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Manatee sheet metal manufacturer buys seven machines to boost efficiency

Gator Stamping CEO lives by one his business mantras: ‘You can never rest on what you do. You've always got to be reinventing yourself.’


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  • | 11:00 a.m. June 4, 2024
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Gator Stamping CEO Paul Cronen has invested in new machinery to keep the business ahead of changes in the industry.
Gator Stamping CEO Paul Cronen has invested in new machinery to keep the business ahead of changes in the industry.
Photo by Lori Sax
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Gator Stamping International Inc., a Manatee County-based manufacturing company specializing in sheet metal and stamping, has succeeded over the last 35 years with CEO Paul Cronen running the company with laser-like efficiency. 

New machinery, an eye on the scrap market and a continuous churn of quality projects keep the momentum going. “The kind of stuff that I think has kept Gator alive for a lot of years is the extra mile we go to try to help the customer save money,” Cronen says.

The new machinery includes seven CNC press brake machines, for forming and parts, and an IPG laser cube. All are dedicated to providing a quicker output for small to medium runs, but each has special advantages to the process. The seven machines come from Betenbender Manufacturing out of Iowa. A client at a shop in Georgia introduced Cronen to one of his Betenbender machines and talked up the inexpensive price. Cronen notes the higher tech machines run about $300,000 while the ones he purchased are about $40,000 a piece. “They do a great job, [and] they're super inexpensive. And what's nice is they're made in the United States, so I don't have to wait for anything overseas,” Cronen says. 

Keeping much of the operations stateside is an important aspect of the enterprise. With little time difference or geographical expanse, repairs and other customer service needs can be addressed at a much speedier rate. Cronen relishes the convenience and communication. 

The IPG laser, which handles sheets up to 48-inch-by-48-inch, is also manufactured in the States. For many years, the company of some 70-80 employees was using just one laser and having to keep it running multiple shifts. “When we bought the second one, it did exactly what I was hoping it was going to do," Cronen says. “We've been able to get down to one shift with a few hours overtime each day, so I'm no longer keeping the shop open until midnight just trying to keep that machine running.”

Constant tinkering and the battle for continual improvement is part of the model at the company — named for the reptile, not the college in Gainesville. Gator Stamping is an offshoot of St. Paul, Minn.-based Tempco Manufacturing. Paul Cronen's grandfather, Peter Cronen, founded Tempco in 1945, initially in his garage. The company grew quickly doing mostly short runs of sheet metal fabrication and mechanical assembly, and by the late 1980s executives wanted to give Florida a shot. Paul Cronen led the Florida expedition in 1988. Like his grandfather, he started small, in a pair of 5,000-square-foot buildings. He went to auctions nationwide to buy equipment and knocked on doors to land clients.

The success of Gator Stamping today, meanwhile, isn’t just about what happens in house, but also keeping an eye on market trends as well. The use of different materials and the value of the scrap market are forecasts that haven’t failed in their ability to predict over the years. “I always tell people to watch the scrap market,” says Cronen. “The scrap market is a predictor of everything to come. If you see scrap prices fall through the tank, there's a recession coming. And if you see scrap prices going up, that means get ready. You know, things are turning because there's a short supply.” 

Indeed, aluminum and steel have both decreased in production stateside. According to the U.S. Geological Survey’s Mineral Commodity Summary of 2024, aluminum production has had a year-over-year decrease since before the pandemic, with 750,000 metric tons of production occurring in 2023, down 12.89% from 861,000 metric tons in 2022. This is in part due to several of the country’s main smelters operating at reduced capacity or closing altogether. Similarly, raw steel production in the U.S was valued at $110 billion dollars, a 15% decrease from $128 billion the previous year. The Ukraine conflict and a market shift toward electrical steel are contributing factors.

For now, Gator Stamping’s strategy is to stay the course with a variety of new projects and expand its process offerings as customers need them. The company, say officials, does around $11 million to $12 million a year in revenue. “We never stopped trying to work on different projects. I've always got something in the hopper that I'm working with somebody on and then hopefully they eventually turn into production,” Cronen says. 

Though “not quite” turnkey, Gator Stamping offers engineering and design, metal stamping, sheet metal fabrication, welding, powder coating and some in-house assembly. New projects include parts for a new golf cart company and warming equipment for food in the private sector. 

“The biggest thing in our industry: you can never rest on what you do,” Cronen says. “You've always got to be reinventing yourself — because we're in the short and medium run industry and [it’s] an industry that just keeps changing.”

 

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