Anderson Industries Takes New Track With Iron Castings

The Fargo-based manufacturing and machining company purchased Dakota Foundry to expand into railroad and energy industries while supporting existing business in agricultural and construction markets.

Nicholas Leider, Associate Editor

(Click here to see the story as it appears in the November issue of Modern Casting.)

When Kory Anderson graduated from North Dakota State University, Fargo, N.D., in 2006, the 22-year-old didn’t waste time putting his mechanical engineering education to work. What is now Anderson Industries, a collection of three businesses with 180 employees, began in his garage, where Anderson aimed to provide solutions working in heavy equipment repair and onsite welding. Three years later, in 2009, he was able to move his business to a facility in Aberdeen, S.D., and added cutting, welding, and machining capabilities.

The son of a farmer, Anderson had built a business that provided weldments, fabrications, machining services and repair to the agricultural industry. In 2014, he heard that the employee-owners of Dakota Foundry, Webster, S.D., were interested in selling the iron casting facility. A decade ago, a dozen of the Dakota Foundry’s employees had purchased the gray and ductile iron casting operation that would have otherwise been shut down. By this time, the company’s primary shareholder was looking to sell his stake in the casting operation and retire.

“We had a number of interested buyers, mostly overseas companies that wanted to have a U.S. storefront,” said Josh Bartos, vice president of operations, Dakota Foundry. “I had known Kory for years and thought he would be interested, so I gave him a call.”

The two had known one another for more than eight years, since Anderson began working with Dakota Foundry in 2006 after seeing a need for local patternmakers. With Anderson focused on engineering and machining and Bartos plenty familiar with metal castings, the two developed a business relationship that led to that conversation in 2014.

Serving customers with a wide variety of manufacturing needs in steel and iron alloys, Anderson saw the metalcasting facility as a way to enter the railroad industry—which consumes roughly a third of Dakota’s production—while supporting other work in the construction and agriculture markets. The customers who needed his machining and fabrication services, Anderson’s thinking went, just may need castings. Conversely, metal casting end-users definitely require the value-added services provided by Anderson Industries.

“What initially interested me in buying Dakota Foundry was how it could broaden our services to customers on both sides,” Anderson said. “We could, as one company, offer so many solutions, whether it’s iron or steel.”

Anderson Industries is a group of four companies that includes the metalcasting operation, a nearby welding and laser-cutting operation and a 100,000-sq.-ft. plant in Mapleton, N.D., for engineering, machining and fabricating steel components. The company also designs and manufactures products for the agricultural industry, including disk levers and row openers.

“Basically, with Dakota, we expanded our manufacturing methods, which can be matched with our value-added services in a single company,” Anderson said. “A customer doesn’t have to worry about shipping a casting for machining or powder coating. If we can ship it a finished part so it’s ready for the assembly line, that’s a way to simplify the supply chain.”

The acquisition of the metalcasting facility in 2014 coincided with Anderson Industries moving its operations from Aberdeen to a vacant facility in Webster. Anderson planned the move to the Webster location, a quick drive from Dakota Foundry, before the topic of a potential sale ever came up. While timing and locations worked themselves out perfectly, Anderson Industries was able to add a metalcasting operation to its fabrication, welding and machining capabilities. The symbiotic relationship between Anderson Industries and Dakota Foundry diversified the markets and offerings of both companies. 

Dakota Foundry, with 45 employees working two shifts, specializes in castings between 100-5,000 lbs. Its automated nobake line produces approximately 90% of all castings, while a manual green sand line handles specific parts when volume and size allow. The metalcasting facility services customers in industries such as railroad, construction and agriculture.

A job shop that routinely deals with quick lead times for small and medium volume orders, Dakota Foundry is able to leverage the value-added capabilities of Anderson Industries to operate as a one-stop shop for customers looking to quickly source components. The addition of metalcasting operations is just another capability that can help customers receive finished or nearly finished parts to improve efficiency.

“In many cases, customers want to reduce the amount of suppliers they are working with,” Anderson said. “It’s easier, especially in value-added services, to offer customers a wider variety of services.”

Dakota Foundry receives most of its engineering support from Anderson’s Mapleton, N.D., location, just outside of Fargo, with designers and engineers often making the two-hour trip to the South Dakota location for a day or two as necessary. Anderson Industries has explored a number of conversions to cast parts from other manufacturing methods when it makes sense logistically, financially and design-wise.

