The Herald, Sharon, PA Published Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001
outlook 2001


If youíre not in, youíre out
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Technology is a fact of business life

By Pam Mansell
Herald Writer

What happens to businesses that say no to the hefty expense and sometimes scary sophistication of modern technology?

Linda Nitsch, executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation, has a blunt answer: "From a competitive standpoint, if they donít invest in new technology, theyíre out of business."

Lawrence County businesses agree. At one of them, New Castle Industries, president Tom Doland offered the most succinct assessment of the future.

"People wonít accept price increases," Doland said. "You have to become the lowest cost producer, and high quality is assumed."

Thatís the burden of competition all businesses face, Ms. Nitsch noted. Here are the technology stories of three well-established Lawrence County companies who have already started looking to a more computerized future.

Ranier Devido StoneCo.

Take a look over the door when you walk into the Ranier Devido Stone Co. and youíll see the inscription, "The Future is Working." That motto can be interpreted at least a couple of ways, but whichever way, this much is evident as soon as you walk into the expansive plant: everyoneís hard at work, and everyoneís planning for the future.

Ranier Devidoís company has been a landmark on route 422 since 1956.

Devido said he was a brick mason back then, but took an interest in stone cutting after watching someone do it. He learned the craft and learned it well; 45 years later, the Devido Stone Company has designed, cut, molded, and turned columns and balusters for homes and buildings across the nation, including the White House.

There are 19 employees in the family-owned company. Devido officially retired last year, turning over ownership to two sons, Bill and Bob.

Indiana Limestone -- "the Nationís building stone" -- is the medium most often used because of its clarity, but other stone is sometimes used as well. Some employees hand carve intricate pieces, and others oversee computer-generated cutting. The latest addition to the computer stable is a yellow robot made by the Fanuc Company, a state-of-the-art machine that saves a lot of man hours in beveling keystones and rounding edges. Eventually, it can be programmed to do even the most intricate of cuts.

"Accuracy is the big thing," Bill Devido explained. "The computer can cut with consistency. Itís perfect every time." Plus, thereís the advantage of less time to do the work. "One man can do several pieces at one time," Bill said.

Most of the companyís work is residential, but unusual non-residential work -- like the balustrades at the White House -- is also part of daily work. One of the companyís most interesting projects, Ranier Devido said, was the Armenian Room at the University of Pittsburgh, work that called for difficult arches and a lot of intricate carving in the thousand-plus characters in the inscriptions.

Right now, the company is close to finishing a large project for the Nauvoo Mormon temple, in Nauvoo, Illinois. Large boxes of moonstones are ready to be shipped, and the breathtaking sunstones -- the face of the sun with carved rays spreading outward, the detail so fine there are even wrinkles along the knuckles of the hands in the carving -- wonít be far behind. The temple will be the subject of a television documentary scheduled to air in 2002; the Devido Stone Company will be featured in it.

"Thereís still a lot of work that has to be done by hand," Ranier Devido said. But that is now. The robot, along with other computerized stone cutting, are part of the preparation for the future.

Environmental Laboratory Services

Environmental Laboratory Services, Butler Rd., has been around since 1983, owner Ron Rizzo said. Its work is analyzing water and soil for chemical and organic compounds. Often, Rizzo said, their work is a result of a DEP order -- Department of Environmental Protection -- to determine if there are contaminants in, say, discharge from a steel mill, or if there are leaks around gas station tanks.

Rizzo said their business, too, has to keep up with "all the latest gadgetry. Every time you turn around, thereís something new," he said.

The newest gadget in their lab is an Inductively Coupled Argon Plasma Spectroscope -- ICAP for short. Itís a plasma unit thatís used to check for metals in water or soil, and itís unique in several respects.

One, explained laboratory director Mark Swansiger, is that it doesnít use a conventional fire flame. It uses a plasma flame thatís induced By a radio frequency generator.

The result is a unit that "enables you to test literally dozens of metals simultaneously," Swansiger said. "Before, you had to test one at a time," using atomic absorption that used a conventional acetylene flame.

Another unit, a gas chromatograph/mass spectrometer, measures organic chemicals -- such as gas contamination -- in water and soil. And the latest, latest gadget is a combination of that and the ICAP, called the ICAP/Mass Spec. This combines both technologies, allowing labs to test for unknowns, giving results on both chemical and organic contaminants at the same time.

Rizzo said his company is not alone in using new technology; people and agencies want answers fast when it comes to whatís in their soil and water, and newer technology makes that happen.

New Castle Industries

There are eight plants that make up New Castle Industries, a subsidiary of Ampco Pittsburgh. Two are located in New Castle, one in Wheatland, and the others are scattered from New Hampshire to South Carolina to Ohio to Wisconsin. In all, they employ about 350 people, with about 200 of those employed locally. They build component parts -- feed screws in the New Castle plant -- for plastics extrusion machinery.

If that technical terminology sounds like so much mumbo-jumbo, move on to this simplified explanation: almost everything around you, from your kitchen floor to your telephone, from your desk to your car, is made of plastic or has a hefty amount of plastic in its construction. A pen, for example, is an "injection molded" form of plastic. Saran Wrap is "extruded" plastic. A milk jug is "blow-molded" plastic. And all of these items and more are made on huge pieces of machinery that use an equally huge feed screw.

"Virtually everything made of plastic goes through a feed mill," Len Rovenski, manufacturing operations general manager, said. "Weíre capable of building some of the biggest." Big, in feed screws, can be up to 24 inches in diameter and about 40 feet long. To aid in making these monsters quickly and perfectly, New Castle Industries last year purchased a $2.2 million Weingartner CNC (computer numerical control) screw whirling machine from Austria.

Compared to the other CNC milling equipment in the plant, Rovenski said the "time saving is tremendous. A job that took 20 to 25 hours with the old milling machine now takes about 5 hours."

"Plus," vice-president Tim Womer added, "You get better accuracy and repeatable work." With a computer tape of the process used in forming a feed screw, the same feed screw can be made years later, and "Youíve eliminated human error," Rovenski said. "Because the process is no longer operator-sensitive," there wonít be different results with different people doing the work.

The Weingartner whirling machine is one of three in North America, and is the largest and fastest of the three, company president Tom Doland said, adding that another is being purchased for the Wisconsin plant.

The New Castle machine is programmed in-house, and is capable of extremely complex work.

"Itís ten-axis," Rovenski explained, which is roughly akin to being able to program the complex movements and shape of the human body.

While there is still need for conventional milling of feed screws -- rebuilding screws, for example -- Doland estimates that about 65 percent are now made by computer. As the process gets faster and cheaper with newer technology, however, that percentage might rise, when purchasing newer components becomes more cost-effective than repairing old ones.

"Weíll continue to automate," Doland said. He said New Castle Industries is committed to making significant capital investments in new equipment because thatís the only way to stay competitive and keep costs down.

"Thatís the key," Doland said. "Finding better ways and methods of cutting costs. People wonít accept price increases."

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