Into the storm

By Gretchen Salois

Cousins reject retirement and join forces to meet demand during emergencies

July 2017 - Since we last checked with U.S. Marine veteran Terry Reid and former salesman Walker Knox, the cousins have watched their business—Mid-Atlantic Fabrication and Finishing (MAF) in Knightdale, North Carolina—grow. “We had a slow start of it during our first quarter,” says Knox, head of sales and business development. “But since then, every quarter has been better than the quarter before.”

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Part of Reid’s responsibilities while serving in the Marines was supervising the fabrication of maintenance projects that keep vehicles ready for deployment. After retiring as a colonel, Reid hoped to transition those skills into a civilian production setting. His cousin, Walker Knox, began his own career in the sciences, working in a laboratory. He discovered he felt more at ease with people, rather than specimens, and instead chose sales, focusing on telecommunications products as well as chemicals.

Although both men were nearing retirement age, Reid and Knox vetoed the idea of a work-free routine and in 2015 sought out a fabrication shop for sale to mold it into a family business. After much research, the cousins felt MAF had a strong foundation with the potential for growth.

Because MAF manufactures precision sheet metal components, including CNC laser cutting, CNC punching, CNC forming, spot welding as well as MIG, TIG and stick welding services, customers order prototype work and short-run parts production, long part runs and welding and plated or painted assemblies of varying complexity.

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Customer demand for quick-turnaround cycles and high-tolerance requirements were unanticipated but, since opening the shop, MAF’s workforce adjusted. “We’ve gotten used to the changes,” Knox says.

“It helped a great deal to have workers with 15 to 30 years of experience: They know exactly what they’re doing,” Reid says.

Restoring power

The team at Mid-Atlantic was called upon to fabricate diamond-tread shed boxes that are stored at distribution points for electric utilities to use when dispatched to restore power after severe storms. Last hurricane season, storms tore through the U.S. Eastern region, including North Carolina, Florida and Indiana. “Duke Energy ordered boxes to hold repair hardware that technicians would need to put power back into service,” Knox says.

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Each stainless steel box can hold 2,000 lbs. and had to be fabricated within 40 days. If MAF missed the deadline, the company didn’t get paid. “We had more than four times the usual volume of work going through our shop,” Knox says. “The emergency reserve (or cash) used to fund the project were issued by the federal government—if the boxes didn’t arrive by Dec. 30, 2016, the money would be withdrawn.”

MAF’s team fulfilled the orders using the shop’s 143-ton hydraulic press brake, which was purchased just a few months before.

“We have some of our workers retiring and rather than hope to find the same type of talent to replace them, we invested in automated technology,” Reid says. “Now it takes only 30 to 45 minutes to set up jobs versus one to two hours.” That time savings allowed MAF to not only finish the job, but also allowed them to deliver the boxes on site with two weeks to spare.

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Moving onward

Since purchasing the press brake, MAF also upgraded its software and instituted regular training for production and management teams to keep everyone up to speed.

“All these investments are paying off,” Reid says. “We’re doing better each quarter, running jobs 50 to 60 hours a week.”

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MAF is also working to broaden its customer base. “As we diversify the types of customers we have, we’re expanding our reach,” Knox says. “When we started, we had zero revenue in the telecom sector and now that’s one of our biggest areas of profit.”

Knox and Reid have embedded their business within the community by raising funds for Toys for Tots, substance abuse shelters, and U.S. Marine and veterans groups. “We want to give back to our community,” Reid says. “We’re busy and work is steady. God has been good to us, and business has been good to us.” FFJ


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