 19 years ago – at least from design engineering and consulting for Canadian National Railroad.
S&K also is getting stronger as word spreads about its products despite the company having no sales force, advertising or marketing — not even a business name on its brown brick building.
Industry research helps. S&K products tested well at the Transportation Technology Center, which is a subsidiary of the American Association of Railroads in Pueblo, Colo.
“The thing that makes us happy is our products came in with the least internal resistance,” Paisley said. “Railroad bars crack at 3 percent per year. We’re trying to cut that down.”
He walks four miles a day, often at Oakland Mall with S&K’s chief engineer. Making steel strong through chemistry and manufacturing has been a common topic.
“The technology was there. We just had to put it together,” Paisley said.
Customers have taken note and are cheering for the little engineering feats that could create more U.S. jobs.
Tami Crittendon of Warren manages S&K shop logistics. She went to Chicago recently with a delivery for the transit authority’s subway system.
“They just praised American-made bars from Detroit,” Crittendon said. “It made me proud.”
She got a promotion out of the expansion. Lisa Yates of Shelby Township took over her former position as administrative assistant. About 100 people applied for that opening.
Paisley was interviewing finalists Tuesday for a new tool-and-die maker position and he will need two CNC operators soon. He wants S&K to start making steel ties for mines next.
Paisley also would like to see the state of Michigan work with S&K and the other two U.S. rail accessory companies.
“They put money in the Amtrak line in the western part of the state,” Paisley said. “One of my pet peeves is they let their contractor buy what they want. Chinese bars came in and it’s old technology.”
He said he has an ally in State Sen. Jack Brandenburg (R-Harrison Township).
“He is working on this so the three manufacturers in the U.S. have a shot at that,” said Paisley, who expects to go to Lansing in a few weeks to talk to Michigan Department of Transportation officials.
If he succeeds, that could be another light at the end of the tunnel for restoring manufacturing jobs and stamping more products with made in the USA.