There's flat. Then there's really flat.
High Steel Service Center's new "HighSL" line of stretcher-leveled sheet and plate steel is as flat as steel can be. High has added a system that removes all internal stresses from the material, so it will not buckle or warp during high-precision laser cutting.
High, part of the privately held The High Cos. group based in Lancaster County, invested $10 million on equipment to process the HighSL steel at its site in Manheim Township. The machinery came fully online in July.
"It's the first of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic," spokesman David Nicholas said.
The gear consists mainly of two roller levelers made by The Bradbury Co., a Kansas company, and a stretcher leveler produced by Illinois-based Red Bud Industries. The system is unique in the U.S.; the nearest comparable facility is in Cleveland, Nicholas said.
The line can process 150,000 tons of steel per year, he said. High Steel Service Center expects that about half the steel it ships in 2013 will undergo the de-stressing process, he said.
Michael Smeltzer, executive director of the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania, called High's $10 million decision "a significant investment."
"I applaud High for making that happen," he said.
As part of the HighSL rollout, High Steel Service Center doubled its delivery radius for coiled steel from four to eight hours' travel time. Besides Pennsylvania, High's trucks, owned and operated by affiliate High Transit, serve customers in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Virginia and West Virginia.
Panel steel is used in a wide variety of applications, Nicholas said: Vehicles, trailers, farm machinery, equipment housings and more.
High's market research found a significant demand for steel that would remain completely flat throughout fabrication, Nicholas said.
Panel steel typically is coiled for shipping, which can introduce stresses into the material. When stressed steel is cut, it can become deformed as the stresses resolve.
To deal with that, and to achieve the accuracy they need, companies have to put material through additional processes, Smeltzer said. When there is no warping in the first place, the secondary processes can be eliminated, saving time and money, he said.
Customers consider flatness and stress removal their No. 1 problem, High Steel Service Center President Rick Bennett said in a statement.
"Customers have confirmed that this is the flattest material they have ever received. … Most importantly, they have confirmed that it absolutely reduces their operating costs," he said.
High declined to provide clients names. Many prefer to keep their use of stretcher-leveled steel a trade secret, Nicholas said.
HighSL comes in thicknesses from 16 gauge — about six-hundredths of an inch — up to one-half inch. Sheets can be up to 6 feet wide and 40 feet long, High said.
High said it is marketing the steel to "direct customers, other steel service centers, and the spot market."
High Steel Service Center employs 65 workers and about 15 High Transit truck drivers, depending on delivery volume, Nicholas said.
The company has not added jobs due to HighSL steel so far, but "our planned growth will create additional opportunities," he said.
The other is High Real Estate Group. A smaller third component, High Co., provides business support functions to the other two.
This summer, The High Cos. announced a new senior management structure. Nevin Cooley became CEO of The High Cos.; Mark Fitzgerald became president and chief operating officer of High Real Estate Group; and Jeffrey Sterner became president and COO of High Industries Inc.
All three men are seasoned High Cos. executives. Cooley was most recently president and CEO of High Real Estate Group; Fitzgerald was president and COO of High Associates Ltd.; and Sterner was president of High Steel Structures Inc. and remains interim president.
The changes returned The High Cos. to the organizational structure they had up to 2005, Cooley said. That year, S. Dale High stepped down as CEO of the companies to become chairman of the High Real Estate Group and High Industries boards. The CEO position was not filled; instead, the COO positions atop High Real Estate Group and High Industries were reconceived as CEO positions.
As time passed, High organization’s owners decided greater management coordination was needed and reinstated the CEO position, Cooley said. That goes along with the move, two years ago, to have the same membership on both boards, he said.
High Cos. will maintain High Industries and High Real Estate Group as separate holding companies, a decision driven by “estate planning and other objectives,” Cooley said. He declined to elaborate.
The High Cos. employ more than 2,100 people, including nearly 1,900 in the midstate. The companies had revenue of $523 million in 2011, according to Business Journal records.