Volume 7, Issue 8 - September 2006

Happy 50th Anniversary 
Alumet Thrives in a “Low-Growth” Market and Looks Ahead to Further Success
by Tara Taffera

It’s no wonder Alumet has been around for 50 years. This family-owned business that supplies roll-formed mouldings to door and window manufacturers, such as airspacers, corner keys, steel reinforcements, muntin bars, etc., has thrived. This is due to its innovation, both in equipment and products, and its commitment to the customers it serves. It has the technology and computerized high-tech equipment to manufacture components and parts that other developing manufacturers need, but they [Alumet] are true to their valued customers and their customers come first.

Company president Larry Peterson puts it simply.

“We’ve survived in a low-growth market. When you survive in that type of market you have to be damn good.”

History/Plant Specifics
So how did the company get to where it is today? One of only half a dozen plants that do specialized high-tech roll forming, and one that is past its limit in its Western Canada plant due to space and on the verge of major expansion plans?

Larry’s father Wally Peterson started the company in 1956 in Vancouver, Canada. Wally says the first plant was a mere 1,000-2,000 square feet. Eventually Alumet opened plants in Marysville, Wash., then Toronto.

“Once we got past the first plant I was able to see what the possibilities were,” says Wally, who adds that his first job was at Boeing where he learned tool-making.

“We [Alumet] started with a small research and development plant,” he says. “Our first machine was light and weak and not made for production. It amazed us! What was made for research and development ended up producing millions of feet of light gage mouldings. We produced what manufacturers wanted.”

Fast forward 50 years and the difference is astounding. Today, Larry describes the Vancouver plant as “busting at the seams.”

So much so that its laser welding lines had to be installed in the Marysville plant. In fact, the company runs two slitting lines, a coil coating line and another aluminum coil coating line in storage due to lack of space. 

“If some equipment doesn’t operate properly we can draw on the spare equipment,” he says.

“Being limited on space we stack steel reinforcements for vinyl windows outside,” adds Larry’s son Dale Peterson, who serves as production manager at the Vancouver plant. 

This facility consists of 40,000 square feet of space situated on three and a half acres. According to Larry, the company is currently in negotiations to purchase nine acres which would enable it to proceed with a much needed expansion. 

In Vancouver, machines are used to produce plastic injection mouldings and extrusions. The plant includes a tool room with the latest CNC equipment that makes machines such as a dual punch for punching contoured muntin bars. The plant also uses some older processes (such as metal stamping) still used in production of several components. An extrusion line produces spline and bug flaps, and the plant also has two injection molders in addition to four more in Marysville. 

“We have a lot of control over production,” says Dale. “Some of our competitors must farm their requirements out [injection molding] to other manufacturers.” 

Steel and aluminum coil is always on hand and ready to process at the Vancouver location. 

“The advantage is that we have done away with older machines and have a more modern way of cutting steel,” adds Dale. 

These machines, which have been online for three years, are quieter and incorporate more computer-aided manufacturing than their predecessor.

“With the old airbag system you couldn’t carry a conversation,” says Dale.

The plant also houses a coil coating line to paint aluminum coils.

“The big advantage to this is that we have control which reduces turnaround time greatly,” he adds.

Finally, all products are shrink-wrapped before packaging which is important as many products are shipped long distances. 

In Marysville, the company has two buildings totaling 50,000 square feet. Unfortunately, the two buildings are a block away from one another which Larry says presents a unique set of challenges. 

“When we wanted to expand the first building we had problems with the county so we bought another building a block away to set up our tool and die room,” says Larry. 

In fact, across the street from Alumet is a Milgard Windows plant that encountered the same set of challenges which forced it to open an alternate facility as well. 

Alumet’s first building in Marysville has a warehouse for all manufacturing, shipping and receiving. This facility also produces a huge amount of reinforcements for doors and windows, says Peterson.

And, as is evident at all Alumet facilities, new product development and innovation is key (more on that later). When I visited, Josh, a 14-year Alumet employee, was working on a special project with a test material. It is also interesting to note that the company designs and manufactures its own special purpose tools. 

At the second building, Don, a 19-year Alumet employee was testing a new product that a customer requested. Once it is complete, the Toronto plant will manufacture it and the product will then be available for other manufacturers. 

Finally, Alumet’s manufacturing facility in Toronto encompasses 30,000 square feet and this location serves as a manufacturer and distributor throughout the United States and off-shore to countries such as Korea, Russia, Taiwan, Chile, Jamaica and Latin America as well as others.

