President Jim Clay is driving growth in diverse markets through innovation and the ability to fabricate steel tanks of all sizes.
The company fabricates roughly 10 to 15 million pounds of steel into tanks a year. Sometimes it can take more than 4 million pounds of steel to make just one tank, explains Clay.
"Everything we do is welded plate-steel construction," says Clay. "On the tank side, we fabricate and erect large-diameter welded steel tanks out of both carbon steel and stainless steel materials."
Large is something of an understatement. "The biggest contract we have now is for a 260-foot-diameter by 56-foot-tall external floating roof tank for crude oil in the Houston area," says Clay, noting the company has built tanks as large as 280 feet in diameter.
Advance Tank has two production facilities: its headquarters and main fabrication plant in Wellington where it employs about 30, and another in Alabama. The company works with welders throughout the nation to install and construct tanks in the field.
The family-owned company (Clay's wife is the chief financial officer and co-owns the company with her brother) also builds much smaller tanks. Tanks above 16 feet in diameter are built in the field. We'll also build complete tanks in the shop. Those are eight feet to 12 feet in diameter," Clay says.
"We work primarily in three different industries: oil and gas, agriculture, and power," says Clay. Recently, roughly 70 percent of its projects were oil and gas projects. Prior to that 50 percent of its projects were power plant related. "It really depends on what markets are going," he says.
The recession didn't impact Advance Tanks like many other businesses since most customers are companies with multi-year needs. "What really hit us was power just going away," says Clay. "The change in energy policy coming out of Washington changed a large segment of the business that we did. We didn't really see a big dropoff during the recession because oil exploration was really coming on, so we shifted into that."
With low oil prices, Advance Tank has pivoted again, he adds. "Right now, chemical has come on because of the low price of natural gas and a lot of chemical plants and fertilizer plants are being built. Agriculture is currently 10 to 15 percent or our work and chemical is probably another 10 to 15 percent. Power is nothing right now."
While Advance Tank isn't seeing as many new orders from oil and gas, it does do a lot of repair work at refineries. "We have a lot of clients that request us because of our field operations and the safety record we have and the people we have, which is key," Clay says.
The company is looking to make more products, too. "We have a product we sell that we're excited about and looking to expand on. It's a frostproof that vent we sell to the water industry," he offers as an example.
To compete in a mature market, Advance Tank is focused on efficiency. "The biggest strategy is just becoming the best at what you do, controlling the costs and exacting more money off the same project everyone else can do by doing it better and at a lower cost," Clay says.
While industrial steel tanks have been built the same way since the 1950s, Clay is aiming for efficiency gains with robotic welders and five CNC tables in shop. "We're developing an automatic welder for the vertical seams we do. We're building a fitting jig that allows us to run around without with having to weld clips on the tank," he says. "It's all being done to do it faster while being safe, and you can't get as many guys as you need, ever."
Challenges: "Labor shortage is always a challenge and within that qualified supervision is really the challenge," Clay says. We've got phenomenal guys but they're just not ready to supervise yet."
Opportunities: "We bid hundreds of jobs a year," says Clay. "If we can capture another 5 or 10 percent because we're able to source it and perform at a level our clients expect to perform at, we can capture a more of a mature market."
Needs: "Automating both the shops and field operations more than anything," Clay says. "We've got all the capital we need."