Tube & Pipe
Wednesday | 12 August, 2020 | 1:14 pm

Steel synergy

Written by By Lauren Duensing

A startup backed by Heidtman Steel is ready to overhaul the tube market

August 2020 - “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest,” said inventor and founding father Benjamin Franklin. As the experienced team at Toledo, Ohio-based Heidtman Steel embarks on its newest investment—a tube mill joint venture located at its Erie, Michigan, campus, just north of Toledo—it relies on knowledge as a driving force toward success.

During its 60-plus years in business, Heidtman has been a part of several industry firsts, including building the largest pickling capacity of any service center in the United States and being one of the five initial investors in Steel Dynamics, which made the company the first service center to market thin slab mill products to the automotive industry.

“John Bates Sr. not only has always been able to recognize an opportunity but also has the guts to do something about it. That’s a big part of how he grew this company,” says Tim Berra, Heidtman’s president and CEO.

The next step

As the industry evolves and business become more challenging, “it’s more important than ever to have value-added products to help better utilize your equipment,” Berra says.

“We weren’t specifically looking for a tubing operation to come to our campus,” he says. However, when Nick Williams, now the president of TNT Pipe and Tube, presented this idea to Heidtman’s board, “we got very excited about the possibilities and the potential to leverage the resources of Heidtman.

MM 0820 tube image1

TNT’s flagship mill can complete full changeover in an hour or less, resulting in shorter and more flexible lead times.

“The timing couldn’t have been better, to be honest, because we have open capacity on our equipment, we have the space in our plants, we are located in a good spot, and we have a strong reputation in the market for providing high-quality products and services,” Berra continues.

He characterizes the TNT Pipe and Tube joint venture as the next big thing for Heidtman Steel. “It’s one of the most exciting projects we’ve been involved with since we invested in SDI. It allows us to grow our own business while getting involved in downstream products.”

Mission: flexibility

TNT Pipe and Tube’s mission is to provide customers with a just-in-time, high-quality product. Williams has worked in steel for 17 years and the tube industry for the past 13. During his tenure, he noticed stark differences in the ability of the different sectors to serve customers’ immediate needs.

“I came from flat-rolled,” says Williams. “If I am a Heidtman Steel customer and I want to have something processed, they can turn that around for us, generally in a day or two—more of a just-in-time delivery. In the tube industry, that’s not the case. There’s typically a two- to six-week mill lead time.”

TNT installed a tube mill in phase one of the startup. The mill has an automated robotic changeover system, with full changeover occurring in an hour or less. This results in shorter and more flexible lead times. Williams compares the changeover time of an hour or less to his previous venture, “where we were doing changeovers in four to eight hours. This equipment is going to allow us to run more efficiently and increase the quality of our product.”

Automated bundling provides additional efficiencies. The speed of tube processing will be augmented by the mill’s automated bundler feature, which, according to Berra, will allow TNT to customize bundles to each client’s specification with the push of a couple buttons, removing the physical, labor-intensive work of packaging steel tube.

“When you have a team of experienced individuals who truly understand the industry and the customers’ requirements, you can design and implement your equipment to accommodate those needs and wants.” Berra says.

Heidtman CFO Mike Dustmann, who has over 20 years of experience with Bull Moose Tube and Independence Tube, adds that the team’s experience is diverse, including components of “all the various companies people have worked with over the years. We’ve put all that experience into this one piece of equipment—the tube mill.”

In addition to Williams and Dustmann, there is Jim Petkus, who heads TNT’s operations. Petkus has worked in the industry for 35-plus years, including as former president of James Tube.

Williams is supported by Tony Nacastro, formerly with Southland Tube, and David Gast, formerly the vice president of sales for Independence Tube, each with over 40 years of tubing sales experience. All are backed by the depth and experience of the Heidtman engineering, quality, operations, HR, IT and finance teams.

MM 0820 tube image2

TNT will produce hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled and oiled, cold rolled, hot-dipped galvanized and galvannealed.

Marry up

TNT will provide customers with a broad range of products, Williams says, including hot-rolled, hot-rolled pickled, cold-rolled and galvanized.

“We have a unique opportunity to go after different industries. We are seeing success in recreational vehicles, as the pandemic has really changed the trajectory of that industry, and we are seeing a good amount of growth in the solar industry as well. That will help marry up synergies with Heidtman and National Galvanizing,” a joint venture with National Material Co. Dustmann says this confluence creates a supply chain capability that’s “pretty unique in the industry.”

“We can produce a broad range of galvanized sizes. It’s a really robust product range, and that gives us the ability to go after wherever we see growth and opportunity,” says Williams.

TNT will target new and existing customers. “We service many customers that will now be able to buy both tube from TNT and flat-rolled products from Heidtman—all from one salesperson,” Berra says. “Word of mouth has led other people to us, and existing customers on Heidtman’s end that are rather large consumers of tube have expressed a direct interest in having a reliable supplier that can make a competitive product.”

Although rolling out a new venture in the midst of a global pandemic has caused a few sleepless nights, Berra says it also gave TNT “a little bit of extra time to make sure we were running the highest-quality product before we actually went to market.”

The team’s efforts have paid off because Dustmann says there has been strong interest among existing and potential customers, which he calls “astounding—especially for a startup.”

That degree of support has allowed TNT to get off the ground quickly. Williams brought the idea to Heidtman Steel just over one year ago, and the company is already running two shifts and looking to scale up to a third.

“It just feels like our timing is good,” Berra continues. “The expertise that we have on this team has allowed us to design and install equipment that the industry is excited about.”

Williams agrees that TNT’s biggest advantage lies in collaboration, “recognizing each other’s strengths and realizing we could pull off something special. It wasn’t just Mike buying into it, or Tim; it was the group as a whole. In a lot of ways, our experience is speaking for itself. We’re hearing nothing but phenomenal response on our product from customers.” MM


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