Last updated on October 7th, 2021 at 01:17 am
The ability to adapt to a changes has helped Advance Boiler & Tank Co. remain in business since 1919.
Advance Boiler & Tank LLC
6600 W. Washington St., West Allis
Industry: Tank and pressure vessel manufacturing
Located in a 100,000-square-foot space at 6600 W. Washington St. in West Allis, the company started out making and repairing boilers. As boilers became less common and more replaceable to upgrade to a new boiler, the 35-employee company shifted to manufacturing tanks and pressure vessels for the energy industry.
Dan Andrae, whose family sold the company to Ken Griffioen and a partner in 2003, serves as the customer service and sales manager.
“Like a lot of companies, (Advance Boiler & Tank) is in industries that go through cycles,” he said.
While steam ships use boilers, which Advance still repairs, boiler driven ships are not as common today as in the 1950s, he said. Commercial boilers are also more likely to be replaced than repaired these days.
“As time goes on, it’s a different technology now,” said Griffioen. “The boilers are getting smaller and more efficient.”
The pressure vessels that Advance now makes, which meet American Society of Mechanical Engineers pressure code standards, are made out of carbon steel plates and can weigh up to 110 tons, Griffioen said. Each is custom made when it’s ordered, and some can take as long as a year to complete.
“The bigger they are, the longer it takes,” he said.
Engineering firms design the products and then send the orders to Advance for fabrication. The typical tank or vessel is six or seven feet in diameter and a maximum of eight feet wide, at up to one inch of thickness.
“We don’t make anything until someone tells us to make something,” Griffioen said.
After the sheets are welded into precisely measured vessels, the product is baked in a huge oven at 1,200 degrees to relieve stress on the welds.
Sub-contractors X-ray the welds to check for imperfections and sometimes paint the vessels before shipping, based on customers’ specifications. Most Advance products are transported by rail and ship to customers across the world.
The vessels are used in the power and water treatment industries.
Advance also has repairmen who travel throughout southeastern Wisconsin to fix boilers and pressure vessels that are used anywhere from churches to ships, Griffioen said.
The company’s refractory division, Advance Thermotec, makes heat-resistant materials that are used in boilers and heat treating applications. Its primary customer is Milwaukee-based Wisconsin Energy Corp.
“Our niche market is energy, so typically anytime a power plant is being made anywhere in the world, that’s our target,” Griffioen said.
Advance invested about $200,000 in new welding equipment five years ago that has improved efficiency in the fabrication process, he said.
Orders slowed in the recession but are now steady again. Sales in 2010 were about 40 percent lower than 2009, but Griffioen projects 2011 sales will be 25 percent higher than last year.
The company laid off about eight employees and had to reduce its second shift to a skeleton crew, but Griffioen is optimistic that he will be able to beef up the second shift again soon.