Billington Welding & Manufacturing Inc.: Nerves of Steel

Billington Welding & Manufacturing Inc. (BWM) is located in Modesto, Calif., operating from the Golden State’s Central Valley to provide one of the region’s most versatile custom metal fabrication facilities. The company serves both industrial and commercial customers with 24/7 breakdown service, and has for over 40 years. BWM is a leader in automotive, food processing, and material handling markets, and is run by Tim Billington, son of founder Charles (Chuck) Billington.

Powder Coater to President

Founded in 1969, BWM has steadily garnered customers through word-of-mouth recommendations for over 40 years. This is because BWM clients knew they’d get, as Chuck promised, a “quality product at a fair price.” After BWM’s first 25 years of success, Chuck’s son Tim joined the company in an official capacity following his service to the country as part of the U.S. Marine Corps. However, Tim had been around BWM for years prior, from the time he was just a kid and worked in the shear shop at only 12 years of age. “I was the first powder coater in 1996,” says Tim, who is now BWM president.

Just as Tim’s role in the company has evolved, BWM itself has grown and expanded in its sector and capabilities. The company now has 50 employees and three subsidiaries: BWM Powder Coating, BWM/Hopkins, and Tracer Toolboxes. In the beginning, Tim says, “We started out mainly fabricating food-processing equipment for the Central Valley. Back then the Central Valley was the No. 1 producer of canned goods in the world.”

BWM’s fabrication work grew from conveying systems in food and poultry processing plants to encompass an unparalleled scope of commercial manufacturing products and services, including work in the high-end furniture market. The company branched out and produced some incredibly priced goods, including $125,000 beds and $50,000 sinks. However, despite its foray into high-end goods, BWM remains steady as a fabricator of heavy industrial products, like nearly indestructible 500-pound toolboxes.

Early in BWM’s history Chuck expanded his business to include manufacturing, and in 1995, the same year Tim came on board, he created the Tracer Toolbox division of BWM. These aren’t some lunch box-looking tool caddies, either; BWM Tracer Toolboxes are beefy, with 12-gauge bodies and 14-gauge drawers. “The smallest tool box, empty, is 550 pounds, 48 by 27 by 36 inches, with 11 universal drawers,” explains Tim. “We sell a double tool box with a work bench, 1,350 pounds, for $7,700. It’s a lot more than you’d get from anybody else.” The only downside is that it costs about $1,200 to ship it across the country, but Tim declares BWM is working on getting the shipping cost down.

“They’ll last forever, but they’re heavy as hell,” laughs Tim. Both heavy and heavy duty, these toolboxes are the best, a fact reinforced by some of BWM’s discerning clientele. California’s own longtime late-night comedian Jay Leno owns a Model 48-15 Tracer Tool Box and a Tracer Work Bench. Another big fan of Tracer is Kenny Roberts, three-time World Grand Prix motorcycle champion. All toolboxes are customized to the customer's specifications, including color, size and drawer configuration.

Wide In-house Scope

BWM assures its customers’ satisfaction through its comprehensive quality control. The company covers all aspects of the fabrication process, including concept and prototype, engineering and drafting, and production and installation. In order to do so, the company has numerous expert-filled facilities for welding (mild and stainless steel, Inconel, aluminum, brass, bronze, titanium, and other exotics), fabrication, and machining (CNC and manual). “Last year we bought a 350-ton Cincinnati press brake with a five-axis CNC controller and productivity software so we can actually upload everything from engineering,” says Tim. BWM’s comprehensive engineering department utilizes cutting-edge technology, including AutoCAD, SolidWorks 2013 and SurfCAM.

The sheet metal shop is well stocked with a turret punch, HD plasma, laser and water jet cutters for parts blanking and cutting, plus numerous shears, punches, iron workers, CNC press brakes, rolls and a CNC folder for shearing, forming and punching. The company is also first rate in millwright work, installing, maintaining, upgrading and repairing machinery as needed. BWM also offers a media-blasting and powder-coating operation with one of the West Coast's largest curing ovens (38-feet long, designed and built by BWM employees) and over 400 color combinations in stock.

