Linking leadership with workers, machines to data analysis, and hard work with actionable information creates best-in-class supply organizations


May 2023- Linking leadership with workers, machines to data analysis, and hard work with actionable information creates best-in-class supply organizations

Success in the service center industry is achieved in a variety of ways: the tried and true, such as listening to customers and acting upon their needs, and the avant -garde, such as creating apps and being accessible everywhere all the time. The leadership of Totten Tubes relies upon data to make fact-based business decisions. “Data helps us clearly understand areas of profitability so we can focus our energies accordingly,” says CEO Greg Totten. The information provides “us with a range of insights from our top five goals down to small data points. For example, we look at how fast we are tagging and inventorying material and how much we are allocating at time of packaging versus time of billing. ROI reports look at which machine or process is most profitable and where we can expand our footprint,” COO Paul Totten says.

“Armed with data to support an investment or expansion, it is easy to reach consensus,” he adds.

Data analysis supported the 2019 opening of Totten Tubes’ Vancouver, Washington, location as well as which branches should get additional processing equipment.

The company’s first tube laser came on line in 2017. “We saw immediate growth; we followed the data and added two more,” Greg Totten says. Totten Tubes can now laser cut about 90 percent of its standard inventory items.


A regional metals distributor, Peerless Steel, operates four locations and ships to customers across Michigan, Indiana, Ohio and southern Ontario. President Carl Bartells turned to Stouffville, Ontariobased 4GL Solutions for an ERP software system that would integrate everything and work extremely well at each stage of the business: sales, purchasing, operations, accounting and logistics.

4GL Solutions Steel Manager III software suite, installed this year, includes a dashboard feature. For Bartells, “the dashboard is a massive upgrade. I can click once or twice and see all my major metrics, slice it by branch, add branches together, separate them out. I can run four or five different reports for each branch. When going from a meeting to a conference call, I can—within seconds—get a snapshot of what’s taking place throughout the organization.”

Bartells credits Steel Manager III with being “incredibly intuitive.” It takes the logic in a word or text, fills out the rest of the word or gives you three options about where you are storing certain inventory. This allows an experienced sales representative to get answers faster and helps train new staff.

“Our people gravitated toward it because it follows common sense and logic,” which Bartells finds crucial when employees are “entering thousands of quote lines a day.”


Peerless Steel is also installing Steel Manager III’s Customer Portal. “We will allow customers to see what we have in stock, or get a quote 24/7. We want our customers to send us a purchase order whenever they want. We are ‘open’ whenever they want to shop.”

The distributor is using 4GL Solutions’ Cloud Server program, too. With an Open Client architecture, Peerless’ staff can connect to Steel Manager III with any Internet-connected device from anywhere in the world.


Established before the Civil War, Ryerson Inc. last year made an investment in FreeFORM Technologies, located in St. Marys, Pennsylvania. Ryerson COO Mike Burbach describes FreeFORM, which started up in 2020, as an additive manufacturing and engineering company combined. “We try to anticipate what our customers might need from us in years to come. Additive manufacturing is newer compared with much of what we are doing now. It represents exciting, cutting-edge technologies that are still developing,” he says.


Separately, Ryerson customers and partners have access to specialized apps. RyersonPOD (proof of delivery) is an e-signature app so that drivers can verify their orders, capture a signature and be on their way to the next delivery stop. The Ryerson Emissions Illuminator app allows users to discover how changes to their metal supply chain could impact their emissions. Customers can evaluate the emissions impact of their current supply chain, compare it against industry averages and explore alternatives.


In Sinton, Texas, Butech Bliss installed an enormous stretch-leveling cut-to-length line at Acero Prime Feralloy. The line is rated up to 1 inch thick by 84 inches wide, with a 50-foot stretch bed and 2,800 tons of stretching force. Alex Harrell, corporate project manager for the steel processing company, approached the team at Butech with “a vision of performing beyond where we had been with the addition of automation,” says Rick Henke, operations manager at Sinton. “We wanted bigger, stronger and faster. With this vision in mind, we ventured down the road of a new design on the stretcher specifically. The stretcher is far more powerful than what we have seen elsewhere,” Henke says. “The commissioning took a little longer than normal, but our collective approach was that progress is not made in the comfort zone,” he says.


