Wilson’s Steel Grows, Using Hi-Tech Processes

By on October 3, 2016

After 45 years in the structural steel business, Ken Wilson and his employee team are still learning new ways to deliver quality steel more efficiently. By embracing and assisting with the development of new technology, the firm has experienced rapid growth.

In 2014 Wilson’s Structural Steel opened their doors for business in Fenton, Missouri to fabricate structural steel principally for commercial buildings in the St. Louis area and the surrounding Midwest region.  Wilson’s is a young firm, but its principal Ken Wilson, is no stranger to the St. Louis area and to the structural steel fabrication industry. 

He has been providing fabricated structural steel to the St. Louis and Midwest market for the past 45 years.  After serving in the Navy in Vietnam, Wilson returned home to St. Louis in 1969 and started a long career of fabricating structural steel. His focus throughout his career was on reducing structural steel fabrication cost to the minimum at each plant facility that he organized during his career.

In 2010 he decided to retire from the business only to find that retirement was not really the next chapter in his career.  During those days in retirement Wilson often thought about what he had learned over the years and decided that he wanted to give it one more shot to implement his years of experience in setting up what he was to consider the most cost efficient fabrication facility possible.

weldingThe mission started with finding the right facility. In the past the physical plants that he had managed always had some layout limitations. He wanted to avoid those issues this time by starting out with a blank page in the design of the new plant.  In relatively short order, he was able to find an existing facility in Fenton that could be modified to meet the ideal configuration.

Soon after the business started, he said, developers were knocking on Wilson’s door to award projects, based on Ken Wilson’s reputation as a low cost, quality producer.  

Understanding that low cost gets the job but the repeat orders only arrive if a fabricator proves its ability to perform from a delivery and quality standpoint, Wilson said his new company was conservative with delivery commitments.  In line with this gradual start up approach, the company slowly added staff to meet a high standard of skilled employees.

During the planning process for this new company Ken had the opportunity to see the latest new fabrication technology. He connected with the manufacturer Ficep at the American Institute of Steel Construction NASCC show when it was held in St. Louis in 2013.

Wilson was very familiar with Ficep equipment as he had used it previously in other facilities, but during this show Ficep was exhibiting their latest drill line development which had movable spindles to permit not just drilling and scribing but also milling.  The ability to move the spindles in the length axis independently gave the drill line machining center flexibility, but it was more productive as the three spindles can operate independently.

It was during this trade show that both Ken Wilson and Ficep started to put their heads together to explore how this new technology could be developed further to give a fabricator an all-in-one manufacturing cell.  The added ability to perform high-speed milling and scribing in multiple surfaces simultaneously could revolutionize the industry by reducing cost to the lowest level possible while maintaining a small plant footprint.

millingTraditionally, the generation of special cut outs, generally referred to as copes, rat holes and weld prep that are located on the ends of structural steel sections was accomplished with manual layout and hand burning or in some cases systems for the automatic burning which required even more shop space and another operator.

In both these cases, extensive manual grinding was required to remove slag from the cutting process and to also provide additional metal removal, as a cutting torch could not cut flush to another surface.

During the past year Ficep has worked extensively with Wilson’s Structural Steel to generate and maximize different high speed milling routines to generate these cut outs that are typically required on commercial buildings.  This high speed milling technology is quick and easy while reducing material handling when compared to prior methods used to generate these cut outs.

Additionally, it requires no secondary operations as when it leaves the drill line system, it is ready for fit up and welding.  Wilson’s Structural Steel reports, when you consider floor-to-floor time, that they now eliminate up to 80% of the time required in the generation of these cut outs.

Even simple block copes can be generated quickly with high speed milling that also eliminates clean up after burning.

Today Ficep’s software is able to process from the 3D building model all the intersecting coordinate locations for subsequent fitting of detail items such as plates and angles.

Many other processes and procedures were implemented from the beginning at Wilson’s Structural Steel such as going from a 3-D CAD design model to a fabricated section ready for shipment without paper on the shop floor.

By combining skilled employees with new innovative procedures, processes and the most versatile and highest level of automated fabrication technology, Wilson’s Structural Steel is considered by many today as one of the top three productive structural steel fabricating shops in the country.

Since the start up in 2014 Wilson’s Structural Steel has created 31 new jobs, and they anticipate hiring an additional 12 over the next 12 months to achieve the facility’s optimum capacity.

About Tom Finan