Lee Michael Industries Plans to Expand Fab Shop

NEW CASTLE, Pa. — A company that fabricates the heavy steel components used in the metals industry is undergoing a major expansion to accommodate its growing business.

“Our primary line of work is mostly industrial,” says Jim Salvatore, operations manager at Lee Michael Industries. “Business is strong.”

The company is expanding its shop floor by 1,600 square feet, Salvatore says, and this fall will embark on another 8,500-square-foot expansion of its plant. The larger addition would be used as a new warehouse, which would free up manufacturing space so the company could handle an increase in heavy fabrication work.

“We just finished a huge job in Ohio,” Salvatore says, noting Lee Michael was awarded a contract for the Nordson Xaloy considation project on Victoria Road in Austintown.

“The nucleus of our business is about a 15 to 20-mile radius from New Castle,” he says. The company usually works on jobs within 60 miles of its plant at 124 E. Long Ave.

Often the plant ships its heavy fabrications out of state, as evidenced by a recent project sent to Georgia. “There’ve been a number of monorail systems we’ve done,” Salvatore says.

On a morning in July, welder Gary Bass is working on a large component that will be used for ductwork in the bag house of a steel mill. Another welder, Adam Frye, is manufacturing smaller consumables used in the steel industry. On average, there are between eight and 10 employees on the shop floor on any given day, but that number changes according to the season.

During spring and summer, there could be as many as 50 to 60 employees working in the shop and in the field.

“We have seven welding stations,” reports shop manager Matt Latore. “We’ll have the ability to add an eighth once everything is relocated.”

After the parts are fitted and welded – and these are large components made of thick-plated steel – they are prepared for painting and finishing if necessary, Latore says. Some of those parts are painted in-house, while other jobs that require pellet or sand blasting must be outsourced to another company. “It depends on what kind of painting and finishing it requires,” he says. “We can power-tool clean, but any kind of media blasting we have to source out.”

The company has fabricated heavy components such as heat transfer furnaces, furnace rack beams, ductwork, lift beams, and headers for natural gas wells. Lee Michael Industries also operates a prefabricated metal building division and a concrete pouring service.

This is an especially busy period for the company, Latore says, because many of the region’s mills are scheduling down time for maintenance work. “Right now, we have seven stations devoted to fabricating,” he says. “When the mills shut down for the summer outage, that’s when they do the most maintenance.”

Business has proved strong year-round for the company over the last two years, Latore says, even during winter when work generally slows. “Typically spring and summer are our busiest seasons,” he says, “but we’ve been very fortunate over the last two winters.”

Among the major projects that kept the company busy last year was Ellwood Crankshaft Group’s $80 million renovation of the former Westinghouse plant in Sharon, Pa. The plant now houses Ellwood’s new forging operations, a job that required a substantial quantity of fabricated steel. “There was a lot of fab work for that project,” Latore says, including the furnace walkways in the plant.

The heavy steel division of the company is enjoying a robust year, Salvatore says, mainly because many companies are moving forward with upgrades or expansions that had been in a holding pattern. “These projects are starting to come alive again and companies are getting to the point where they want to spend some more money,” he says. “A year ago, you didn’t see that. A lot of projects were put on the shelf until they saw what the economy was going to do, and we see a lot of that moving right now.”

Lee Michael Industries recently added two new forklifts to its fleet and plans to buy a new five-ton crane for its shop expansion, Salvatore says. In addition, the company plans to purchase a mobile 22-ton crane used for its heavy industrial on-site work.

The company, founded in 2005 by Brian Herr, has grown into one of the major industrial contractors in the city, Salvatore says. “This is one of the biggest expansions in New Castle,” he says of the company’s growing footprint. “The mills depend on us. They know we do good work and the pricing is right.”

Salvatore says that his company has succeeded because it has diversified. Its prefabricated metal building division, for example, has erected storage buildings, medical imaging projects and industrial buildings across the region. Plus, most mill expansions use pre-engineered metal buildings. “There’s a market for it,” he says.

Aside from its structural fabrication and pre-fab building divisions, Lee Michael Industries has enjoyed considerable success as an industrial concrete contractor.

“There isn’t much we can’t handle,” Salvatore says.

Pictured at top: Jim Salvatore and Matt Latore look over plans for Lee Michael Industries’ expansion.

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