Kevin Dix, a consultant for Paragon Consulting Services Inc., York, Pennsylvania, says that software users “want to touch the data themselves, and they don’t want canned reports. Having back-end data you can make useful visualizations out of is important.” Clients want to capture data during metal shaping processes, “not after the process is done. You waste time by entering the data later. Especially when you’re analyzing things live,” he says. Material planning and purchasing tools provide a better visualization of how inventory is consumed over time, and which stock items are trending over a given period. This improves forecasting accuracy substantially. Using Metalware’s back-end data in its production environment, one client paid close attention to machine utilization and which jobs were profitable versus which were not, according to Shawne O’Connor, director at Paragon CSI. As a result, the client reorganized the machinery layout “to streamline its production floor, and then purchased new equipment that made more sense. They expanded to new types of cutting processes,” purchasing an automatic cutoff lathe to replace older band saws. The client’s processes became “significantly faster, and the company produced less scrap,” O’Connor says. Metalware is mobile. “We provide the ability to gather data through a mobile scanning tool. Everything in the environment has a label that can be scanned,” Dix says. This means that “the moment a sheet or coil is allocated to an order, you know that it’s happened. Other systems may not know that material is spoken for until after the job is done.”


Willbanks Metals, Fort Worth, Texas, installed two tube lasers and an automated press brake last year, and is installing a stretcher- leveling line this year. “Our investments are driven by increasing demand. Customers are requesting that we add more capacity or new capabilities to serve their needs,” says Chief Commercial Officer Ryan Letz. “They want us to do as much downstream as we can. If we could add value to 100 percent of our sold tonnage, we would.”

The company installed its first tube laser, a Mazak Fabri Gear 220 and a Mazak Neo 400 model tube laser during fourth quarter 2022. “One is built for smaller parts; the other is for bigger profiles, up to 16 inches,” Letz explains. “We have a long products distribution center where we handle tubing, angle iron, merchant bar, beam and pipe. We had not been offering laser cutting service at all. Our customers asked us why we don’t do more with the product.”

The straight-head laser cutting machine can cut to length, perform miter cutting, tap and drill holes, and create custom profiles.

With the tube laser, Willbanks can perform multiple steps that used to be done manually in one line. “We sell the tube and provide intricate cuts with better, more consistent quality” than manual operations would normally be able to accomplish. “There is no doubt that this is a profit center,” Letz acknowledges. Willbanks’ Accurpress automated press brake is integrated with an OctoCrane system. The crane will pick up a sheet, and the press creates parts that are automatically transferred into a stack with no human operator needed.

“We program it with AutoCAD, telling the machine what section of the [storage] grid it should go to access the material,” according to Letz.

With Willbanks’ latest investments, “we are literally doubling our footprint in terms of space and virtually doubling our cut-tolength sheet and plate capacity,” he says. The new leveler will be installed during the second quarter.


     The modern service center manages inventory and in-process work efficiently with the help of constant data flows.


Stürm SFS—a service center in Winterthur, Switzerland—carries aluminum and carbon and stainless steel sheet and plate, bars, structural products, tubing and custom profiles. The company installed a Fehr honeycomb- style material handling and storage system at the end of 2022.

“We developed a concept using robots able to feed multiple saws. It can pick from flat stock, bar and tubes out of a cassette storage system to the feeding tables,” then moves the remnants back to storage, Fehr President David Veldung explains.

Stürm SFS has several bays of stored material. “They used to have everything lying on the floor and an overhead crane,” with workers “walking material to a particular saw. The new honeycomb system goes 25 meters high (82 feet), 60 meters long (196 feet), and the robot in the middle serves all the locations,” says Thomas Lehner, managing director for Fehr Switzerland.

Each cassette is delivered to specific work stations. The robot picks the material out of the cassette and places it on the saw. “There are eight work stations around the system, and each one has a specific purpose: Order picking, loading, sawing,” he says.

In addition to the automation, Fehr offers warehouse management system software, which can directly connect to customers’ processes. That means “direct from a sales associate to a customer, trying to sell cut material, then directly down to the sawing department,” Lehner says, adding, “there is no human interference in between. It is a complete hands-free operation from sales to a finished part. We can automate, palletize and prepare the order for shipping” so that customers get exactly what they need on time.


Traditionally, generating winning quotes required a certain level of skill and experience— measuring parts, obtaining the latest material prices and determining cost estimates for machine run time, cleaning, painting, labor and shipping.

Recently, this largely manual process that relied on phone calls, notes and the tribal knowledge of senior estimators has crept into the digital world. The digital world, however, wasn’t exactly ready. Spreadsheet programs aren’t designed for this task, and CAD/CAM nesting, 3D design, offline programming and similar software applications are focused on the shop floor and productionready parts. The vendors supplying these products often develop quoting software as an afterthought.

Intelligent, automated quoting software is able to quickly generate quotes directly from PDFs, JPEGs, and even “napkin” drawings. This technology, like SecturaSOFT, manipulates geometry without the need for a complex CAD system. The software pulls information from a scanned drawing and creates an estimate as well as an engineered drawing. In addition, it can include secondary operations, such as welding and bending, and build complex assemblies from a simple JPEG.