In the powder-coating division of BWM, Tim states, “We do production and custom painting using over 400 colors and color combinations such as translucent, sparkles and hammer tones for bikes, cars, truck lifts, valve covers and engine cylinder heads. We also powder coat large quantities of brackets, plates and other production parts for a number of manufacturers.” BWM also has a screen-printing equipment division, and the company manufactures and sells manual screen-printing equipment and dryers in every corner of the world.

Business Bread and Butter

BWM has completed a diverse range of work, including the fabrication and installation of two iconic sculptures for the UC Merced campus, as well as custom floor-to-ceiling bronze wall trimmings for an 800-square-foot apartment. However, the company never strays too far from its core competencies. Tim verifies that, just as it was for BWM in the beginning, the company maintains that its “real bread-and-butter” is food processing.

“We make a lot of food-processing equipment: season drums, palletizers, conveyor lines for food processors, bucket elevators, specialty automated systems [etc.],” reveals Tim. As a structural steel contractor, BWM constructs food-processing mezzanines from stainless steel, aluminum or food-grade powder-coated mild steel. The company also creates “custom conveying solutions for many food processors, from design and layout to fabrication and installation,” explains Tim.

Many times BWM will spend a month fabricating 10 to 15 stainless-steel conveyors, often featuring three or more designs, for a foodservice client, such as Foster Farms, Frito Lay or Del Monte. Once completed the customer will pick a weekend to shut down and BWM will install entire lines over that weekend to assure there is no disruption to a company’s operations. “We’ll run two 12-hour shifts,” explains Tim. “We’ll start on Friday afternoon/night and by Monday morning at 6 a.m. that whole new line has to be up and running.”

Big-name wineries in the Central Valley also commission BWM for big projects, like the fabrication and installation of two huge 70-foot wine grape pits with augers, which involve 30-inch screws and troughs of a size that only a few companies can manage. Another recent job in the agribusiness sector was to fabricate and install a 30,000-gallon palm oil tank out of mild steel, 12 feet in diameter and 40-feet tall.

In-a-pinch Service

One of BWM’s greatest offerings is that it provides Central California manufacturers with parts and quick retrofits when emergency repairs are imperative to get a company up and running again. For example, a Central Valley ice cream processing company has five ice cream lines, all from China, and found itself in a jam when the Asian manufacturer couldn't provide parts in a reasonable amount of time.

“Sometimes it takes six months to get their parts,” explains Tim. Recognizing the value of local service, the ice cream processor called in BWM, which familiarized itself with the equipment so the company could replicate existing parts, or redesign entire assemblies so they operate more efficiently, which meant the client didn’t lose money from being shut down for long stretches. “Once we have made a part we often have another one on our shelf so, if they break down again, the replacement time can be less than an hour,” explains Tim.

A similar service is being provided to the wine, dairy, poultry and meat industries; companies that would have to wait six to eight weeks for parts from all over the world are calling on BWM, which can often provide them parts in less then four hours. BWM even makes parts for the original equipment manufacturer so the company can get equipment running as it is often still under warranty. “Every hour a processor is down can cost them tens of thousands of dollars, so we’ll do our best to get ’em up in an hour or two, depending on the complexity and material requirements,” emphasizes Tim. BWM has the majority of materials necessary in stock, and in addition it owns stock in Modesto Steel, located right next door, meaning 24/7 steel access, if needed.

As BWM has grown, its presence has grown with it. “In the last year we’ve hired a full-time marketing person who handles all the different divisions and industries,” says Tim. Although primarily a West Coast operation, BWM will travel worldwide as needed and complete jobs wherever they might spring up. “Our people go anywhere,” says Tim. “If people are willing to pay, and it’s legal, there isn’t much we can’t get done.

“We’ve worked as far west as Hawaii, and as far east as Louisiana,” continues Tim. “In Louisiana we installed and moved multiple lines with existing equipment, as well as 15 conveyors and specialty pieces of equipment we make for the poultry industry. Every person [involved] was working 12-plus hour shifts.” It was a six-week job: three weeks of manufacturing, followed by shipping and a two-week-long install, but what seemed impossible was pulled off without a problem by the dedicated BWM team, which always does what it takes to assure on-schedule delivery and customer satisfaction.

BWM has always gone above and beyond for its customers, and with its capabilities to pretty much make anything out of metal Billington Welding & Manufacturing Inc. has the resources and roster to maintain decades more of expansion in the structural and specialty custom steel sectors.