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Tube & Pipe
Thursday | 06 March, 2014 | 1:11 pm

Masters of the distribution pipeline

By Tom Klemens

Above: American Piping Products offers first-level fabrication services that include cutting to length, beveling, profiling, threading and miter cutting.

With expanded services and inventory, American Piping Products embarks on its 21st year

February 2014 - Mike Phelan opened American Piping Products in 1994 to satisfy the growing piping needs of processing, energy, manufacturing, fabrication and construction industries. With headquarters in Chesterfield, Mo., the company has grown to be one of the St. Louis area’s largest privately owned businesses and now maintains a vast inventory—more than 50,000 tons of pipe and fittings—with warehouses in Chicago and Houston.

“I knew Mike as we previously worked together at another pipe company,” says Al Rheinnecker, CEO of American Piping Products. He joined the company in 2000 as COO when the company he had started, Clayton Steel Supply, merged with American Piping Products. In 2008 Phelan and Rheinnecker sold a majority interest to the current owner, Edgewater Funds of Chicago. 

Today the company is one of the largest stocking distributors of seamless pipe in the U.S. The company has a 22-acre facility with 100,000 square feet of warehouse space and a sales office in Houston. It opened a second stocking location in 2010 in Chicago consisting of a 10-acre steel processing facility with 60,000 square feet of warehouse space. The company also has sales offices in West Chester, Pa., and Gonzales, La.

American Piping Products sells only new prime steel pipe, Rheinnecker says. “We started by carrying large OD, heavy-wall import material, but now we have everything.” As if to reinforce the point, the company added domestically produced seamless pipe from Youngstown, Ohio-based Vallourec Star to its product line in January. Available in 2-inch to 10-inch diameters, the high-quality pipe is universally accepted on all approved manufacturing lists.

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All about inventory

About half the company’s material is seamless carbon steel SA-106 B/C. Other popular products include alloys such as chrome moly SA-335, Grades P-11, P-22, P-91, P-5 and P-9, and low temperature SA-333 pipe, Grade 6 and Grade 3. “We also carry 4130 material up to 18 inches OD,” Rheinnecker says. “It has become very popular in the last couple years due to increased activity in the energy sector. We think the domestic power generation sector is ready to become very active again.” The company also has a full line of import welded material, as well as fittings and flanges to complement the pipe.

In part because it purchases material from so many sources around the world, American Piping Products pays close attention to quality control. “We are certified ISO 9002. We check the quality programs of all of our major suppliers and in most cases send personnel to visit the mills,” Rheinnecker says. “We have people permanently in place at some of our larger import suppliers to audit both quality and delivery schedules. When the material arrives at one of our facilities from a new source, we independently test samples of all the material to verify it meets the specification.”

Value-added services

In addition to providing top-quality inventory that is both broad and deep, American Piping Products also supports its customers by offering first-level fabrication services. “We’re basically a full service center that addresses seamless and welded rounds, but not structural squares,” says Walter Lucas, vice president of material management at American Piping Products. Lucas came to the company in 2012, bringing with him more than 30 years of industry experience. “For the last nine years I’ve been involved in parts manufacturing, so I understand what the OEMs and manufacturers are looking for as far as machinery capacity goes,” he says.

American Piping Products’ service offerings include beveling, cut-to-length and miter cutting up to 60 degrees. “With seven CNC saws for all that processing work, we’re not your typical pipe distributor,” Lucas say. “We’re more of a hybrid because we do prep the pipe and the tubing. We basically cut 40 to 50 percent of our orders. For some of our customers we do customized packaging and kits so they can go straight to their weld lines.”

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To round out its first-level fabrication capabilities, American Piping Products in 2013 purchased a high-end Vernon Tool pipe profiling machine. Now, with its model 0224MPM-5 profiler, the company can profile pipe ranging from 2 inches to 30 inches with a wall thickness of up to 4 inches and lengths up to 40 feet. With the machine’s ability to handle 20,000 pound pieces of pipe, the company can profile large material that many of its customers might not be equipped to handle so easily.    

“We can program it in and cut profiles as well as bevel the ends and cut it to length,” Lucas says. “Basically everything you can do with a torch we’re doing with this profiler. We program in our customers’ parts, cut them out and deliver them.”

One big advantage for customers who need this service is that it can shorten the supply chain. “We allow them to have access to our programming on parts,” Lucas says. “We can stock special steels for people so they have their inventory on the ground and all we have to do is turn around and process it. When they have a long-term commitment we’re more than happy to try to address that.”

Staying out in front

Rheinnecker credits the company’s success to having great people, maintaining a wide, deep inventory and a singular focus on the customer. “It’s a constant challenge finding great people to contribute to our growing organization,” he says. “Despite the headlines, it is hard to find enough great people. Our current team and existing culture demand excellence, work ethic and passion for our customers. We need to find more people that fit that mold.”

From the customer’s perspective, Rheinnecker says, three things separate American Piping Products from the many other sources of piping materials: “Our vast inventory complemented by added value services, our service-oriented and technically knowledgeable sales staff, and accurate paperwork that arrives prior to the material.”  MM

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