“We ship a little here and a little there, internationally,” says Larry. At one point China sent two businessmen to visit us. They wanted us to joint venture with them for a plant in China.

All in all the company employs approximately 55 individuals, most of whom have been at the company for at least five years and in many cases, much longer. 

All in the Family/All About Quality
So even if their last name isn’t Peterson many employees have been there so long that they seem like family. And when it comes to blood relations there are many. In addition to Larry, Wally’s children Robert and Carol work for Alumet in the Vancouver plant. Robert is responsible for sales and marketing on the West Coast while Carol takes care of accounting and special projects. 

And while Wally, at 80, is semi-retired, he still stays involved.

“He still wants to be updated on the company,” says Larry.

“At 50-60 I stepped back [due to health problems],” says Wally. “If I didn’t have to do that, we’d be much bigger.”

“Working in a family business is unique. You work all the time then you go home and take it all with you,” says Larry. 

But it’s this family atmosphere and hard-working ethic from all employees that has earned Alumet a solid standing in the industry. 

“Our reputation as a quality supplier has been earned. We have satisfied customers and more are coming on board all the time,” says Larry. 

That’s because at Alumet it’s all about dedication. 

“Employees have put off vacations to get a product to a customer or worked weekends to get a product produced for a new customer who was let down by their supplier,” says Larry. “We gain accounts that way. Manufacturers do not like suppliers that let them down.”

“We have back-up facilities so we can get right on it,” adds Wally. “The customer doesn’t want to wait.”

Larry knows a little something about meeting customer needs. 

When the company was developing a new airspacer he was in the plant at midnight developing the tooling and was in the plant on New Year’s Eve to get it up and running and the product was shipped the next day. 

It’s this type of dedication that will get and keep customers, he says. 

“You have to educate everyone in the plant that that is what it takes to get a new customer,” he says. “A lot of opportunities happen when our competitors let a customer down.”

Yes there is competition, as is the case in any business, but it’s not as cutthroat as one may think.

Larry says Alumet has a good relationship with one of its biggest competitors, and they even buy and sell from one another at times. And both companies have visited the other’s plants. 

But it wasn’t always this way—in the beginning Alumet was ahead of the technology curve and protected these innovations from the competition.

“We developed flying/cutoff saws 30 years before the competition knew we had them,” says Wally. “I could have patented it but that would have told others that we were doing it. Larry was invited to tour a competitor’s plant while in Chicago. We reciprocated by showing them our plant, and the secret was out!”

According to Wally, Alumet still has a high-tech competitive edge. 

“We can produce a set of new rolls in no time—and more accurately than the competition,” he says. 

Product Development
“It’s part of our history that we always designed equipment for the manufacturer,” adds Dale. 

One employee who helps develop these products, keeping the manufacturer in mind, is Warren Yang, an engineer who can also communicate with customers in Chinese if needed. Warren does all CAD/CAM modeling for future products such as a new roll former he was building at the time of my visit. 

“He spins the shafts and gears to make sure there is no interference. We can check for stresses before we make it,” says Larry. “We send it to fabrication shops and then we do the final assembly.”

“We can do anything on the computer and then it is easy to make,” adds Warren.

In fact, he makes it sound almost easy.

“You give me a good idea and I will draw it,” he says. 

Warren keeps busy as the company introduces new products frequently. A recent addition includes a pull rail for screen frames replacing the lift clip on the frame.

“We’re redoing our whole line of patio style screen doors,” adds Larry. 

Dale is also involved in tooling and design, as this has been passed down from generation to generation. 

“I trained Larry and he trained Dale,” says Wally.

“Maybe Dale will train his son one day [an infant now],” adds Larry. 

Wally acknowledges that he designed the machines used in the plant years ago.

“The three of us can design equipment,” he says proudly. “I think they [Dale and Larry] are now better than I was.”

“I was fresh out of school so there was so much to learn,” says Dale. “At the time I didn’t have plans to stay full time but I can’t picture a better place to work.”

What’s Next
And as Wally has found, “Time goes by quick when you’re having fun.”

However, it is hard work, and employees must continue to work diligently if they want to keep Alumet on top. In addition to expansion plans, Larry says a future goal “is to go paperless” in the plants. “Right now we don’t have real-time inventory,” he says.

Everything in time.

In the words of Wally: “You need to learn to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.”

Check, check and check. And, it looks like there may be more running on the horizon. Though Peterson won’t elaborate, he hints that there will be big news from the company in the coming year bringing another 50 years for a “damn good company.”

Tara Taffera is the publisher/editor of DWM magazine. 

© Copyright 2006 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.