“Custom metal fabrication” doesn’t quite capture the nature of business over at Northern Metal Fab. Unlike many in the metal fab industry, the Baldwin manufacturer rarely makes more than a few of the same product. What you might be surprised to learn is that this variability has given them an edge around which they’ve built a flourishing custom metal fabrication business. And yes, they tout an impressive list of repeat customers.

How does a company stay profitable and innovative when it’s output Is constantly in flux? Simple. “It’s basically the same, only different” says Engineering Manager Henry Fuerstenberg, talking about the company’s approach to manufacturing engineering. This is best illustrated in product-line changes for long time customers. While some are minor, many are essentially a completely new design. But by following a rigorous and detailed approach to the manufacturing engineering, Northern Metal Fab can swiftly translate a customer’s design to production ready data for the shop floor to reality.

Simply put, the profit’s in the process.

The Path to Custom Metal Fabrication

Over the last 30 years, Northern has served an expanding list of industries including water treatment, railway maintenance, mining, bulk handling and marine applications. Most recently, the company received certification to build pressure vessels. The common factor amongst these industries? Large, complex, custom metal fabrications with typical production quantities less than five units. “We’re on the extreme end of high mix, low volume production,” says President John Hehre. In fact, the company’s “high volume” is typically less than fifty units.

Employing over 50 certified welders, Northern Metal Fab is a weld shop at its core. The company supports it’s welding workforce with cutting edge technology and top-of-the-line machinery and equipment. From large scale laser and plasma/oxy-fuel cutting tables, press brakes, plate rolls, saws, and a machining cell, to complete blasting and finishing areas, the shop is set up to scale, flex and pivot to easily meet project requirements. John Felix, Vice President of Operations, explains that “Our fully integrated capabilities in large scale fabrications allow us to control the entire fabrication process from sourcing raw materials through in-house finishing and assembly capabilities.”

The opportunities for growth are clear. With over 140,000 square feet of manufacturing space, a 20,000 square foot covered warehouse, and acres of outdoor storage, the company certainly has the physical capacity to scale. “Opportunities with existing customers continue to expand, and we’ve been successful in adding new customers over the past few years,” commented Sales Manager Ron Larson. Jeff Jacobson, Vice President of Finance and HR, adds, “Our biggest constraint to growth is, like all manufacturing companies, our ability to attract and retain a highly skilled workforce.” Attracting qualified candidates requires continuous attention to competitive pay, benefits, training and a collaborative working environment.

Of course, no company story would be complete without a nod to its roots. Founder, entrepreneur and visionary Mark Lightfoot led the company from 1987 until he lost his battle with cancer in February of this year. Mark’s “larger than life” presence will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue to live on through business as usual at Northern Metal Fab. Although changes in the company are inevitable, you could easily say they will be “just the same, only different.”

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