SPECIAL SECTION/BRICK & CLAY RECORD: 175 Years and Counting
It’s difficult to wrap one’s mind around a company history that spans 175 years. Stedman was founded in 1834-prior to the Civil War and well before Ford began production of the Model T. Forget about spreadsheets and e-mail; it was the early 19th century, a time when most households weren’t even equipped with working plumbing.
Inventive SpiritIn 1886, Nathan P. Stedman invented the cage mill, a piece of machinery that has been upgraded through the years and is still widely used today. According to Chris Nawalaniec, Stedman’s national sales manager, this invention “was a big deal because it really got us on the track of where we are today, specializing in size reduction. It’s a neat thing when you consider an invention that’s 120 years old still being a very viable technology in many industries. It shows how robust of an invention that really was.”
Interestingly, the first cage mill was sold to Oakland Pressed Brick Co. of Zanesville, Ohio, and the first cage mill export went to the Kennedy Brick Machinery Manufacturing Co. of Liverpool, England, in 1890. “When you look back, you see that we have a pretty long pedigree in the brick industry,” says Nawalaniec.
The company developed its Grand Slam horizontal shaft impactor in 1980, and, about a decade later, added heaters and air cannons specifically for brick applications. “The Grand Slam with heaters and air cannons has provided a fundamental change in the operation of grinding rooms for brick plants and roof tile plants,” explains Nawalaniec. “Traditionally, in any kind of clay preparation, if you get moisture levels above a certain point, production slows down drastically and sometimes even stops. The Grand Slam can keep on going.”
Stedman also added air cannons and heaters to the cage mill when developing the H series. “The H series cage mill was developed for brick plants that have the need for a finer grind,” says Nawalaniec. “Those machines have really provided a fundamental difference to the industry.”
Testing ServicesStedman first began testing materials for customers in the early 1900s. Then, as now, customers could send bulk samples of their material to Stedman to determine the best size reduction methods for their application. “That continues to be a real strength of Stedman and how we help our customers,” says Nawalaniec. “We have full-size equipment in our test plant, and we can give customers good data to make their selections. There are no surprises in the field or in the factory-the crushers work as promised because of the test results.”
The test plant also offers Stedman the opportunity to provide customers with well-rounded, specific information regarding expected performance and costs. “People scrutinize the data more carefully these days, and they really rely on us to paint the picture technically from an application standpoint,” explains Nawalaniec.
“They don’t want to just know the size of what’s coming out of the size reduction machine-they also want to know what it’s going to cost them to operate once they build a factory and have our machine in it. Our test methods are very robust and are excellent predictors of the operating costs of the machines in the factories.”
Focus on the CustomerNo company could survive 175 years without having a deep commitment to its customers, and Nawalaniec credits Stedman’s focus on customer service as one of the reasons for its continued success. “Companies everywhere are asking their employees to do more with fewer people,” he explains. “The opportunity to provide a broader offering of products and services has really emerged very strongly in the last decade. We saw a need and have expanded what we can do for our customers. Instead of just being a machinery supplier, we are taking it to a higher level and providing solutions to problems in processing dry materials.”
Stedman created a new company, Innovative Processing Solutions, in 2002 by spinning off the systems part of the business. “We built complete plants even back in the 1930s,” says Nawalaniec. “Stedman’s history in helping customers not just sell machinery but help them design a better system and install the machinery properly directly led to the creation of this new company.
“The net result of being able to do more is that we started changing from being just a vendor to a business partner. It’s a good feeling when what you know and how you act and respond to your customers’ needs is valued by them. It’s such a great mutual relationship to have.”
The FutureStedman continues to strive to provide equipment that will help brick manufacturers reduce their costs and power consumption while improving downstream processes. The company utilizes leading design and management software and, despite its long history, maintains the feel of a young, modern company. “One of our goals is to help improve brick’s competitiveness vs. other materials,” says Nawalaniec. “We have the ability to quickly identify needs in product lines or services, and then move fast to make improvements. It’s part of our company culture to move quickly on new ideas.
“You might think of mothballs or cobwebs after 175 years, but everyone at Stedman really has an entrepreneurial spirit. We keep in mind that being 175 doesn’t guarantee that there will be a 176. It’s something we’ve got to earn. With that kind of mindset, we’ll definitely continue moving forward.”
For more information, contact Stedman at 129 Franklin St., Aurora, IN 47001; (800) 262-5401; fax (812) 926-3482; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; or visit www.steadman-machine.com.
SIDEBAR: Stedman's People“Customers have high expectations of our performance, and one way we try to live up to that is we have good employees,” says Nawalaniec. “The people who work here are experienced and are always thinking of a better way to do their job to benefit the customer.
“In the last year, we’ve sent supervisory and key personnel to over 1000 hours of training. The crux of that training was really helping people become better communicators, to express their ideas in positive ways. All of our field service and sales people are MSHA [Mine Safety and Health Administration] trained. We also have an in-house MSHA-certified trainer. Many of our customers, and certainly our brick plant customers, are regulated by MSHA. It’s a big investment for us, because we train about 25 people every year and it’s an annual training. It’s got a direct benefit to the customer, though, because we know the law of the land and we work safely.
“We also have two certified weld inspectors. It’s a big investment of time and effort to become a certified weld inspector through the American Welding Society. The welders here are AWS-qualified as well. These qualifications all really help Stedman become more efficient in our factory and help us make sure we’re consistent in our quality.
“On the design side, we spend a lot of time making things better, trying to drive costs down and trying to help our customers reduce operating costs so they’re more competitive.”