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The producing steel industry that survived looks much different than our grandfather’s steel industry. “Standard Sizes” have taken on a whole new meaning. Bread and butter items that represented the largest tonnage sales require larger and larger purchase orders that are cost prohibitive to only the largest users or resellers. The plethora of smaller, more efficient mini-type-mills have made any return of the old steel business model doubtful. Into this new landscape, you will eventually be impacted by unavailability of grades, shapes, and sizes and lengths, that have forever been “Standards”.

Whatever is a person to do? Get to know your steel supplier. Understand their capabilities, their financial health, their industrial knowledge, their mill relationships. Think outside of the box. Buy smarter. Take another look at machining options that you thought were prohibitive. Using up a bar end-cut even though you have to remove a lot of stock, might not be as costly as you previously thought. The per pound price of a piece of steel is a relative number. Veal Scaloppini may be $18.00/lb, but if two can have a nice meal for $9.00, you can treat yourself now and again.

The specialty steel business is healthy; the heavy industrial maintenance facets of that business are even more healthy. It will remain so because it has always been more artform than mechanical. Because it is on a very low rung of the food chain of steel supply, don’t be disheartened by “Steel News”. Most doesn’t apply to you. Know your options. Get to know your suppliers AND competitors. Understand, that going forward, dead weight will become increasingly costly; whether that means inflated inventories, or an artistically challenged workforce.

On a clear night in the green valleys along the rivers that traverse the country, you can sometimes hear moaning. A frightfully eerie moaning that sounds a lot like… “Feed me Seymour.” That’s not you. You’re a small and lean and specialty maintenance mean! Different set of problems.

-Howard Thomas, Oct 15th, 2019

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