Sapa Extrusions North America

In light of changing economic times, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) don’t want excess parts – some that may never be used – sitting on the factory floor taking up space. On the other hand, they don’t necessarily want to wait for these parts, either – when they need it, they need it and not a second before or after. With OEMs rushing toward the just-in-time philosophy, suppliers have to be able to move quickly. Sapa Extrusions, a business area within Sapa Group, is set up to do just that.

Sapa Extrusions is the world’s leading supplier of solutions using extruded aluminum profiles. Its client base includes the construction, automotive, renewable energy, distribution and transportation industries. Its European market share sits at 14 percent. In 2000, the Stockholm, Sweden-headquartered company made its way into the U.S. market with the acquisition of a Portland, Ore., plant. It has since added 15 other North American plants and its North America market share sits around 29 percent.

Mats Johansson, plant manager of the Portland operations, says that the company delivers the flexibility that clients are looking for. “Short lead times are becoming more and more of a demand,” Johansson says. “We have to be very flexible to meet demands from customers because the customers themselves are running very low inventories, so we have to respond to their demands very quickly.”

Sapa Extrusions accomplishes this in a number of ways – the simplest of all being express shipping programs. Beyond that though, the company itself is organized to thrive in a world with tight lead times.

Made to Meet Demand

The Portland facility’s vertical integration has served it especially well. Stopping short of supplying its own raw materials, Sapa Extrusions does everything in-house. The Portland plant alone operates seven presses ranging from a 3 1/2- to a 10-inch press. It also maintains a plant for vertical and horizontal painting, an anodizing line and a fabrication unit stocked with CNC machines. The plant performs its own welding, bending and punching and its 3 1/2-inch press can manufacture very small, delicate profiles with tight tolerances and thin walls.

“We like to call ourselves a one-stop shop,” Johansson says. “Customers can come to us to get products fabricated and anodized instead of going to one partner for extrusion and another to anodize and a third for fabrication. We do everything in-house, including even transporting to the customer in most cases. We have 14 trucks, so we transport and deliver lots of products directly to customers.”

The company also does its own die manufacturing, which Johansson says also shortens lead times. “If we need to do any change on the tooling or dies, or improve the output of a die, we can do that a lot easier than our competitors,” he explains. Portland’s competitive edge in die manufacturing is leveraged by it sister plants, as well. The Portland plant will manufacture and ship die machines to sister plants throughout North America. Likewise, the Portland plant will call on its sister plants to help out on projects, too.

For instance, the Portland plant can absorb demand for its sister plant near Los Angeles during busy times and vice versa. Portland is also home to Sapa’s North American Technical Center that focuses on providing innovative solutions to customers through prototyping, continual research and analysis and customer value management.

“We have very good communication with our sister plants,” Johansson says. “We don’t do every alloy here in Portland and we don’t have presses of all sizes. We have some bigger presses in Pennsylvania and in the City of Industry in Los Angeles, so if we get inquiries here for small and medium-sized profiles with a couple of big profiles, we will reach out to our sister companies and find ways to satisfy that customer demand.”

All of these factors work together to allow Sapa Extrusions to grow during tough times and continue operations under the new normal. Johansson explains that 2009 was the Portland plant’s most challenging year. It serves a number of industries but has developed a niche in the construction sector. When that industry began to wane, Sapa’s customer demand began to slow as well. However, Johansson says that the construction industry is beginning to show growth, especially commercial and architectural construction. The company has also delved deeper into manufacturing components for the solar industry and the truck and trailer industry.

As the company continues to expand into other industries, Johansson explains that its experienced employees are the ultimate factor in fueling that growth.

“We have lots of experience inside the company,” he says. “Here [in Portland], we have over 60 people that have been here for 25 years or longer, and that’s throughout the office and production. We do about 160 new profiles, new extrusions every month. By doing that, we get more and more experience on how to design profiles and how to run new product in a very good and efficient way.” mt