Founded Over a Century Ago, the D.S. Brown Company Keeps Modern Infrastructure Intact

The D.S. Brown Company

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The D.S. Brown Company designs, supplies and manufactures engineered rubber, steel and concrete products for the transportation and infrastructure sector. The firm’s proprietary product line includes expansion joints, structural bearings, and waterproofing systems for constructing and rehabilitating highways and bridges.

Headquartered in North Baltimore, Ohio, D.S. Brown’s products have been used in several high profile projects such as San Francisco’s new Oakland Bay Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and airport runway projects at Los Angeles International and John F. Kennedy International.
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“We offer a wide range of products, and serve two very distinct markets: bridges and pavements. My responsibilities oversee the Pavement Division,” says Ryan Sypherd, National Sales Manager for the Pavement Division. The Pavement Division’s product offerings include sealing and repair products for both highway and airport pavement markets.

D.S. Brown is part of Gibraltar Industries of Buffalo, New York. This parent company describes itself as “a leading manufacturer and distributor of products for building markets.”

D.S. Brown’s Pavement Division is primarily focused on airports but has provided products for the construction and repair of highways and parking garages as well. The company also offers training and installer certification services, teaching people the best way to use its products.

Sypherd says the company’s two divisions are “very different because the bridge products are more engineered products – that are often designed and manufactured specifically for the project – and most bridge projects are unique. The Pavement Division offers more standardized and inventoried items for the most part. So the two groups work very differently. The bridge group works more through an estimating and engineering cycle, where the pavement group is more on a straightforward sales and manufacturing cycle.”

D.S. Brown is fully-integrated, handling manufacturing tasks in house. These include synthetic rubber processing, steel fabrication and computer numeric control (CNC) machining. The firm also does its own research and development and computer-aided design (CAD) and maintains a team of engineers on staff. Manufacturing and design are primarily done in the company’s headquarters in North Baltimore, Ohio. D.S. Brown also runs an ancillary plant in Athens, Texas.

Most of “the rubber extrusion and steel fabrication takes place in North Baltimore. Our Athens, Texas facility is dedicated to molded rubber bearings. All [the work] takes place between those two facilities. There’s not a lot of outsourcing,” notes Sypherd, proudly.

While most clients are based in North America, D.S. Brown has worked with customers in Europe, Asia, the Pacific Rim and the Middle East. “We are currently working on waterproofing two large suspension bridges in Norway and China.” Yes, they even export to China.

D.S. Brown’s products are used in construction and rehabilitation projects owned and administered by government agencies and private sector companies. The actual customers are usually “the prime contractors and sub-contractors” working to build these projects, explains Sypherd.

Much-demanded products include J & JP Series Sealing Systems, a line of epoxy-affixed expansion joints that are inserted into expansion joints to allow for high movement and to prevent intrusion of debris and water in highways, bridges and parking garages. The JP-Series is intended for bridges, parking garages, architectural projects and flat surfaces on which people might walk. It is “a pedestrian-friendly version,” of the sealing product, explains Sypherd.

Another popular item, called Delpatch, “is used for the rehabilitation of pavement. It’s a very versatile product,” states Sypherd. The product’s full name is Delpatch Elastomeric Concrete. It is a polyurethane-based patching material that can also be used on airport runways and highways. Delpatch is notably durable, adheres easily to concrete and steel, has high compressive strength, is resistant to extreme cold conditions and features high-load bearing capacity so it can handle the weight of heavy planes and trucks.

D.S. Brown’s Delastic Preformed Pavement Seals, meanwhile, are made from neoprene (synthetic rubber) and used to seal concrete pavement slabs on airport runways and roads.

The company sells some of these products through its online store and is always looking to expand its product line.

D.S. Brown was founded in 1890. The firm originally concentrated on the agricultural market, then the automotive sector. For the “past forty to fifty years, the main focus has been on the transportation industry,” says Sypherd. He says that paying “attention and adapting to the needs of markets and our customers” is the secret to the company’s longevity.

