Planning Ahead for Steady and Sustainable Growth

PKM Steel Service, Inc.

Fabricating heavy to medium structural steel for a wide range of industries, PKM Steel Service, Inc. has been growing steadily and sustainably over the last few years. The current strong economy in the United States has enabled its growth and with the ability to reach out and work in every state, PKM has an extensive customer base, allowing it to be very selective about its partners. Reputable, good, ethical businesses and people are the only options considered worthy by PKM.

Word of mouth and referrals are effective strategies for success at PKM, and it only uses a minimal amount of actual advertising, which says a lot about the company’s level of service to its customers.

PKM’s professional experience illustrates the importance and value of delivering as expected and without mistakes. “The value that our customers get from us is material getting to the site correctly; it saves everybody money and time and reduces the impact on the schedule. We find that, more than anything, our customers love the fact that when our steel shows up in the field, it’s right,” says Darien E. Henderson, Director of Business Development and Operations

The employees at PKM, based in Salina, Kansas, are highly dedicated and many have grown up in the same community. The company is fortunate to have a number of staff members that have tenure of more than 30 years, and even one individual with 48 years under his belt. These loyal and committed employees are the backbone of PKM and represent its solid foundation in family values. Before retiring, the older generations take special care to train their replacements and pass on their years of acquired knowledge. “Not enough can be said for the experience level and the loyalty factor here, because everybody here is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done,” says Henderson.

Since the previous feature of PKM last year, it has played a role with a number of impressive projects: providing structural steel for Facebook, Amazon, the Las Vegas Raiders stadium, and the Las Vegas Raiders Headquarters/Practice Facility. It is in the process of working on a Southwest Airlines hanger and it has been partnering with Newport News Shipbuilding for nearly four years.

Recently, PKM worked with Lingo Construction Services and a number of other teams on a major project in Putnam City Schools in Warr Acres, Oklahoma. Forty acres of land were bought by the area’s school district for the construction of Capps Middle School and PKM was brought in to erect 1,100 tons of structural steel on the project. This particular project was unique in its design and in its structural requirements because the owner took a liking to the creek that runs through the plot. The owner wanted it to remain intact, and the architects had to incorporate this natural feature into the design of the building. A bridge system was implemented to connect one side of the school to the other across this creek, and PKM was responsible for fabricating a number of large structural trusses for it. “They’re a brand new customer to us. It’s a first-time client and I think they’re extremely proud of what we’ve done for them down there in the amount of time that we had to do it,” says Henderson.

PKM has been able to set itself apart from competing companies by adopting technologies that have vastly improved the efficiency of its processes. One key example of this is using 3D BIM Modeling technology to provide customers with a highly accurate overview of the structure before actual fabrication starts. This enables the PKM team to work closely with the customer to ensure that every detail is exactly right. BIM is a technology that has been gaining prominence in the structural steel industry over the last few years, but PKM has an advantage over competitors; the company has hired a BIM expert with more than 20 years of experience specializing in modeling these structures. Applying this expertise to a project allows everyone on the project to have complete clarity about what the end product is going to look like. From those models, exact metrics can be extracted and handed off to the engineers in the shop to ensure that every part is fabricated to those specifications.

As new technologies are introduced to the structural steel fabrication industry, PKM is committed to incorporating them toward improved productivity. A recent investment for the company has been the purchase of a new piece of automation equipment. The Peddibot 1200 is a robotic plasma cutting machine. A plasma torch mounted to the end of a high precision robotic arm will vastly improve PKM’s capacity for cutting unique profiles into various structural steel components. There are very few fabricators using this kind of equipment in the United States, and the company is currently awaiting its arrival from Holland.

When asked about the challenges PKM faces in the industry, Henderson explained that time is often the resource in highest demand, and that’s always been the case in this industry. The faster a project is built, the less it costs the owner in interest and other additional fees associated with time in the field. “We continue to have to get more creative and develop relationships with other fabricators to create ways in the front end of the job that give us a little bit more time to get the steel fabricated in a shorter amount of time because those field costs are very expensive.” The process of steel fabrication has not changed as drastically as a lot of the construction industry has; it still requires cutting parts, fitting them together, welding, and painting before delivery. As schedules continue getting tighter and more demanding, PKM looks for innovative ways to reduce scheduling limitations by planning ahead.

In order to avoid the potential surprises that can pop up on a project, PKM uses its years of experience to inquire about important details at the beginning of the project and even during the bidding and proposal stages. This strategy allows the owner, the general contractor, and PKM to collaborate and come up with the most efficient solutions for all predictable surprises before they occur.

This attention to detail goes a long way toward establishing an excellent reputation, as well as valuable relationships in the steel fabrication industry, and honesty is essential to keeping those relationships for the long term. “We try to keep things simple. Our ethics and values and the old school way that we do business is the same. We do what we say we’re going to do, and I think that’s still what people want,” says Henderson. Believing that a company will follow through with its promises is particularly critical when managing large, expensive projects.

Both Henderson and Frieda Mai, the owner of the company and daughter of the founder, sit on various advisory boards for community and technical colleges in the area. PKM donates various materials to colleges to help with educational efforts and also to encourage students to get involved, since skilled trade labor is becoming increasingly difficult to come by these days. PKM is highly engaged in its local communities through volunteer work and financial donations. Giving back is such an important detail for PKM that it looks to partner with other businesses that hold similar values.

Safety is a concern for every structural steel company in the world and PKM can proudly state that it was recognized by the AISC (American Institute of Steel Construction) as the winner of a 2018 Fabricator Merit Safety Award. The company also recently won two safety awards from the Central Fabricators Association (CFA). “Safety is paramount here; what we do for a living is inherently dangerous, so it’s very important that the way we go about doing our daily endeavors is safety-conscious first.” Safety comes with a cost, something PKM is more than willing to do to ensure employees are properly trained and educated. Winning safety awards means PKM has successfully integrated good safety habits in the organization.

Recently having established a handful of solid relationships with new clients, PKM is sure that its future looks promising. It expects to continue its trend of steady and sustainable growth, not only in its scope of work but also with its equipment and in employee numbers.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 16, 2019, 11:57 PM EST