Louis Industries operates in new plant

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 6/30/99.

Hoist Operations have begun at the new Louis Industries plant in Paynesville, but the best may be coming still.

The new plant, with nearly 40,000 sq. ft. of production area and 3,000 sq. ft. for offices, is located in the Industrial Park on the north side of town. It was built last winter, and actual operation began in the building in March, with all equipment relocating to the building in May. "What a headache," said Cecil Louis, of the move, which was accomplished with a minimum amount of down time. "We had to keep in production to protect our accounts."

Louis Industries started as Alfred Louis's blacksmith shop on Augusta Avenue. He moved to Paynesville and started his shop in 1940 and retired in 1976. Two of his sons, Leo and Cecil, took over the business in 1976 and moved it to the Industrial Park. Over the years, the business grew from repair and custom manufacturing to steel fabrication and steel wholesaling.

"We can do parts for any company," said Leo. "Anybody who uses steel we can do work for them." Louis Industries makes parts for a wide variety of manufacturers, including makers of docks, portable generators, playground equipment, overhead doors, mobile homes, fans, and shrink-wrap machinery. Depending on the manufacturer, Louis Industries may make one part or several.

The majority of its business is in a range of 100 miles, but it does business in the entire five-state region.

Agricultural manufacturers were once 100 percent of their business, but in the last five years that portion of the business has been reduced to a fraction of its former volume.

"We are also a major distributor of flat rolled sheets--raw steel," Leo said. "We sell more steel than we process," he added.

Before the new plant was constructed, the business had come to occupy three different buildings, with a total floor space of more than 25,000 sq. ft. That operating system wasn't very efficient, and some of the buildings were further hampered by lack of space.

The decision to build a new plant had several factors. One was the opportunity to sell or rent those existing buildings. Another was the market for steel and steel products. "The new building has really helped with sales," said Cecil. "More than I would have thought." They attributed the sales boost to manufacturers preferring a progressive company.

A major reason for the new building was efficiency. Full production in the new plant isn't even expected until the fall ("We have a learning curve to master, as far as efficiency in this building," said Cecil.), but already the plant is considerably more efficient.

The new plant has approximately 15,000 sq. ft. more for production than their previous three businesses combined. The space isn't just bigger; it's more usable, because less is along walls and in confined corners. Leo estimated that they have three times the open floor space now. "We're doing much, much more work," he said.

New equipment helps make that space even more efficient, particularly the overhead hoist. The hoist, above left which has a lifting capacity of 10 tons, unloads trucks and moves stacks of steel sheets on one side of the building. The hoist is much more efficient than a fork lift, which needs room to turn, move, and pick up stacks of steel. So, in order to move a certain stack with the forklift, the operator might first have to move several other stacks out of the way to make a path to the right stack.

In the old building, one employee spent most of the day on the forklift. "We had one guy just spinning his wheels, moving stuff around," said Leo.

It used to take several employees an hour and a half to unload an incoming truck. With the hoist, one employee can unload a truck in 15 minutes.

The new building also has two loading bays for trucks, so the rest of the operation is unaffected by incoming trucks. Six hundred thousand pounds of raw steel passes through Louis Industries each week. "This hoist will pay for itself in a year and a half," said Leo.

Along with the hoist, the major new piece of equipment is another laser cutter, below right. It is a top-end laser, with features that their operators are still learning to use. The new laser required a better software program for programming the patterns of cuts.

Laser Four years ago, Louis Industries bought their first laser cutter and went out searching for work for it. For the last year, that laser has operated on a double shift. Now both lasers run on the weekends and at night. "I don't think we expected the new laser to be booked up before we had it up operating," said Cecil.

The new laser has a larger bed, 80" by 120" instead of 48" by 96". It also has a more powerful laser that can cut thicker steel much easier. There's a double palette that allows a new sheet to be ready to load into the machine, reducing down time.

As the laser cuts the steel, it also cuts the bed on which the steel rests. The new laser can detect waves in the steel caused by the uneven base and adjust its cut accordingly.

Louis Industries has added just a few extra employees since the move, bringing the total up to 25. Increased production really hinges on increased efficiency. "We've got skilled people," said Leo. "They have to know what they're doing."

The new plant cost $1.2 million. New equipment for the plant was another $1 million.

Valley Industries has moved from Eden Valley into the original Louis Industries building in the Industrial Park. That business manufactures equipment for mink farming and pressure washers.

Spanier Welding and Metal Fabrication is using another old Louis Industries building. The expansion of that business will be featured in next week's Press.

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