Pedal to metal: Kloeckner Metals connects end users with steel products

Kloeckner Metals Dubuque

14806 W. Ridge Lane, Dubuque

(563) 588-0501

Workforce: About 100 employees

Amid the clanking of metal and the roaring of machinery, a steel beam hung suspended in the air in a warehouse just outside Dubuque.

Jim Boedeker, regional general manager of Kloeckner Metals, watched as two employees used an overhead crane to maneuver the beam into position on a conveyor belt that led into a chamber-like machine.

“Right now, they’re taking a piece of steel and setting it on the conveyors to be run through the structural shot blaster, which cleans the rust and mill scale off the tube,” Boedeker said.

The beam slowly disappeared into the chamber, where tiny steel pellets would be thrown at it at a high velocity, cleaning the beam and preparing it for painting.

Structural shot blasting is just one of the processes completed by workers at Kloeckner Metals.

The steel service center is one of Kloeckner Metals Corp.’s 44 branches across North America. The Dubuque plant provides primary building materials such as steel beams, said Joe Tesmond, Kloeckner Metals’ commercial director for the Midwest region.

“(Kloeckner Metals) supports buildings, whether that’s technology, medical or industrial — it supports all manufacturing units,” Tesmond said. “We are the backbone of raw material for manufacturing.”

The company that is now Kloeckner Metals Dubuque was founded as Dubuque Gases and Steel. It later was purchased by Steel Warehousing before Kloeckner Metals acquired it in 1995.

Today, the company sits on 12 acres along U.S. 20 and boasts more than 330,000 square feet of inventory space between its warehouse and outdoor storage yard.

Boedeker explained that Kloeckner Metals Dubuque receives steel from domestic mills and takes inventory of the product. At any given time, the facility has between 16,000 and 19,000 tons of steel in its inventory.

“We’re basically a grocery store, in that we buy all of these building products and we hold them for release to customers,” Tesmond said.

As trucks arrive with steel beams and plates, Kloeckner Metals employees operate cranes and other equipment to move the metal to storage areas. Many beams find their first home in the company’s outdoor storage yard, which holds about 9,000 tons of steel beams.

After it is inventoried, the product either will be shipped directly to the end user or will undergo a process to prepare it for a future use. In addition to structural and plate shot blasting, Kloeckner Metals in Dubuque also performs services such as plasma burning and structural saw cutting.

“That way, we’re not just picking up a beam and putting it on a truck and sending it to a customer,” Boedeker said. “We’re adding value to that beam by blasting it or cutting it.”

Across the warehouse from the structural shot blaster, Kloeckner Metals employee Bobby Goerdt operated a computer numerical control plasma cutting machine to burn stock steel plate into smaller shapes.

The parts, cut into circles, rectangles and arches, could find a future use in industries such as agriculture, industrial equipment and construction.

Tesmond noted that steel is involved in nearly every industry that touches the lives of Americans, sometimes in ways the ordinary resident might not realize.

“So many things we look at and touch are made by a piece of equipment or machinery, and most machines are made out of steel,” he said.

For example, he said, many food products are picked, packed or prepared using equipment made from steel. Roadway guardrails, storage tanks, bridges and barges all rely on steel — and on steel service centers such as Kloeckner Metals, which helps them obtain the right materials in the right quantities.

Kloeckner Metals Dubuque has longstanding relationships with many companies across its service area, which includes Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

One such company is Vermeer Corp., an industrial and agricultural equipment manufacturer headquartered in Pella, Iowa. The two companies have a “decades-long partnership,” according to Vermeer commodity manager Chris Rumer.

“Many of Vermeer’s machines are engineered with heavy grades of steel at their core,” Rumer wrote in an email. “Kloeckner is a preferred supplier to Vermeer for these heavy grades/sizes and has been named supplier of the year for Vermeer for the past two years.”

Tesmond predicted that Kloeckner Metals will continue to see strong demand from the equipment and construction industries in the coming year, spurred by the passage of the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“We’re going to be rebuilding our bridges, our airports, our roadways, and that all involves carbon steel products,” he said. “ … We’ve already seen a pickup in business from the heavy industrial equipment manufacturers.”

Boedeker said he and the staff of Kloeckner Metals Dubuque look forward to collaborating with their customers and suppliers to fill those needs.

“The people in the industry, not just here at Kloeckner Metals Dubuque but our customers as well, are some of the most down-to-earth, quality people,” Boedeker said. “We enjoy doing business with them.”