Commercial Metal Forming
Playing the infinite game
Business View Magazine interviews Bob Messaros, President of Commercial Metal Forming, as part of our focus on the metal forming industry.
To some, the making of carbon, steel, and aluminum tank heads and tank accessories might seem like a strictly prosaic endeavor. Bob Messaros, on the other hand, President & CEO of Commercial Metal Forming (CMF), the leading tank head manufacturer in the U.S., has more poetic, even mystical, ways of describing his business. “We’ve defined it as ‘playing the infinite game,’ he avers. “It’s about constantly driving towards something new and different; constantly improving every day and being an advocate for our customers; helping them look at the world differently and offering them better economic solutions.”
“The dilemma in that is, most of the time, they don’t understand what the unmet need is,” Messaros continues. “So, our purpose in creating value for our customer is to work across their entire horizon of disciplines – engineering, design, production, purchasing, quality – to solve problems that exist in the application or to look for better economic solutions. So, it’s all about value creation; it’s not about getting an order, today. Yes, it’s important to grow the bottom line, but that only happens if you’re looking at the horizon and trying to collaborate with customers on where they want to go and how we can be an advocate for them and a resource to be part of that success.”
Of course, there are more prosaic facts concerning Commercial Metal Forming: the company had its origin in 1920, as a business unit of Commercial Shearing and Stamping, a privately-held firm, owned by the Cushwa family. It went public in the 1960s as Commercial Intertech, after its product line had evolved into hydraulics and steel tunnel plates. In 2000, Parker Hannifin purchased Commercial Intertech, kept the hydraulic division, but spun off the metal stamping operation a year later. Since then, Commercial Metal Forming has been owned by a variety of private equity groups.
Today, CMF supplies over 400 different tank head and tank accessory items to over 3,000 customers throughout the U.S, Canada, the Middle East, and South America, in 30 different market segments, including: air receivers, petrochemical, LP Gas, oil field, construction equipment, rail and truck transportation, oil and gas separation, food processing, and filtration. Other product lines include medical chair and instrument bases, valve actuator and diaphragm covers, lawn mower decks, and commercial dishwasher components.
“From a market presence standpoint, we’re the largest independent tank head manufacturer in the U.S.,” says Messaros. “There are tank heads in all kinds of products. We could be providing pressure vessel heads to the petrochemical, oil, and gas industry for fracking plants that would be making propyl ethylene products, to a small air compressor you might even have in your garage to inflate the tires on your car or your bike. So, it’s very diverse. We make heads as small as four inches in diameter, up to 300 inches in diameter.”
“We’re the only tank head producer that has multiple facilities,” he continues. “We have three facilities in the U.S. – Youngstown, Ohio is the largest; followed by Orange County, California; and then Saginaw, Texas. In each manufacturing facility, we have redundant capabilities to allow us ultimate flexibility for our customers. In manufacturing, things do happen – a press goes down. So, we have the ability to move that application to another process and meet the needs of the customer. In each of the manufacturing facilities, we also have distribution centers that allow us to set up lean programs for some of the larger customers that help them be more efficient and lower costs.”
Going forward, Messaros says that CMF will always look to invest in new machines and equipment, as it continues to explore new capabilities. In the past, the company has made several key, strategic acquisitions which have helped it become more successful, and this coming summer, it is rolling out what he calls “one of the largest machine equipment investments this company has made in its history. When we talk about future investments and acquisitions, we do if it from a customer point of view,” he adds. “How can this investment in new equipment or this acquisition parlay into future successes for our customers? So, in August, we’ll be launching with a new, very lean manufacturing line that can change the game in the marketplace for our customers in a specific diameter range – and us.”
CMF will also continue to invest in people. “It’s everybody’s responsibility to be looking for new talent,” Messaros states. “A continued increase in talent and capability translates into doing different things within the marketplace that will further create more value for us as a critical partner to our customers.”
Currently, CMF has about 175 employees. “From a people standpoint, it’s not an enormously large company,” Messaros admits. “We’re a very lean organization, but our competitive advantage starts with our people and what drives them. And what makes us unique is our culture. We’ve accepted the responsibility for the success of every person we touch. So, consequently, the viewpoint that we have concerning our employees is: how do we make a difference in their world? Because that translates in making a difference in our customers’ world.”
“The biggest thing about Commercial is that it’s driven by a culture of purpose,” Messaros states, waxing poetic, again. “It’s all about your purpose and why you exist; how are you fulfilling that? Some days you fulfill it well by your actions and other days, you screw it up. That’s part of life. We do a good job, internally, of assessing ourselves, everyday, and we’ve got a high level of people who understand, ‘Did I create value, today, or not?’ And it all starts with creating value for the customer. It can be as simple as a customer calling up with a problem. Then it becomes our problem to solve. It’s a complement to the ‘infinite game,’ in that it’s a journey. And success is a very long-term view.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: Commercial Metal Forming
WHAT: A tank head manufacturer
WHERE: Headquarters in Youngstown, Ohio