Steel Products

Manufacturing Execs to Share Forecasts at SMU Steel Summit

Written by Tim Triplett

Manufacturers and fabricators report that business is good, but it’s certainly not easy. Steel Market Update has recruited a dynamic group of executives who will explore topics ranging from trade and tariffs to automation and logistics on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at SMU’s Steel Summit Conference in Atlanta. The title of their panel is Manufacturing Forecast: Anything’s Possible, What’s Likely?

What’s likely, among other subjects, is a spirited examination of the Trump administration’s trade policies and whether they go far enough to assure a positive forecast for American manufacturers.

Panelist Barry Zekelman feels so strongly about President Trump’s steel tariffs that has offered all 2,300 employees of Zekelman Industries a $1,000 annual bonus for as long as the tariffs remain in effect. Zekelman Industries is the largest independent steel pipe and tube manufacturer in North America. Illegal dumping by 12 foreign nations, “the Dirty Dozen,” he calls them, has artificially depressed steel prices for decades. “Is a 25 percent duty enough? I don’t think it is. I actually think those duties should be much higher,” he says.

AK Steel has commanded a front-row seat in the debate over free trade, tirelessly advocating in Washington for trade action to stem the flow of unfair imports. During AK Steel’s recent first-quarter conference call, President and COO Kirk Reich pointed to the foreign electrical steel imports that have flooded the U.S. market. “The annualized rate of grain-oriented electrical steel imports in the first quarter is estimated to be nearly 2.5 times that of last year. It seems readily apparent that this tremendous surge of imports is the result of a concerted effort by certain players to beat the Section 232 tariffs. Our hope is that the Department of Commerce will recognize and address the situation as the U.S. negotiates deals with countries seeking exceptions to the steel tariffs,” says Reich, who will join Zekelman and two others on SMU’s manufacturing panel.

Texas-based Priefert Steel is both a service center and a manufacturer of farm, ranch and rodeo equipment. Chris Shipp, Priefert’s vice president of sales, brings a dual perspective to the panel as both a supplier and a user of steel. Steel demand remains strong despite the higher prices, he says, but the uncertainty caused by the Trump administration’s tariffs has slowed the flow of foreign steel and tightened supplies. Extended mill lead times and limited trucking capacity are putting a strain on logistics. “For my customers, the small OEMs, fab shops and stampers, the rapid rise in steel prices has really hit them hard,” he says.

John Axelberg, president of General Stamping & Metalworks, a full-service metal fabricator based in South Bend, Ind., says it’s critically important to attract and train the talent that is necessary for a company and an industry to grow. At the same time, it’s important to leverage the latest automation to maximize productivity. The two goals do not work against each other, as it may first appear, he told the audience at FMA’s recent annual meeting. As automation becomes more ubiquitous on the shop floor, it won’t simply displace human labor, but rather will change the makeup of the workforce. “We’re going to have a lot more programmers, more engineers, supporting the automation,” he says.

For more information about the manufacturing panel and the many other outstanding speakers lined up for this year’s Steel Summit, visit, or call 772-932-7538 to register.

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