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Stainless to Sell Fabrication Plant

66-year-old tower builder to farm out fab

This article originally appeared in TV Technology

Stainless, one of the largest suppliers of towers for the broadcast industry, is selling off its fabrication operation. The 66-year-old business is closing its manufacturing plant in Pine Forge, Pa., in the face of “reduced demand for tall tower fabrication,” Gregg Fehrman, president and chief engineer, said on the company website.

One industry source says Stainless is the only game in town for stations that need towers in the 2,000-foot range, which are found mainly on the plains. Don Doty, founder of Stainless, emphasized that the company will continue to do engineering, detailing, fab and installation, with fabrication farmed out.

“We have located several fabrication operations to provide Stainless-quality materials on an as-needed basis,” Doty said. “One-stop shopping will continue without interruption. As all business must face, underperforming assets cannot be retained indefinitely.”

Stainless estimates that it has supplied more than 7,500 towers in 100 countries, including around half of those in use for broadcasting in the United States. The fab plant is located in an area with a 300-year history in ironworks.

TV Technology’s James E. O’Neal visited the facility in 2008. “My tour of the Pine Forge facility was unlike that at any other manufacturer visited in this series — the plant is devoid of any automatic surface mount parts pickers and placers, wave soldering machines, conveyer belts, clean rooms, or automated testing and repair facilities,” he said. (See “Stainless Continues 300-Year-Old Tradition.”)

Stainless, like transmission antenna-maker Dielectric, suffered the slings and arrows of serving a government-regulated industry. Both endured roller-coaster business cycles associated with the DTV transition, originally scheduled for 2006 and subsequently extended to 2009. Then nine months after the June 2009 transition, the Federal Communications Commission proposed reassigning 40% of the remaining broadcast TV spectrum for wireless broadband.

Dielectric, located in Raymond, Maine, was bought out in June by Sinclair Broadcast Group. Sinclair had 140 TV stations at the time of the purchase; 124 of them had Dielectric antennas. (See “Sinclair to Buy Dielectric for $5 Million.”) Orders for tower modification and new construction at first plummeted, then screeched to a halt six months ago when the FCC put a freeze on all new full-power and Class A TV station modification applications.

“Our numbers were cut by 60% overnight,” Doty said in April when Dielectric announced it would shut its doors. Unlike the previous cycles, there’s no way for Stainless to know when this downturn will end because it’s not known how many stations will voluntarily relinquish spectrum for the tentative 2014 incentive auction designed to free up licenses for broadband. Consequently, there’s no way to know how many stations may require tower modifications to move to another channel assignment.

“How long are companies supposed to absorb losses with no answers?” Doty said.

PMI of Houston is handling the Stainless sale, covering the “complete tall tower manufacturing facility,” including the 32,920-square-foot building, 21 acres of land, the fabrication equipment and component inventory. The auction is scheduled to take place at the site at 10 a.m., Oct. 10. Inspection will take place Oct. 9, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.