Industryweek 2513 Radius Steel Fabricating Trucks

1,779 Steel Pieces to a Quality Relationship

May 4, 2012
Radius Steel CEO credits employees' precision for quality products.

I discovered Radius Steel Fabrication -- a Division of SOO Tractor -- a 70 year old, privately held, steel fabrication company in Sioux City, Iowa for the agricultural equipment industry, based on my search for quality. Radius Steel reflects SOO Tractor's diversification into additional industries such as heavy equipment/construction, petroleum, military/defense, refuse collection, and other industries that are dependent on precisely engineered and manufactured steel products. Some of these products include front-end loaders, back hoe loaders, box beam main frames, hitches, air seeders, 120 foot agricultural sprayers, 50 foot air drills, and a hay accumulator that collects and groups hay bales rivaling 500 pounds, that will eventually feed cattle and horses. The most incredible aspect of this complex piece of equipment? It contains 1,779 pieces!

Radius steel has a warranty rate of 6/10th of 1%. How do you bring 1,779 pieces together and still have a warranty rate of 6/10th of 1%?

To find the answer, I put my safety glasses and hardhat on and ventured into the depths of the Radius Steel Fabrication plant, where my eyes were opened to an unexplored frontier discovered by Allen Mahaney years ago. It takes many, many employees to bring this kind of quality and product to market. I journey from management, where ISO Quality Control paperwork stacks cover Shelly's desk, to Kenny in inventory, who has to keep track of all of the raw steel, hoses, hydraulics, electronics and other parts that are necessary to make up the 1,779 piece accumulator... not to mention how many pieces go into the new articulating tractors, commercial size fertilizer spreaders, and tenders that are scheduled to be manufactured.

There is Craig who tracks incoming orders and shipments, to countless hardworking office workers who schedule production, track costs, work in accounting, and file bills of lading for the semi-tractor trailers who arrive each day stacked with raw steel only to leave full with rows of high sheen, powder coat painted equipment.

David cuts bushings and pins meeting specification tolerances of up to 1/5000th of an inch -- that's nearly equal to a human hair. Dozens of other employees precisely cut, punch, and bend the steel into a variety of shapes. The parts then move to the welding department where various Robotic, MIG, or Sub-Arc welders meticulously fuse pieces together.

In most relationships, there is room for mistakes... but not at Radius. There is no room for "close enough" when you have to bring 1,779 pieces together. One offset piece can cause the equipment to stress and break. This is where the engineering staff comes into play, with their CAD, finite analysis, EDaq, and other complex technologies -- specialties of the engineer's mind. For Radius Steel's engineers, perfection is not only what is needed, but what they expect from themselves every moment.

I continue to walk through the vast plant where I meet Rodney and Jeremy. Rodney and Jeremy use cutting edge powder paint technology, proudly showing me their conveyor belt steel shot blaster, 5-stage stainless steel washer, and five paint booths, including one of the largest powder paint booths in the country. These technologies allow the company to perform premier paint finishes, but most importantly, to focus on environmentally friendly manufacturing -- a high priority at Radius Steel Fabrication.

As I follow the paint line through the Infrared preheat, I pass many employees fully engaged in their work. I follow mesmerized, as the parts descend through the cooling tunnels to meet another department of workers. These employees are ready to assemble the pieces, adding the necessary fittings, hydraulics, electronics, and logos, and finally wrapping and preparing them for shipping. All 1,779 pieces have come together to form the perfect relationship in less than 24 hours.

All around me, through the cutting, punching, fabrication, welding, and the assembly -- parts are placed two by two... the right side together with the left side, the top piece in concert with the bottom piece. Mike, the plant manager explains, "We manufacture products that look good, have excellent quality, and will be there next week, next year, and 10 years from now."

At the end of the day, I thought long and hard about relationships: those made up of 1,779 pieces, those of employees working together to manufacture hair splittingly precise products, and those of everyday life that bring you to the unexpected, the challenging, and the memorable. A relationship is only as whole as it's parts. The employees of Radius Steel Fabrication leave work feeling powerful, smart, and incredibly alive. In a way, these production workers are the unknown, rarely thought of artists -- empowered with knowledge, power, and strength -- a side effect of striving for infinite possibilities with passion. The employees at Radius Steel Fabrication feel like they own the steel they transform. Nothing and no one can get in their way of doing it with precision. They are artists - artists who arrange, cut, bend, weld and assemble products that create economic value for not just companies, but our economy.

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