Stanwade Tanks Prospers with Diversification
HARTFORD, Ohio – Tim Woofter often hears about how hard it is to find qualified workers able to perform fabricating and production tasks – especially among those young people needed to fill the slots of older employees preparing to retire.
But what he hears often doesn’t match what he sees.
“We don’t seem to have problems finding good people,” says the president of Stanwade Tanks & Equipment Inc., Hartford. “You hear a lot about young people today, but we have a good crew.”
Stanwade is a medium-size manufacturer of tanks that oil and transportation companies use to store petroleum and oil, Woofter says. The company, founded in 1947, turns out tanks with a capacity that ranges from just a few gallons to 30,000 gallons, he says.
Much of the production involves machine operation and welding, Woofter says, and nearly all of the employees at the plant are trained internally on how to use the equipment or how to weld a specific tank. What’s interesting is that some employees entered their positions with little or no knowledge of the trade.
“We’ve had people start with us that have never welded in their life and picked it right up,” Woofter says. He recalls one newly hired employee who had never held a welding stick before coming to work at Stanwade. “He struck an arc and it scared him so bad he jumped,” Woofter recalls. “A couple of months later, he’s turned into one of the best welders we have.”
Today, the company employs 43 in Hartford, another five at an affiliate in Luckey, Ohio, just south of Toledo, and one in sales who oversees a small warehouse in Syracuse, N.Y.
Paying attention to employees and helping them develop a certain skill is one reason for the low turnover at Stanwade, says its executive vice president, Robert Nemeth. “I’ve been here 22 years, and we’ve got third-generation employees working here,” he says.
One worker is looking to bring his son on for seasonal work this summer, which would make him the fourth-generation employee from one family. “That kid’s great-grandfather, grandfather, and father worked here,” he emphasizes.
Much of the company’s success has resulted from Woofter’s dedication to the industry, Nemeth says. This year, the president of the company was presented with the Illinois-based Steel Tank Institute’s Hall of Fame award.
“It’s not something everyone knows about,” Nemeth says. “But if you’re in this industry, it’s a prestigious award. He’s helped make sure that the products built for the entire nation are within standards. That’s quite an accomplishment.”
Woofter joined the STI board in 1997 and left in late January of this year. Throughout his tenure, the board helped set the standards for the methods of inspection for the steel tank industry and write new rules and manuals for the repair of above-ground storage tanks. “Both are recognized by the U.S. EPA,” Woofter says.
In 1947, Woofter’s father, Stan, and his business partner, Wade Linneman, founded the company, hence the name Stanwade. “They started building children’s furniture, such as tables and chairs, with scrap from the mills. Then, they started to manufacture metal trellises for what would become the Burpee Seed Co.
“In 1951, they started making 275-gallon tanks used for heating oil,” Woofter recalls. “These are oval-shaped tanks that are used in the basement of the house.”
Today, Stanwade manufactures tanks that hold 30,000 gallons of fuel or oil. “In 1980, we merged with a company from Hubbard and entered this market,” he says. The plant in Hubbard was closed in the early 1980s and the operations moved to the 13-acre site in Hartford.
“We’re pretty well diversified,” Nemeth says. “We’re not focused on a single market and we’ve expanded into different geographical locations.”
And since Stanwade’s customers are mainly affiliated with the downstream segment of the oil and gas business, it hasn’t been heavily affected by the more than year-long depression of oil prices, Woofter adds.
“We’re actually feeling very little of the downturn,” he says. “However, when energy companies were doing a lot of fracking, we supplied a lot of tanks to the local oil jobber who kept tanks on the site to fuel frack trucks and compressor trucks,” he says.
That business, Woofter notes, was in addition to his company’s standard work in the tank industry, so it didn’t have a large effect on the company’s bottom line. “We’re still doing a lot of work for compressor stations, mostly in southwestern and central Pennsylvania,” he reports.
Most Stanwade customers are in the Midwest – Kentucky, Illinois, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and portions of New England where residents still use heating oil.
“The heating oil market has really shrunk,” Woofter says. “There was a time in the 1970s where we built 20,000 of them a year.” Today, Stanwade manufactures between 1,500 and 2,000 of these 275-gallon units annually.
The nature of the company’s business also has changed. Its major market today is buyers of large, above-ground storage tanks to hold oil and lubricants. “We don’t do pressure vessels,” Woofter says. “We stay out of that market and tackle the larger tanks at less volume.”
Stanwade’s 13-acre site, just off state Route 305 in Hartford, stands out, marked by a 50-foot tower that allows room to build the company’s largest tanks, most of them 34 to 35 feet long.
The manufacturing process essentially consists of two procedures – forming and welding, Woofter says.
On a day earlier this month, workers at the plant were busy filling an order for the smaller, 275-gallon heating oil tanks. They fed steel sheet through a roller and it laid flat on a hydraulic metal former. Two oval-shaped caps – one for the bottom, the other for the top — were clamped into place at opposite sides as the sheet metal rested in between.
Once in place, mechanical “arms” rose from underneath the steel to wrap the metal around the end caps as two welders spot-welded the sheet and caps together.
“These are called basement tanks,” Woofter notes. “They’re oval-shaped because you can get them through doorways.” The oval-shaped tank ends are manufactured at Commercial Metal Forming Inc. in Youngstown while Stanwade manufactures all of its other tank caps for the larger products.
Once the basic component has been spot-welded, it was taken to final welding site to be finished. Then the product is tested and moved to another building where it’s descaled through a steel-grit blasting process. After the tank is descaled, it’s painted in Stanwade’s coating room.
There, Dave Mutdosch paints by hand over the welds on one of the company’s larger tanks. “I’ve been doing this for about 35 years,” he says. “We call this ‘striping.’ If you spray these, it may cause the coating to run, and you don’t want that.”
Once the welds are painted – in this case, the tank will emerge from the shop gleaming white – they are spray coated and set to dry before they are moved out into the yard and prepared for shipment.
These larger tanks take longer to complete – on average, between 30 and 35 man-hours – and are constructed in sections from a vertical position rather than the horizontal position used to build the smaller oil tanks, Woofter explains. What distinguishes the larger tanks is their double walls that must be pressurized before they’re tested and readied for final coating.
And, some of these tanks are constructed by using the very safety features Woofter helped to develop as a board member of the Steel Tank Institute.
A row of recently finished above-ground tanks in the yard, he points out, were constructed using a Fireguard process developed through the institute. This process involved developing a lightweight, porous concrete used as insulation to protect the integrity of the walls of the tank.
Pictured at top: Kevin Bower, a welder, works atop of a large tank manufactured at Stanwade Tanks & Equipment Inc. in Hartford.
Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.