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Coil Processing
Friday | 12 March, 2021 | 11:34 am

In the blood

Written by By Corinna Petry

Above: Colonial Metal Products turns to Braner to upgrade and modernize its coil processing equipment.

Service center has heritage at its helm and an equipment partner that goes above and beyond

March 2021 - The latest heir in a lineage of steelworkers is forging a future by relying on an experienced, dedicated team within and the true friendship of an equipment salesman without.

The late William “Bill” J. Thomas Jr. founded Colonial Metal Products, Hermitage, Pennsylvania, in 1990. His son, Will Thomas III, now runs the place, along with a sister company, Colonial Slitting Industries in Weirton, West Virginia, founded in April 2019. The company processes and distributes flat-rolled carbon and stainless steel and aluminum.

“My great-grandfather was at Sharon Steel; my grandfather and father were at Sharon Steel,” says Will Thomas of a steelworks in Farrell, Pennsylvania, that was established in 1887 and closed in 1992. “[Sharon Steel] wanted Dad to run a New York sales office. My dad was not interested, so he started a service center with a partner in the 1970s, sold it in 1987, and then started Colonial in 1990.”

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Thomas calls his father, who died seven years ago, “an amazing man, humble and hardworking. This is a tough way to earn a living but it was all he knew. He started in an 18,000-square-foot building down the street. We still use the building we started in as a warehouse for overflow of raw and finished goods.”   

Thomas started working at Colonial, “building skids for packaging, at age 14. My dad came to visit me during my senior year at college. I wanted to work for him,” but he suggested his son build experience elsewhere. “I worked at Sharon Tube for four years and then came to Colonial.”

Today, Colonial Metal operates two Braner turret slitting and packaging lines and employs 46 people across three shifts while Colonial Slitting has 23 workers. Thomas credits the company’s success to its employees, many of whom have been there for many years. He relies heavily on longtime Executive Vice President Stan Nolf, who helps manage the day-to-day operations in both Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

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Braner’s turret head slitters are especially attractive to the operations of both Colonial Metal Products and Colonial Slitting in Weirton, West Virginia.

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Unstinting support

Since the beginning, the Colonial team purchased pre-owned Braner equipment from others. With help from Matt Meszaros, maintenance technician with Brainard Steel Machinery, and Braner USA Inc. Executive Doug Matsunaga, Colonial has performed critical upgrades and modernized the lines. For example, Colonial built a 90,000-square-foot plant in 2001, and installed a used Braner slitter that it had purchased from Edgecomb Metals.

“We focus on lighter-gauge processing and narrow slitting,” Thomas says. “When Dad started, 1/4-inch and 3/8-inch slitters were the norm, but those were expensive and he was focused on light gauge.colonial

“Our first Braner line was used. We were fortunate to find the equipment. We fell in love with the Braner turret-head slitter. The only thing we do in our business is service; making it easy for customers to do business with us is our main goal. When you do that, however, there are a lot of changeovers, and Braner equipment helps us change over from order to order.” he says.

Today, Colonial Metal Products is preparing to install a Braner turret head in Weirton.

“Braner stands behind the product. After my Dad passed,” recalls Thomas, “we were evaluating our largest capital expense to date, including a new large capacity uncoiler for a 52-inch slitter, which also had a turret recoiler. Parts had to be replaced.

“I was 37 or 38 years old and Doug Matsunaga called and said, ‘I will come out and see you.’ Doug sat down with me, and we looked at everything we were doing and we talked about things. I was spending money I didn’t have, without my father’s guidance. Doug and I talked about how to do it anyway.

“The way he handled the situation was really great,” continues Thomas. “The level of service he gives us is like we bought 10 new slitters. Braner supports its equipment 100 percent. Anything we bought, Doug brought [original] drawings. He helped us bring it on line. Doug Matsunaga is amazing to work with.”

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Computer-generated setups and quick-change turret slitters allow the company to be very nimble in moving through material and getting it out the door as soon as possible. When mills are behind on deliveries, “we still have to provide service,” according to Will Thomas.

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“A bit of chaos”

Colonial Metal Products supplies industries as diverse as building products, automotive parts, and food and beverage. Thirty to 40 percent of the material shipped out is from material it purchases, while 60 to 70 percent of the work is toll processing. “Hermitage does both, Weirton is all toll processing,” Thomas says.

“In the current market, almost every pound of raw material that hits our door is already late to the end customers. We are looking at our production schedule multiple times a day to get material to customers when they need it. We have computer-generated setups and quick-change turret slitters, which allow us to be very nimble.”

When the mills are behind on their deliveries, he says, “we still have to provide service. I have a younger plant manager who came from the oil and gas industry and is doing a good job. In the beginning, he told me, ‘It seems like chaos every day.’ He wanted to smooth things out. I said, ‘I wish you luck with that.’ After six months, he said, ‘I realize that it will never change.’

“The type of service we provide always means a bit of chaos. We have very good equipment. We are updating well-maintained equipment in Weirton. We redid our control systems in Pennsylvania,” says Thomas.

He credits his plant manager with a motto: We do what other people won’t. “I feel that is accurate. My people are tremendously dedicated. They understand that they work for the customer, not for me. We work for all the people who rely on us to slit their material day in and day out  The easier we make the customer’s job, the better our business performs.”  MM

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