“With a foundry, we are able to provide another method of manufacturing to our customers,” Anderson said. “Cast parts have the potential to help our customers in specific situations. It’s up to us to recognize those situations and let them know castings may provide benefits that they otherwise wouldn’t realize.”

Onsite, Anderson has eyed a number of tweaks to the metalcasting operations since assuming control of the metalcasting facility in September 2014.

“Since we’ve taken control of the foundry, we want to improve efficiencies and safety,” Anderson said. “Our initial goals are to improve the facility’s processes. We want to continue what Dakota Foundry had been doing, only faster, simpler and safer.”

Anderson also wants to expand Dakota Foundry’s patternmaking abilities. Dakota Foundry has a shop for repair, maintenance and retooling, and a warehouse that stores more than 1,000 patterns. Relocating the cleaning department is another potential way of increasing capacity.

“We have longer term plans for expansion,” Anderson said. “We are laying out plans to move our cleaning room away from the pouring area. We would have more space to pour. Cleaning is our bottleneck at the moment, so a new cleaning room would also help increase efficiency and throughput.”

According to company officials, Dakota is approximately 15% ahead of last year in terms of sales. With sales expected to top $8 million this year, Anderson aims to double that figure in the coming years as Dakota Foundry becomes a more integrated part of Anderson Industries.  

