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Tube & Pipe
Monday | 29 August, 2011 | 2:46 pm

Perseverance under pressure

By Gretchen Salois

Independence Tube rallies in the wake of tornado-ravaged Alabama

July 2011 - With more than 160 total tornadoes reported that roared through seven southern U.S. states at the end of April, killing nearly 300 people, the South suffered devastation akin to tornadoes that hit the region in 1974. With entire communities uprooted, infrastructure destroyed and landscapes littered with tangled debris, both families and businesses continue to battle the lingering fallout that affected so many. Among those still reeling from the effects is Chicago-based Independence Tube. With a factory in Marseille, Ill., and a tornado-affected plant in Decatur, Ala., that was completely razed, the company has mobilized its workers, redistributing them to two Illinois plants to keep up with business.

"The building is almost a total loss and will need to be rebuilt," says John Tassone, manager of marketing at Independence Tube’s Decatur division. "During this shutdown, all Independence Tube customer orders will be manufactured by [the company’s] northern divisions in Chicago and Marseille, Ill." According to Tassone, members of the Decatur team will be coming to the northern divisions to help with the increase in production. Workers remaining in Decatur will assist in the cleanup and rebuilding of the Alabama division. It’s unclear when the Decatur-based plant will be up and running, but the Independence Tube team is working to expedite the cleanup while maintaining a demanding workload and completing customer orders.

The evolution of a brand
Since Independence Tube’s inception in 1972, the company’s Chicago division and corporate headquarters has expanded from its original 50,000 square feet to more than 270,000 square feet. "Our growth was steady and continuous over the years, built on sound business and ethical principles," says Tassone. Independence Tube’s major customer base includes the service center market and manufacturers of agricultural, transportation, lighting and material-handling equipment.

Independence Tube 140pxThe Chicago division currently manufactures HSS (hollow structural sections) from 2-inch square by 0.125-inch wall through 6-inch square by 0.375-inch wall. According to Tassone, "The company built its reputation as an on-time supplier of a quality product." Independence Tube publishes a yearly rolling cycle telling customers what products will be made in what month and also assigns actual rolling dates to those products three months in advance.

In 1997, due to customer feedback, Independence Tube opened a manufacturing facility on the banks of the Illinois River in Marseilles, Ill. This facility expanded the company’s size range from topping off at 6-inch square to now 10-inch square by 0.625- inch wall. The nonresidential construction market was starting to use HSS tube for columns in warehouses and strip malls, and the company helped supply 8-inch square and 10-inch square tubes.

From 1972 to 2006, Independence Tube only manufactured square and rectangular HSS tubes. Once again, customers asked for additional services, and Independence began offering HSS rounds in addition to the company’s complete line of squares and rectangles. ITC50 pipe size tubing was first offered with a limited size range from all three of the company’s completed divisions. The plant is now 750,000 square feet, allowing Independence to offer the complete pipe size ranges of 1-inch to 1/4-inch Schedule 10 and 10-inch up through 12-inch Schedule 80 in addition to the complete line of squares and rectangles.

In 2006, customer demand prompted Independence Tube to open a greenfield 325,000-square-foot plant on the banks of the Tennessee River in Decatur, Ala. According to Tassone, the mill initially manufactured HSS tubes up to and including 10-inch square by 5/8-inch wall. Due to the popularity of the product mix offered in Decatur, the company expanded its offerings by purchasing tooling to allow the mill to produce 12-inch square by 5/8-inch wall. It also expanded the building to 450,000 square feet.

Because of the success of Independence Tube’s large OD pipe size tubing manufactured in Decatur, the company installed a mill in the Marseilles division in 2009 capable of manufacturing rounds from 1.66-inch OD to 5-inch OD. Now Independence Tube can offer the complete line of HSS products with squares from 2 inches to 12 inches, rectangles from 2 inches to 1/2 inch by 1 inch to 1/2 inch and rounds from 1.66 inches to 12.75 inches OD. In addition, the company manufactures indented bumper tube, axle tube, high strength low alloy and hitch tube.

Self-service for service centers
As Independence Tube continued to expand its size range and manufacturing divisions, it recognized the growing importance of offering tools to allow customers the ability to better manage inventory. Along with the company’s on-time rolling schedule, Independence offers vendor managed inventory and electronic data interchange programs to help with planning inventory. In 2009, the company’s Customer Portal was launched, allowing customers the ability to browse and search stock inventory 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the ability to order stock or rollings from the floor, submit and view inquiries, search order history and view price sheets and rolling schedules.

"Itctube.com was an immediate hit with Independence Tube customers," Tassone says. "The ease of navigation requires little training to be able to find what you are looking for." Since the initial launch, the company has added additional enhancements. Most recently, it launched a service that gives the user the ability to sign up for automatic emails of bills of ladings and test reports once a customer’s truck or railcar ships. Independence expects to begin automatic email invoices in the near future, as well.

The company also revamped its website, www.independencetube.com, to include various downloads of product literature, engineering data and links to the American Institute of Steel Construction and the Steel Recycling Institute.

New product on deck
Independence had a new product on the docket set for release this summer for the Decatur division. The company purchased tooling that would allow Decatur to manufacture 14-inch outside diameter rounds to add to the 8.825-inch OD, 10.75-inch OD and 12.75-inch OD pipe piling sizes already manufactured by Decatur. However, the tornado damage caused on April 27 is delaying the new product’s release.

According to Tassone, workers are continuing efforts toward getting the Decatur division’s rubble cleaned up and the facility rebuilt. Independence Tube’s Chicago and Marseilles divisions are capable of producing most of the Decatur-based division’s size range. But Independence Tube’s large rounds, 8.625-inch OD, 10.75-inch OD and 12.75-inch OD were produced only in Decatur. According to Tassone, by not being able to produce those sizes, the tornado took Independence Tube out of the A252 pipe piling market. Independence Tube has placed an order with its tooling manufacturer to supply the tooling needed to run the 8.625-inch OD, 10.75-inch OD and 12.75-inch OD A252 pipe piling product in the Marseilles division. "We will be out of the market for a few months," Tassone says, "but we will be back supplying our pipe piling customers in late July and early August."

Despite the immense loss suffered by Independence, the company remains optimistic. "While the loss of [the] Decatur [division] is a temporary setback, Independence Tube will come out of this stronger and with a few new surprises for their customers," Tassone says. "All of Independence Tube’s customers have been very understanding during this difficult time, and every effort will be made by all employees...to continue to offer the best quality product, on time, to all customers." MM

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