December 2011- A pontoon’s appearance is critical to consumers, says Dewayne Yoder, purchasing manager for Smoker Craft Inc., a New Paris, Ind.-based watercraft producer. “The finish, the shininess of it, the quality of it is very, very critical because it’s one of the first things that a customer sees,” he says. “It has to be right.”
With competition in the U.S. pontoon market increasing, watercraft makers rely on their material suppliers to provide them with quality metal to make the deep-V and pontoon boats. “Aluminum is obviously one of the largest commodities that I buy,” says Yoder.
Smoker Craft makes aluminum-riveted and welded fishing boats in addition to pontoons. The company also has a fiberglass boat line. Smoker Craft used to purchase material directly from an aluminum mill that had capabilities to supply the wide width the company required. However, the mill began requiring a 12-month forecast without including allowances for changing economic or business conditions, and “we ended up with a high watermark of about $2.5 million worth of aluminum inventory because we had to,” says Yoder. The company eventually sought other options and began working with Champagne Metals, Glenpool, Okla.
“The aluminum mills, by the way they were forcing us to do business, forced our hand as to how we were going to continue to do business. We chose to partner up with Champagne Metals,” says Yoder. Smoker Craft still uses wide-width material, but now it comes from the distributor. In the seven years they have been working together, the relationship between the two companies has developed into a partnership in which they can share ideas, he notes.
One of the products Champagne Metals supplies to Smoker Craft is cut-to-length tube sheet for pontoons. “Part of the problem solving they did, they PVC’d it so it would protect the exterior,” says Yoder. “By putting PVC on it, it allowed us to build the pontoon all the way through the manufacturing process, and then at the very end, we take the PVC off and it gives a very nice mill-finish look before we ship it off to our customers.”
Champagne Metals also is supplying Smoker Craft with painted two-side pontoon fence panel material. The exterior of a pontoon has colored panels with an extruded aluminum frame, says Yoder. “We make the fencing part of it, we weld it and anodize it. That colored aluminum, in our case, would be the color of aluminum that Champagne Metals slits down and cuts to length,” he says, noting it’s a new area of business for the company.
A new branch
Champagne Metals has been following the pontoon and watercraft markets in recent years and has seen the opportunities they hold, says Scott Easter, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The pontoon industry is doing very well right now as far as the boating market goes,” he says. A new coil-processing branch in Elkhart, Ind., will help the company serve customers in the growing pleasure boat industry as well as the commercial transportation and recreational vehicle markets. “There’s tremendous opportunity for us there,” he says.
The company has been serving customers in Indiana such as Smoker Craft from its Oklahoma location, and the Indiana facility is intended to complement the existing processing capabilities in Oklahoma.
“We have been able to create some wonderful partnerships and relationships with customers in Indiana by servicing them from our facility in Glenpool,” Mike Champagne, president and CEO of Champagne Metals, said in a press release. “We felt that we needed to take the next step to further show our commitment to the markets we serve by creating a processing branch in the area.”
The branch will come to fruition in a three-phase process, says Easter. In the first phase, which the company has completed, Champagne Metals purchased and installed a 0.125-inch by 72-inch Iowa Precision Slear 2 and a roll former to produce sheets with an imperial crimp in Topeka, Ind. The Topeka location is temporary until the company finds an appropriate permanent location for its facility in Elkhart.
“What our plans are is to relocate some of the equipment we currently have and upgrade that equipment as well as look at putting in a 0.3125, 84-inch cut-to-length line in the area,” says Easter. “Stage two, we are going to upgrade and also get the cut-to-length line going, and then stage three would be to bring everything together in one facility in the greater Elkhart area.” The capacity of the new facility is yet unknown, but Easter believes it will be “substantial.”
In terms of modifications, Champagne Metals has an existing line in Oklahoma and it intends on working with Herr-Voss Stamco to take parts of the line and create the 0.3125, 84-inch cut-to-length line. “We’re going to take the slear and we are going to do some upgrades and modifications to that so we can not only go to slit coil to sheet but we also would have the ability to slit coil to coil as far as that goes,” says Easter.
Once finished, the Indiana facility’s capabilities will complement Oklahoma’s functions. There are four lines at the existing facility, which can go from 0.02 inch to 0.375 inch thick and up to 100 inches wide and more than 600 inches long, says Easter. “We want to service the areas up there, but we will not have the exact duplicate of what we have in Glenpool,” he says.
For instance, the line in Oklahoma has edge-trimming capabilities, but the company will not be including those initially at the Indiana facility. “What we will do is leave space for that as we’re outlaying the line so that if we do see there is a need once we’re up there for that capability, then all we would have to do is order that equipment and plug it into a designated area that we’ve left for it,” Easter says.
The right time
Despite a shaky economic market, Champagne Metals believes it’s the right time to invest in coil-processing equipment and a new branch. “With our continued diversification in the Champagne Metals’ portfolio of business, it really makes sense for us to do this and go forward with it,” says Easter, noting the company expects all phases of the expansion to be complete in late 2012 or early 2013.
The proximity of the potential Elkhart location to Smoker Craft will be beneficial, says Yoder. “It takes it to another level where they can make and hold, actually bring in coil or cut-to-length sheet as needed,” he says. Champagne currently is serving Smoker Craft from its Oklahoma plant with truck shipments three times a week. The trip takes roughly 12 hours and is dependent on driver availability and other shipping logistics.
With a closer location, “now we are going with a next-day delivery,” says Yoder. “It shortens up that forecast or that commitment. I could give them a release and have it on the next day’s truck,” he says.
The Elkhart location will help Champagne Metals serve not only the immediate area but also other geographies, says Easter. “Having an Indiana facility actually helps us out logistically with being able to get materials into Canada or going through Chicago intermodals to the West Coast,” he says. “It helps us service more areas more efficiently by having something in Indiana.” MM
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