ncountering a scenario in which you are forced to suddenly and immediately suspend melting operations for an extended period can be a death sentence for many metalcasting facilities. Small to mid-size businesses are the backbone of the industry, but many do not survive when forced into extended downtime. One disaster-stricken metalcaster, however, found resilience through its own perseverance and a circle of support from peers, friends, suppliers, teams from installation and repair providers, an original equipment manufacturer and even competitors.
Tonkawa Foundry, a third-generation, family-owned operation in Tonkawa, Okla., was entering its 65th year of operation this year when a significant technical failure ravaged the power supply and melting furnaces on January 17. Thanks to the textbook evacuation directed by Operations Manager Carrie Haley, no one was physically harmed during the incident, but the extent of emotional and financial damage, and just how long the event would take Tonkawa offline, was unclear.
Tonkawa’s power supply and two steel-shell furnaces would have to be rebuilt. No part of the reconstruction process could begin until the insurance company approved removal of the equipment from the site. The potential loss of Tonkawa’s employees and customers to competing metalcasters seemed inevitable.
Within two days of the incident, repair, installation and equipment representatives were on site at Tonkawa to survey the damage. Once the insurance company issued approval to begin work, the installation team mobilized within 24 hours to remove the equipment and disassemble the melt deck.
Since the damaged equipment was installed in the 1980s and 1990s, Tonkawa and an equipment services and repair company quickly strategized a plan and identified ways to enhance the safety, efficiency and overall productivity of Tonkawa’s melt deck.
“The most critical issue was for our team to organize a response plan,” said Steve Otto, executive vice president for EMSCO’s New Jersey Installation Division. “We needed to arrive at Tonkawa ready to work as soon as possible and deliver quickly and thoroughly so they could get back to the business of melting and producing castings, and minimize their risk of closing.”
Several years after Tonkawa’s melt deck was originally installed, an elevation change was required to accommodate the use of a larger capacity ladle under the spout of the furnaces. Rather than raising the entire melt deck, only the area supporting the furnaces was elevated. As a result, the power supply and workstation were two steps down from the furnaces, creating a number of inconveniences and challenges that impacted overall work flow in the melt area. Additionally, the proximity of the power supply to the furnaces not only contributed to the limited workspace, but also increased the odds of the power supply facing damage.
The damage to the melt deck required it to be reconstructed. It was determined to be the ideal opportunity to raise the entire deck to the same elevation and arrange the power supply, workstation and furnaces onto one level. The furnace installation company provided the layout concepts, and with the aid of Rajesh Krishnamurthy, applications engineer, Oklahoma State Univ., Tonkawa used the concepts to generate blueprints for the new deck construction. The results yielded a modernized melt system with an even elevation, strategically placed power supply, enhanced worker safety and increased operator productivity.
“Eliminating the steps and relocating the power supply farther from the furnaces was a significant improvement to our melt deck,” Tonkawa Co-Owner Jim Salisbury said.
Within four days of insurance company approval, all damaged equipment had been removed and shipped for repair.
The insurance company required an autopsy on the damaged furnace before any repair work could begin. The forensic analysis was hosted by EMSCO in Anniston, Ala., in the presence of insurance company personnel, as well as an assembly of industry representatives from the companies who had received notices of potential subrogation from the insurance company.
Tonkawa’s furnace was completely disassembled while the insurance company’s forensic inspector directed, photographed, cataloged and analyzed every turn of every bolt on the furnace over a nine-hour workday. The coil was dissected, and lining samples were retained for future reference.
While the furnace sustained extensive damage, it did not have to be replaced entirely.
Structural reconstruction was performed to address run-out damage in the bottom of the furnace, a new coil was fabricated and the hydraulic cylinders were repacked and resealed. Fortunately, the major components were salvageable, and ultimately, the furnace was rebuilt for half the cost of a new furnace.
“The furnace experienced a significant technical failure,” said Jimmy Horton, vice president and general manager of southern operations, EMSCO. “However, not only was the unit rebuilt, it was rebuilt using minimal replacement parts.”
Though work was underway on the furnaces, Tonkawa was challenged with a projected lead time of 14 weeks on the power supply.
When accounting for the three weeks lost to insurance company holds and the time required for installation, Tonkawa was looking at a total production loss of 18-20 weeks. From the perspective of sibling co-owners Sandy Salisbury Linton and Jim Salisbury, Tonkawa could not survive such a long period of lost productivity. After putting their heads together with their furnace supplier, it was determined the reason for the long turnaround on the power supply could be traced to the manufacturer of the steel cabinet that housed the power supply.
The solution? The existing cabinet would be completely refurbished and Tonkawa would do the work rather than the initial manufacturer. This reduced the 14-week lead time to just five weeks.
Tonkawa is the single source for a number of its customers. Although lead-time had been significantly reduced, the Tonkawa team still needed a strategy to keep the single source customers in business as well as a plan to retain their larger customers.
Tonkawa pours many wear-resistant, high-chrome alloys for the agriculture and shot blast industries. Kansas Castings, Belle Plaine, Kan., which is a friendly competitor, is located 50 miles north of Tonkawa. Kansas Castings offered Tonkawa two to three heats every Friday for as long as it needed.
“We made molds, put them on a flatbed trailer, prayed it wasn’t going to rain in Oklahoma, and drove the molds to Kansas Castings. We were molding, shot blasting, cleaning, grinding and shipping every Friday,” Salisbury Linton said.
Others joined the circle of support that was quickly surrounding the Tonkawa Foundry family.
Modern Investment Casting Corporation (MICC) is located 12 miles east of Tonkawa in Ponca City, Okla. Though MICC is an investment shop and Tonkawa is a sand casting facility, MICC’s relationship with Tonkawa dates back years to when Sandy and Jim’s father, Gene Salisbury, was at the helm.
“Gene was always willing to help you out,” said MICC owner, Dave Cashon. “His advice was invaluable for us over the years, so when the opportunity arose to support Sandy and Jim, we volunteered our help.”
 MICC offered to pour anything Tonkawa needed every Friday in its furnace. Tonkawa brought its alloy, furnace hand and molds, while MICC provided its furnace and a furnace hand for three heats. Many of the specialty parts Tonkawa produces were completed with MICC’s support.
When Salisbury Linton approached Cashon and asked him to issue her an invoice to cover the overhead Tonkawa was consuming, Cashon told her if she brought in six-dozen donuts every Friday morning they’d call it even.
“We’re all kind of like family,” Cashon said. “We’re all part of the same industry and though we may be friendly competitors at times, you don’t want to see anybody go through what they’ve gone through and it could have just as easily been our furnace that failed. While we all take the appropriate measures and perform maintenance to prevent these scenarios from occurring, they unfortunately still occur from time to time in our industry.”
Tonkawa had recently added steel work to its menu of services and Central Machine & Tool, Enid, Okla., was able to take Tonkawa’s patterns and fulfill its steel orders so it would not fall behind with those customers, while CFM Corporation, Blackwell, Okla., took three of Tonkawa’s employees on a temporary basis and kept them working during the downtime. Additionally, a couple of Tonkawa’s major suppliers extended their payables terms.
Thanks to Tonkawa’s suppliers, friends and its personnel’s own passion, persistence and dedication, the business is up, running and recovering—placing it among the few shops of its size to overcome the odds and remain in business after facing calamity.
 Nearly eight months after that devastating Saturday evening in January, Salisbury Linton reflected on the people and events that helped Tonkawa rise from the ashes. “We certainly would not have the opportunity to see what the future holds for Tonkawa if it weren’t for all the kind-hearted people who cared about what happened to us. Everyone still checks in on us.”