Steel fabricator thrives with Boilermaker craftsmen

L-84 officers and stewards stand among slug catcher manifold sections in the loading yard. L. to r., Brent Mitzner, president; Philip Slater, steward; Doug Damron, secretary-treasurer; Bob Wheeler, recording secretary; Nathan Eichorn, steward; and Jeremy Wright, steward. Not pictured are Brian Haight, vice president, and Josh Dilliner, inspector.

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Taylor Forge slug catchers reach global market

AMERICAN MANUFACTURING has taken its lumps in recent decades, but one steel fabrication company located in rural Kansas has kept busy exporting quality, union-made products to customers around the world.

Headquartered in the community of Paola, some 45 miles southwest of Kansas City, Taylor Forge Engineered Systems, Inc. employs Boilermaker shop workers belonging to Local 84 at its main facility and Local 83 at its nearby Garnett, Kan., plant. The company has enough orders on the books to keep employees working 12-hour shifts day and night, six or seven days a week.

With a three-year contract ratified Jan. 23, management and labor can concentrate on filling orders.

"I would say our labor-management relationship here is very good," says Brent Mitzner, L-84's president. "We have few grievances, and most of our issues can be resolved early in the process. We are also a multi-generational workforce. My dad worked at Taylor Forge and was president of the local for about 17 years. Quite a few other employees have family members who have worked here."

Taylor Forge President Mike Kilkenny stresses the importance of training, research and development, and keeping all production inhouse.

"What Taylor Forge is unique at is designing and fabricating all components inhouse. Doing everything inhouse means we control all aspects of production. For instance, every weld we make is x-rayed by Boilermakers, so we don't have to wait for an outside source to come in and do the work. There is no interruption of the production process, and productivity is greater."

Company excels in niche market

ANOTHER KEY TO Taylor Forge's success is doing one thing exceptionally well. The company is a premier manufacturer of "slug catchers" — pressure vessels or extruded manifolds that collect heavy hydrocarbon liquids from pipelines during natural gas and crude oil extraction.

About two dozen degreed company engineers design the slug catchers. Specifications vary from client to client and by type of facility. Liquid natural gas (LNG) facilities typically require massive slug catchers while extraction sites for shale oil and gas use smaller units arranged in combinations.

Boilermakers are involved at every stage of the production work: rolling thick sheets of steel into cylinders, welding the seams using TIG and submerged arc techniques, testing the welds, extruding transitional joints, beveling edges, sandblasting and painting the completed vessels, and assembling multi-axle trailers for transportation.

"The nicest thing about slug catchers is there are a lot of parts; they keep a lot of people busy and the whole shop moving," Kilkenny notes.

The labor-intensive work requires extensive training, much of which is done at Taylor Forge's inhouse training center, which doubles as a research and development facility.

"We pride ourselves in developing our production people," says Kilkenny. "Someone just starting out as a janitor here will eventually have the opportunity to learn the most skilled positions we have."

"We do a lot of tough stuff."

BOILERMAKERS AT TAYLOR Forge operate a 1,500-ton above-ground press, massive underground extrusion presses, machining equipment, ovens, x-ray systems, and overhead cranes. They also run CNC (computer numerically controlled) machines for automatic forging of smaller parts. They make their own molds, too — acres of them.

All products are produced to exacting specifications and close tolerances, especially nuclear submarine parts for the U.S. Navy and propellant pressure vessels for NASA. Some work requires laying down a nickel-alloy coating to resist degradation in corrosive environments.

The company also makes steam drums for the electric power industry and pig launchers and catchers for the oil and gas industry. (Pigging is the process of cleaning pipelines or measuring pipe wall thickness using a machine that travels through the pipe and is retrieved or "caught" when the process is completed.)

"We don't do anything that's easy," says Kilkenny. "We are one of only a few firms in the world that can extrude three- and four-inch-thick steel.

"We do a lot of tough stuff."

International Rep David Lawrence, who services L-84 and recently helped negotiate the unit's most recent contract, says Boilermakers working for Taylor Forge are among the most skilled workers he has seen.

"They are at the top of their trade. It is gratifying to see an employer who understands that workers are vital to the success of the company and is willing to invest in their training and welfare."