Longtime Pennsylvania foundry opens in Pasco

Most hours of the day, a lathe machine is hard at work in a Pasco warehouse, creating pipe fittings for a Pennsylvania company that recently opened its first West Coast shop.

Latrobe Foundry Machine & Supply Co., based near Pittsburgh, picked the Tri-Cities to be closer to its customers.

The company founder’s great-grandson moved his family to the Tri-Cities to manage the expansion of the aluminum foundry.

“The Tri-Cities was a place that we felt comfortable living and raising our kids and it was somewhere that we could see growing the company,” said Michael Steiner, vice president of Latrobe Foundry and the sole employee working in the new Pasco warehouse at the King City Industrial Park complex.

Steiner’s father is Latrobe’s president and he had floated the idea of opening a facility on the West Coast at some point.

“We already shipped 20 percent to 30 percent of our product to the West Coast, and thought we really should set up shop out there,” said Steiner, who grabbed hold of the plan and began scouting potential locations, including Seattle, Portland and Boise.

Thanks to a personal connection his wife had with a Tri-City resident, Steiner looked at the area as a possible expansion site and was intrigued by the easy access to rail, air and ground shipping. “It put the whole country in two to three days’ access for us,” he said.

He said Pasco offers a similar cost of living and cost of doing business compared to the company’s Pennsylvania headquarters. He also finds Washington’s employment laws to be more friendly toward small businesses than California’s.

Latrobe was founded in the early 1930s manufacturing cast iron and steel before shifting to aluminum in the ’60s, which is its exclusive focus now.

“Aluminum was where we wanted to make our mark, and where we wanted to stay,” Steiner said. Manufacturers prefer aluminum in chilled buildings, like nearby food processors, because the metal gets stronger in colder temperatures.

Latrobe remains a family-owned company with fewer than 30 employees.

Steiner said most pipe fittings Latrobe makes are sold to industrial wholesalers and can be used for any number of purposes. Steiner said he knows of purchases used by the U.S. military, soda companies and irrigation outfits, just to name a few.

Latrobe parts are shipped throughout the United States, Canada and the world.

Lampson Crane installed Latrobe’s computer numerical control, or CNC, lathe machine and aluminum bar feeder in its Pasco warehouse, a unit about the size of a pickup. It cranks out a double-threaded aluminum pipe fitting from a three-foot rod about once a minute.

Thanks to 3D printing, all the fittings are identical.

“Most patterns for a foundry used to be made from wood so you’d have these great woodworkers carving and making by hand to try to have 15 identical pieces on a board,” said Steiner, who explained the pipe fittings just need to seal and don’t need to be identical down to the millimeter. “Our pattern maker retired and it was a good time to move into the new technology. It’s been fun to see the products change over time and see, ‘Oh, this is what it’s supposed to look like the first time, and every time.’ ”

On average, the machine creates about 500 pieces a day and Steiner can manage operation by himself from his office within the Pasco warehouse.

The machine has the ability to run for more than 24 hours straight if it doesn’t have any issues, but a typical load will run about four hours.

Spiral aluminum scraps created from manufacturing of the pipe fittings can be recycled at a scrap facility.

“There’s one machine now, but in the next 18 months there could be one or maybe two more machines,” said Steiner, who said more employees would be needed for an additional expansion. Adding a larger machine could create pipe fittings in half the time of the current one.

Latrobe’s current investment is just the start of its plan to keep Pasco as its primary West Coast location.

“We’re easily half-a-million (dollars) into the Tri-Cities right now,” Steiner said.

The expansion has allowed the company to take on additional capacity that it had to outsource previously.

“If you’re going to do something and put your name on it, you want to be in control,” he said.

» Latrobe Foundry Machine & Supply Co.: 1430 E. Hillsboro St., Suite B-102, Pasco; 724-537-3341; latrobefoundry.com.

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