From the beginning, D.S. Brown set very high benchmarks for its product line. “Our goal has always been to have the gold standard for products in each of our markets,” he states.

In addition to high-end products, the company’s service component is another way D.S. Brown sets itself apart from competitors. “We’re very involved in projects; we’re not a manufacturer that relies strictly on contractors to do it themselves. We like to be in the field with contractors to make sure our products are being installed properly. In the end, this makes for a happy owner and a successful contractor and keeps us successful as well,” says Sypherd.

Over the decades, D.S. Brown products have been used in many noteworthy projects. One project involved the Tacoma Narrows Bridge, which links Tacoma, in Washington State to the Kitsap Peninsula. Working with the Washington State Department of Transportation, D.S. Brown designed and manufactured expansion joint assemblies for the unique requirements of this application.

The joint assemblies were custom-made, so the eastbound span of the bridge could move in extreme wind or earthquake conditions, without the whole structure collapsing. The original Tacoma Narrows Bridge achieved engineering notoriety by literally swaying apart in a windstorm in 1940.

D.S. Brown provided J-Series Sealing Systems, modular joints, high-load bearings and other products for an ambitious project to widen the New Jersey Turnpike, which is one of the most frequently traveled highways in the U.S. The turnpike – which winds through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New York State – was expanded to twelve lanes in some places.

The company’s products were also used in a recent project to rehabilitate the Manhattan Bridge, which joins Lower Manhattan Island with Brooklyn. D.S. Brown supplied its Cableguard elastomeric cable wrap system for this initiative. The system was used to put a protective wrap on bridge cables to prevent corrosion. It is anticipated that the wrap might reduce future maintenance costs.

D.S. Brown also provided engineered expansion joints and structural bearings for Boston’s Central Artery/Tunnel Project (CA/T, but better known as ‘the Big Dig’). These products were used for elevated approaches and bridges across the Charles River. The project, designed to improve traffic flow in Boston, was one of the largest and most complex engineering initiatives ever conducted in the U.S.

Quality at D.S. Brown is rigorously maintained. The company has earned certification in accordance to CSA Standard W47.1 for fusion welding of steel, division 1 from the Canadian Welding Bureau (CWB). The firm has also been certified to the Standard for Bridge and Highway Metal Components, with an endorsement for sophisticated paint system, by the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

D.S. Brown follows a process “to look at all sectors of our business from customers to manufacturers to make sure we’re as efficient as possible,” states Sypherd.

At present, the firm has “a couple hundred employees,” he says, roughly the same number as last year at this time. Flexibility is one of the key traits D.S. Brown looks for in new hires.

“When we’re looking at our plants, we’re looking for skilled workers that work well with others. When we’re looking for people on the sales side, we’re looking for people with similar attitudes. We wear a lot of hats. Even the Sales Department is very involved with projects. [We want] somebody with the flexibility to talk to an engineer and be extremely technical, and then be out in the field and be able to move on the fly and look at a lot of different applications that are out there and make decisions that are best for the project and for our product as a whole,” explains Sypherd.

D.S. Brown’s corporate culture is centered on teamwork. “Teams work together to make sure they can get to the end goal which is to grow the company. There’s a lot of different moving parts and a lot of different groups in different locations that have to work together,” he explains.

When it comes to suppliers, “we look for some of the same things that customers look for in us: somebody that can be dependable and offer a quality product that we can believe in in the end,” he states.

Sypherd says that the company’s biggest challenge at present is trying to cope with construction project funding. “We’re very dependent on the government funding projects.” Such funding tends to increase or decrease unpredictably. “Trying to forecast and ride that roller coaster is always a challenge, and while that is not likely to change, we are constantly looking to enter adjacent markets that are not as dependent on government funding.”

As for promotion, both the bridge and pavement divisions regularly attend industry trade shows. The company has a website and a social media presence.

Sypherd’s forecast for the future is highly optimistic. In terms of the next five years, “I continue to see us growing, with the emphasis on both new infrastructure and aging infrastructure in North America,” he states.

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July 22, 2018, 10:53 AM EDT