WHEATLAND, Pa. - Other than the clang of steel tubes being spit from new processing equipment or from bundles of product being dropped into bins from overhead cranes, the new Sharon Tube plant is exceptionally quiet, as far as steel manufacturers go.
That's not to say it isn't humming.
Tours throughout the bright new facility just east of the Ohio line near Farrell, Pa., confirmed that business, in fact, is bustling.
Steelworker Scott Franks of West Middlesex, Pa., a bench operator with United Steel Workers Local 1355, positions a section of tubing Tuesday that was just drawn over mandrel, a stretching process in the tube making, at Sharon Tube.
A ribbon-cutting Tuesday morning marked the official restart of the upgraded and expanded facility now operating under previous brand Sharon Tube, a name brought back due to its reputation for high-quality tubes.
Steel tubes made at the Wheatland plant include hydraulic cylinders used for heavy equipment, automotive, agricultural equipment and more. While they are not used in the growing oil and gas drilling industry, tubes made at sister tubular plants in Trumbull County are active in the energy business, company officials said.
The new Sharon Tube plant had operated for several years previously as Wheatland Tube.
With a return to the Sharon Tube name, also came a return to past management.
Having settled comfortably into retirement six years ago, Sharon Tube president Bill Perrine admitted it did take some prodding by Barry Zekelman, chief executive officer and chairman of parent JMC Steel Group, to bring him back to his former role as company president.
"Barry and I have very similar views about the value of people and hard work, and it all fit for me," Perrine, 64, said. About 130 workers are employed at the plant.
Aside from that, Perrine said a visit to the newly remodeled plant, now doubled in size and complete with millions of dollars in new state-of-the art equipment, aided in his decision.
The $45 million expansion and upgrade has made the plant the "world's most modern DOM manufacturing facility."
DOM, or "drawn over mandrel" is a process in which thick-walled pipes are stretched to varying lengths. During Tuesday's tour, for example, one 27-foot pipe was being stretched to 35 feet, the dimension required by the customer.
The facility also includes a completely automated lube line, an annealing furnace and a finishing line complete with advanced testing equipment, including underwater, ultrasound testing equipment able to detect flaws before the product leaves the cold mill.
The improvements also have added increased capacity and more sizes of metal piping.
Despite the upgrades and high-tech machines, Perrine said it's still the work force that will make the plant successful. "It's the work force. Our employees are truly the difference," he said. "Making something is a team deal. It's not a one-person deal ever."
Down the road, perhaps within a five-year time frame, Perrine said he can see further expansion to increase capacity at the Wheatland location. That would likely trigger expansion, as well, at the Weathersfield Township Sharon Tube plant, the source of raw materials for the tube maker. About 60 workers are employed at the Weathersfield location.
For now, though, Zekelman said the goal is to be efficient, effective and responsible.
"We don't want a date. We want a marriage," Zekelman said of the relationship he hopes to build with his customers. "It's really great to see that Sharon Tube name back on the building. These people build a life on it, and we are very proud."
Warren's Wheatland Tube is a sister company also owned by JMC Steel Group.