Investments in equipment, technology, and stellar customer service have been key to generating growth at the full-service metal fabricator.
Today’s Continental Industries began as a small fabrication shop — originally known as International West, Inc. The present owner of the company, Jeff Hayden, was an original employee of International West back in 1985, doing welding, sales, and other tasks. He eventually bought out the business, changed the name to Continental Industries, and saw growth from their original, small location into a 10,000-square-foot facility.
Since then, the company has moved into a 25,000-square-foot facility, which Director of Sales Mike Moss says they have already outgrown. In Moss’ 10 years with the manufacturer, he has seen a dramatic expansion of the size and capabilities of the business. He says, “We’ve totally revamped the shop floor. We’ve got state-of-the-art equipment, automated load-unload equipment, and off-line programming. In the beginning, everything was more just traditional fabrication.”
The sheet metal fabricator’s current services include high-speed laser cutting, punching, and bending in addition to welding, metal finishing, CNC machining, and hardware installation. The company employs design and manufacturing engineers to offer its customers value-added services such as new product design, prototyping, and value engineering as well.
The contract manufacturer’s main customer base spans the automotive, aerospace, medical, and electronics industries, although they stay away from items that require medical-grade certification or are flight-critical or mission-critical in the aerospace field. The balance of customers is by design, as Moss says, “We try to keep things spread out. You don’t want to be too heavily leveraged on any one particular side if the market takes a swing.”
About 90 percent of the company’s customers are in the Southern California area, and Continental Industries delivers products to these customers directly on company’s own trucks. For customers that are farther away, they normally ship via other carriers, but Moss says it’s tough to compete for distant work because of the high shipping charges involved.
With the growth in more sophisticated tasks, the company requires more highly-skilled, experienced workers, and Moss says that finding them is always a challenge, despite there being a number of other shops in the area that create a substantial pool of potential employees. “Even though there’s a large pool, the pool of the very good people is very small,” he says.
Much of the raw material the company uses for its commercial work is sourced overseas because Moss says it’s easier to get and comes with a better price. However, certain customers and jobs require domestic material — along with the certifications that go with it — but it is a small percentage of their work.
Supply chain issues have cropped up for the company over the last couple of years, first with the onset of COVID, then a port strike that left hundreds of ships sitting offshore in California, waiting to be unloaded. Moss says those issues caused major ripples through their customer base, as many companies could not get the supply of components needed to assemble the products that Continental Industries would be making for them.
Things are getting better, though. He says, “We’re able to manage from the material side, but still from the electronics side, and the semi-conductor side, there are still challenges. A lot of folks are having to redesign and try to find different sources, or make changes to their legacy products to accept different components that are more readily available domestically.”
Challenges: Continuing to provide the kind of excellent customer service that has brought Continental Industries increased success and loyalty throughout the company’s history.
“I think it’s an intangible, but it pays dividends,” Moss says of the fabricator’s commitment to service, “with the customers actually commenting on it once they start doing business with us.” He notes that it’s not uncommon for customers to say, “I call you guys and you answer the phone” or “Thank you for letting us know that our product is going to be late or you’re ahead of schedule.” He has even heard, “You’ve cleared up some issues for us that we didn’t know we had on the design side.” And as a result, “We might start with one product for them, then grow to annual blanket orders.”
Opportunities: “We’ve learned the benefits of automation and how it increases our throughput,” Moss says. “With our load/unload systems on our turret punch presses, we are able to run ‘lights out’ unmanned and have dramatically increased our efficiency. We have reduced the number of machines in the punch department but have the ability to run more parts, with greater accuracy, in less time. This efficiency opened greater opportunities to attract bigger customers with higher volume work and projects with tighter tolerances and shorter lead times, which at that point became a huge selling feature.”
Moss notes that the manufacturer’s president is committed to continuous improvement. “In that span of time, we upgraded our bending equipment to eight-axis machines, PC based controls, increased our weld capacity, and have become certified in certain areas of welding. We’re ISO 900 Compliant [and] ITAR Registered. Those improvements have resulted in substantial growth over the last decade.”
Needs: Increased floor space is once again necessary as the company expands its capabilities and adds more staff.