By Tim Hayes
Gerome Manufacturing Co., Inc. has been in the custom sheet metal fabrication business for 62 years, and company President Joe Putila has been there for about half of that time.
At this dynamic operation, which employs about 90 people, Putila’s day feels more like a general manager – a member of the team, getting involved with customer orders, walking the shop floor, solving problems alongside his managers and manufacturers.
“I guess my job is generally keeping all of the lead people here on the same page and constantly moving forward, working always to improve our efficiency, quality and delivery,” he said. “We have daily morning production meetings to discuss what needs done and how we will attack any issues we have to try and achieve our goals. It is a constant work in progress.”
Gerome Manufacturing’s operations are based at its 150,000 square-foot plant in Smithfield, Fayette County. Its engineering/drafting department, equipped with state-of-the-art CAD hardware and software, along with prototype manufacturing and special equipment for the design of fabrication of a wide range of products for various OEMs, provides the specifications to perform advanced metalworking techniques to form, shape, weld, heat treat, and finish a multitude of materials into fabrications customers need.
The primary benefit results in finished parts from a single source to ensure the highest degree of customer satisfaction. Special fabrications include breaker frames and cabinets for high-voltage outdoor switchgear found on transmission lines worldwide. Gerome also fabricates advanced magnetic alloys into efficient high attenuation shielding for cathode ray tubes, photo multiplier tubes, transformers and sensitive instrumentation. Other materials fabricated by Gerome include aluminum, copper, brass, phenolic, carbon steel, nickel, bronze, and stainless steel.
In-house capabilities include shearing, laser cutting, conventional forming, spinning, MIG and TIG welding, punching, grinding, annealing, passivation of stainless steel, sandblasting, finishing, wet and powder painting, silk-screening, and assembly. By performing nearly every function onsite, the company works to ensure quality, cost-effectiveness and efficient delivery.
Expertise in CAD/CAM applications support customers’ initial design phase, appropriate materials selection, and packaging and delivery ideas. Typically, Gerome’s CAD/CAM technicians will take a detailed customer drawing of a finished product and redraw it using a state-of-the-art 3-D computerized modeling system. This creates a design showing the sub-assembly piece parts defined to accurately manufacture the fabrication assembly. This creates a virtual prototype before the parts are ever processed, thereby reducing costly mistakes and assuring that the product will be delivered on time.
“We moved into a new building about five years ago, installed new equipment, new computer systems, a sandblasting unit, a conveyorized powder paint system with a five-stage wash system, a 2,000-watt fiber laser cutter. The new laser has helped to keep the heavier gauge work in house, which reduces cycle times and cost.
“So far things have gone pretty much as planned,” Putila explained. “Moving the operation under one roof has paid huge benefits. It has been a change in culture but everyone has been very cooperative. Everyone here deserves props for the job they have done.
“Flexibility in working with customers and product quality have been high and are always a top priority,” he said. “The biggest influence on our business now is quality and delivery, more than price. We prefer to compete on quality, because what we do is specialized. It’s not a commodity.”
“Five years ago, we took a hard look at things and discovered we had a lot of redundancy, we had three buildings at one point,” said Putila. “Since then we have done a lot of cross-training, so that more people can perform more functions. We’ve also had some retirements, so our headcount today is much more in line with our needs. Our staff can help clients come up with solutions. We ship products nationwide and internationally. Advanced fabricated products from Gerome turn up anywhere in the world. I am very proud of the people here for the job they do. Collectively, there are no problems we can’t handle.”
Gerome Manufacturing has adapted and succeeded over its recent past. But what does the future look like? “Looking out five years from now, we’ve already begun preparing for our future,” said Putila. “We have a very successful certified apprentice relationship with local vo-tech schools. They send students here to study and become experienced on our equipment, and a number of them have stayed on as full-time employees. That’s good for us and good for them. This is important, because we anticipate a number of retirements over the next five to 10 years, and we are very aware of the need to keep our people well trained and ready to continue operating the company well into the future.”
Pictured at top from left to right are: Jeff Miller – Production Manager; Roy Matthews – Paint Department Supervisor; Chuck Gallaher- Shipping and Receiving Manager; Julia Baugh – Q.A. Manager; Joe Putila – President; Derek Putila – Asst. Plant Manager; Brian Riggin – Prep Shop Supervisor; Ken McDonough – Shipping and Receiving Manager; Keith Marano – Production Planning; and Jim Angry – Plant Manager.
Tim Hayes is a Pittsburgh-based communications veteran offering expert writing services and presentation skills coaching. firstname.lastname@example.org