Rather than using a programming team to calculate run times and nests, estimators can do it all. And instead of waiting hours for engineers to properly draw files just to initiate a quote, the finished quote already will be out the door.

Brunswick Steel in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has adopted SecturaSOFT. Before that, “our quoting process was complex, manually intensive and required a certain level of experience and expertise,” Sales Manager Dallas McInnes recalls. “Consequently, quotes were not being created in a timely or consistent manner.” Brunswick Steel trialed SecturaFAB with four users and is now extending use of the software throughout its sales staff.


“Automation is not an option, but a necessity,” says Cesar Martin, director of engineering for the Salico Group. Martin says automation has become “an integral part of our product offerings. Many customers are looking at the big picture: cost savings, reduced mistakes, tooling traceability and increased efficiencies.”

“Automation brings consistency into the operation,” adds Mike McGuire, North American sales manager for SES-Salico. “It reduces the possibility of mistakes or variability in quality that results from different operators’ abilities. It is difficult to find and hire skilled operators but, with automation, the training time required to bring an operator up to speed is drastically reduced.”

McGuire notes that 3 percent of all machine setups made without automated assistance are incorrect, and a robot system eliminates this issue.

SES is working on other innovations up and down the line. For example, its new automated tension control for slitting lines provides individual slit mult tension “that operates at the same speed as the material running through the slitter,” McGuire says. “No drag, no marking, just tight coils.”

The controls system of any SES-Salico slitting, CTL or tension leveling line allows the operator to enter the material to be processed “and the machine system will automatically set the correct parameters for proper processing. This takes away any guesswork, and the operator does not need to be an artist to make a good, finished product.”

Companies also can turn to automation to solve the push-pull between safety and production. “We are involved in several projects featuring anthropomorphic 6-axis robots, mainly in packaging sections for slitting and cut-to-length lines,” says Martin. “These traditionally are labor intensive, but now many of the processes are being automated by specialty units or by robots to replace operator functions in dangerous areas. Multiple applications are candidates for this technology,” he adds.


Carmel, Indiana-based Bayern Software has released a major update to its Capstone ERP system, which is among the programs used by Bayern’s 270 service center customers. “This update features extensions to Capstone’s fabrication capabilities. It gives Bayern a point of differentiation among service center software providers and opens more doors for us,” both among fabricators and service centers that perform fabrication work in house.

“A number of our service center customers have morphed into fabricators. Others are operating under a hybrid model, with a wing of their facility housing fabrication services,” reports Bayer.

Capstone’s Fabrication Order system, launched in April 2022, extends the capabilities of the Capstone Work Order system. Input can be pulled from one or more warehouses and/or procured from one or more suppliers. Fabrication order output can replenish stock and/or flow directly into a sales order, transfer order or downstream fabrication order.

Bayern’s 2023 update to the Fabrication Order system includes integration with a third-party material optimization engine and complete, native accounting functionality.


Reibus International, an independent and anonymous SaaS-enabled e-commerce marketplace, uses technology to solve supply chain problems within the industrial materials space. Based in Sandy Springs, Georgia, the company uses its proprietary technology and industry knowledge to facilitate supply chain efficiency by shortening lead times, reducing inventory and streamlining finance and freight services. Chris Shipp, Reibus International’s senior vice president for U.S. sales, says the company observes and reacts swiftly to market volatility on behalf of service center customers who sell and purchase raw materials on the spot market. “We provide solutions to control inventory, to move it out or buy, and we help with securing both domestic and foreign supply. We help users navigate the market. Sitting on inventory that is not moving can burden cash flow. We will help them free up cash and get rid of that inventory,” Shipp says

“A lot of service centers use archaic systems,” he notes. “The old way is when you need material, you send out an email to 100 people, 50 respond and you get offers for product you don’t want. We automated that process. We have people that list material and others looking at the offers, and click ‘buy.’ It saves time and money and helps everyone become more efficient.”

Service centers using the platform can run leaner, while experiencing better lead times and lower operating costs. Other benefits become more obvious over time. For example, says Shipp, service centers can re-evaluate existing supply contracts “and pivot in the middle of a cycle. Maybe a service center doesn’t carry aluminum but can get that for a customer now.”

Whether seeking to better manage material specification and order quoting, metal processing lines, robotic assistance, e-commerce, enterprise software or mobile apps, the modern service center will investigate and adopt the tools it needs to meet the current and future needs of the market. To the flexible and forward-thinking organization, these are risks worth taking.