SMS Meer is retrofitting America’s steelmakers

The long-rumored death of America’s steel industry has been greatly exaggerated. Of course, it has declined over the past 30 years, particularly in Western Pennsylvania. But the steel, aluminum and nonferrous metal industries remain an important economic force in the tri-state area and throughout much of North America. Just ask Nils Honold, CEO of SMS Meer Inc., a leading supplier of aftermarket services related to the production equipment his company makes for customers in the metal manufacturing and forming businesses.

SMS Meer Inc., which is part of Germany’s privately-held, $4.5 billion SMS group, has been located in Cranberry Business Park since 2007. But it is no newcomer to the Pittsburgh area. SMS group, a global leader in the construction of plants and equipment for metal production and fabrication, has maintained a presence in Pittsburgh through both good and lean times. SMS Siemag, the sister division to SMS Meer, has had a major office on Pittsburgh’s north shore since the mid-‘90s, and some of the other U. S. companies that SMS acquired over the years have themselves been in business locally for as long as a century.
Spotlight SMS Meer  
Spare parts. Replacement wear parts for machinery used in the metals industry are housed at an SMS Meer warehouse in Cranberry Business Park. CEO Nils Honold oversees the German company’s North American operations.

“We’ve been here in the good times and we stayed through the challenging times,” Honold explained. “If you look at Pittsburgh 30 years ago and what it is now, a lot of the steel industry has gone. But there is still significant industry around the Pittsburgh area, in Youngstown, and in the wider area. While the investment in new equipment may not be as strong as it used to be years ago, the need for servicing, supporting, upgrading, revamping, and modernizing equipment has not gone away. So it still makes sense for us to be here.”

Internally, the SMS group distinguishes between industrial customers who produce flat metal products – plates and sheets, for example – and those making long products – tubing, pipes, beams and extruded shapes. SMS Meer’s focus is on the latter, where the rapid growth of natural gas extraction and the associated need for piping has been a boon to its pipe-producing customers and, by extension, to the demand for its own pipe production gear.

For the past twenty years, however, much of the growth in steel making and related equipment has taken place far from America’s shores. India, Russia and Brazil, for example, have significantly built up their metal production capabilities during that time. But nowhere has the investment in new steel plants been greater than in China, which has emerged as a vital market for the SMS group and where some of its own production equipment is now manufactured.

The company’s North American market, by contrast, is focused more on machinery repair, equipment upgrades, and process improvements in legacy plants, along with related workforce training and consultation. Those services, and the replacement of normal wear parts, are at the core of what SMS Meer’s 65 employees do in Cranberry. But most of their work takes place at their customer’s work sites.

Easy access to those customers was a central reason for the choice of Cranberry as its business location. “We are close to I-79, we are close to I-76, we are fairly close to the airport – all of which are good for us since we have people traveling,” Honold noted. “We need to go out. We need to be close to our customers.”

But there were also a few intangible factors involved in the move to Cranberry. “We were looking for something fresh and new in terms of a building,” he said. “How do we want to present ourselves to our customers? We were looking for a more modern-feeling environment, and that’s what we found here. We were looking for flex space and Cranberry Business Park was able to offer it. We needed an office, we wanted to have a warehouse, and we now have a small repair shop. So we were looking for flexibility but in a new kind of setup – not some rundown industrial place. This was really the best place we could find. It’s easy to get here; it works well for us.”