Stainless steel storage tanks are among the most ubiquitous pieces of metal equipment in modern society, holding everything from milk to chemicals to pharmaceuticals to lubricants. They hide in plain sight in industrial parks across the world, on the factory floor and on the highway. They keep our food safe and prevent chemicals from leaching into the ground. And they are fabricated in hundreds of plants scattered around the country, making up one of the more fragmented segments of the nations finished metals industry.
"We fabricate and sell tanks for every reason and every season," said Cheryl Schuster, sales manager for Buckeye Fabricating Co. The Springboro, Ohio, company is typical of the industry. The family owned company with 35 employees has been making stainless storage tanks since 1963, some 50,000 in the past 48 years. "We sell them through our own sales force," Schuster said. "We dont have a product line, and we start from scratch. We custom fabricate everything."
Like many other family owned fabricating companies, Buckeye Fabricating takes a shotgun approach to selling its products and services. The company fabricates storage tanks for customers who need to inventory everything from liquid soap to bulk grain to petroleum. "We dont do a lot in food grade or pharmaceuticals, but we do a lot in the chemical industry," Schuster said.
Like most of its competitors, Buckeye Fabricating spreads the risk by handling other lines, primarily carbon steel tanks. Its business is split fairly evenly between the two lines.
In nearby Belding, Mich., Stapco Stainless Products Corp., a division of Belding Tank Technologies Inc., has been fabricating stainless storage tanks since 2005. Belding Tank started in 1992 as a fabricator of fiberglass tanks but added the stainless line as a corporate diversification initiative.
Stapco sales engineer Bill Ruble said that the division fabricates "a basic-need tank to a higher-end tank. We market to the middle of the road. Thats where most of the needs are." Stapco services the food and beverage industry, as well as pharmaceuticals. Although the majority of its business is in the Midwest, the division can service customers nationwide. Lately, Stapco has been doing some international work, primarily for customers in Mexico and the Caribbean.
"Stainless storage tanks get sold on the strength of longevity, durability and cleanability," Ruble said. "You can use it for one medium, clean the tank out and use it for another." But the longevity of stainless tanks is one of the business drawbacks, he said. "Stainless tends to last awhile, and used tanks can be pretty competitive to new ones."
P.L. Questad, general manager at Superior Steel Products Inc., Caldwell, Idaho, agreed. "These tanks dont really wear out," he said. Superior Steel Products, purchased by the Questad family in 1994, also fabricates carbon steel tanks, with stainless storage tank fabrication accounting for anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of its annual volume.
Superior Steel Products specializes in fabricating stainless storage tanks for agricultural fertilizers, chemicals, fuel storage and mining. "We started as a fabricator of tanks for agricultural fertilizers," Questad said. "Thats always been our bread and butter." But in recent years the company has branched out into fabricating tanks for municipalities upgrading water treatment and filtration systems.
Questad said a big market for Superior Steel Products is the Pacific Northwest, California and Arizona, although the company sells tanks to customers as far away as Texas, New York, Louisiana and Florida, and even some to the U.S. military for use in Iraq.
John Fearn sells tanks for a Wisconsin company that makes a line of stainless storage tanks for food, beverage, dairy, pharmaceutical and personal care processors. "We sell primarily to the sanitary process industry," said Fearn, a sales representative for Walker Stainless Equipment Co.
Located in New Lisbon in the heart of Wisconsins dairy industry, Walker Stainless got its start during World War II making tanks for the bulk transportation of milk from dairy farms to processors. "We made tanks for wheels and decided to take the wheels off," said Fearn, who noted that the company has a division that still makes over-the-road tankers for dairies. "We do a lot of process tanks, agitation vessels for blending, mixing, heating and cooling."
The company also sells sanitary process tanks nationwide and in Canada, Mexico and Central America. "We have installed 70,000-gallon stainless silos for dairies in Florida, Vermont and California," said Fearn, who noted that his company is "one of four significant companies in the U.S. that play in our field on the sanitary process side."