The economic crisis has left the manufacturing sector
traumatized, with some companies scrambling desperately to stop
the financial hemorrhaging. The efforts, while not all
successful, have led some to rely on maintenance, repair and
operations (MRO) work to carry them through to an eventual
Machine tool manufacturers and machine shops say they are
hanging on despite the recessionary economic conditions that
have been felt most deeply in the manufacturing sector. They're
able to do so by stressing MRO work or because they have a
narrow niche for products and services.
One company in Texarkana, Texas, for example, specializes in
replacing parts for German-made paper mill equipment. "We don't
make parts for them, but we are a competitor for replacement
parts," said Steve Petty, president of Texarkana Machine Inc.,
which purchases plate, flat bar, tubing and other types of
steels. The company also performs tool-and-die work for the
steel industry, specifically for welding electrodes, which he
says "are very complicated and very expensive."
The February announcement by Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel
Corp. that it would idle its electric-resistance welded tubing
operations in Lone Star, Texas, worried Petty, "but the
maintenance people are still working and we are still shipping
orders," he said. Texarkana Machine also provides tool and die
work and short production runs for the Red River Army Depot in
Texarkana, which performs maintenance on ground combat vehicles
and tactical systems.
The company's product diversity and global reach will help
sustain it, Petty said.
"We design and make the paper mill equipment ourselves, by
reverse engineering. Then we catalog over 6,000 parts that we
manufacture, warehouse and distribute. We have sales staff in
the United Kingdom, Australia, Brazil, India, Israel and the
U.S.," he said.
Copelands Inc., a carbon steel, stainless and aluminum plate
fabricator and job shop in Ooltewah, Tenn., also has a
diversified customer base, but Mike Copeland, general manager,
remains a bit nervous about economic conditions. "During the
past six to eight weeks, we have seen a lot of quoting
opportunities, but they are not ready to pull the trigger," he
said. "I'm not sure whether (these inquiries) will lead to new
business or if they are looking to quote for greater
Copelands serves such markets as power generation, truck
aftermarket, bridge construction, industrial pumps and
commercial mowing, but it also makes specialty linings for the
boring and mining industries.
Among mining companies, some that ceased operations toward
the end of 2008 have since reopened, he said. "Normally this
would be their busiest time, but they are not booking some of
the business they typically have. Perhaps the equipment people
don't want to spend the money. If they aren't running 24/7 like
they did in September and October, there is no need to replace
consumables, chips, cutting tips and other parts as
Petty said that some of the equipment at Texarkana Machine
is getting less use, but he has put his employees on MRO tasks
rather than laying them off.
In Georgia, the owner of a machine shop agreed that lower
operating rates among customers means that parts aren't wearing
out as quickly. "We do repairs of large industrial machinery,"
particularly for rock quarries, the heavy construction
industry, scrapyards and printers. "The economy is in the pits.
Compared with last year, our business is way down-off about 25
percent," she said.
"We have idled some equipment and laid off employees," she
added, crediting her metals suppliers for "working with me. We
plan to hunker down and survive this market. We have to get on
with it." CORINNA PETRY