‘Cautiously optimistic” are the buzz words from Corridor machine shop owners in forecasting the near future of their business and the industry in general.
Many machine shops were affected by the drop in orders during the Great Recession. However, over the past three years, these shops slowly have been making their way back, job by job.
“There’s always going to be a need for machine shops — to do repair work and the job shops,” said Tom Sadler, second-generation owner of the 56-year-old Sadler Machine Co., 4150 Thomas Dr. SW, Cedar Rapids.
Despite that, Sadler admitted “The last year has been relatively rough.”
One big customer, Terex, which manufactures asphalt pavers, moved out of town due to a lack of government road contracts, Sadler said. (Sadler said he hired a few Terex workers after that move.)
In addition, Beef Products of Sioux City closed its Waterloo plant, shutting off its orders of pumps that Sadler built for the company.
“We had four guys working full time for them,” Sadler recalled.
Sadler Machine since has acquired more work for out-of-state companies, plus its 60 employees keep busy with other work from Eastern Iowa. Among those companies are Cedar River Paper, Genencor and Freund-Vector in Marion.
Sadler Machine runs half-computerized and half-manual machines in its shop. The in-shop work runs nearly the entire gamut for the industry.
“We do our own plate processing of up to six-inch steel plate,” Sadler said.
OLD AND NEW
“We make whatever our customers ask us to make,” said Phil Martin, owner of the dozen-employee Advanced Manufacturing Services, 740 66th Ave. SW. also in Cedar Rapids. Martin has owned the 17-year-old company for seven years.
Much of Advanced Manufacturing’s work is making stainless-steel parts for pharmacy equipment, such as for spray guns used to apply protective coating to pills.
The company’s local customer base continues to show a steady growth with large companies such as Quaker Oats Co. in Cedar Rapids needing equipment shafts repaired, Martin said. He noted his shop also has made new parts to replace older ones.
Dowding Industries also seeks out a wide range of clients, including the rail car industry, construction and the wind industry, such as Clipper Windpower — the latter has tailed off lately.
Dowding has 17 workers working two shifts. It had 34 employees before the 2008 recession.
Larry Becker, who manages Dowding’s plant at 3005 Robins Rd., Hiawatha, for the Eaton Rapids, Mich., company, explained the company uses high-tech laser machining, which is more accurate.
Becker anticipates this year will be as good as 2012 because other customers are filling in for lost wind-industry orders. Before the downturn in wind-related work, Dowding’s Michigan plant had pared the time to make a windmill hub from 26 hours each to six hours.
The wind energy tax credit has been extended for a year, as part of the fiscal-cliff deal reached last week.
Dowding also sees constant business from the railcar industry, Becker said. In Cedar Rapids, Dowding uses stainless steel to fashion parts for subway rail cars along with fabrication work. Damage from Hurricane Sandy may increase the immediate need for more rail car parts, Becker speculated.
“We can do any kind of work from one piece to a thousand-piece run. Most of our runs are 25 or 50 to 100 pieces at a time,” he said.
‘WE’RE A NICHE’
At Hupp Electric Motors, no new motor manufacturing is done.
“We’re a niche. Our machine shop doesn’t compete against other machine shops,” owner Kevin Hupp said of the 100-year-old machine shop at 275 33rd Ave. SW, Cedar Rapids. It has a work force of 200.
Hupp Electric primarily repairs or rebuilds electric motors up to 10,000 horsepower.
The shop uses no computer machines, but instead has only manual hand lathes.
“It’s all one-piece machining or in small quantities, Hupp said. “Motors vary in size, so we have to set each one properly. It does take some skill.”
His workers rebuild motor shafts, balance them, do thermal imaging of a motor’s electronics, perform vibration analysis and general trouble shooting. Some is done in-house, while other jobs require the work to be performed on-site.