Each year, the team at Cameron Mfg. and Design ships out more than 1 million parts to customers around the world. This level of output is what one might expect to hear from
a well-known consumer brand, but Cameron Mfg. isn’t in the business of mass production; the N.Y.-based company is more accustomed to producing one-offs and custom
builds for its range of customers.
In 1983, Frank LaViola launched Cameron as a small, four-man shop producing parts for the rail industry. Like many small business owners in the early days of getting started, LaViola was incredibly hands-on.
“Frank wasn’t just sitting behind a desk; he was on the road crew with his guys, going with them to customer facilities on a regular basis,” says Guy Loomis, director of operations at Cameron. “He was very involved. When they were given a project, they’d sheer it, form it and weld it, and they did it well. And that’s what began the journey toward the successful business that Cameron is today.”
Word spreads when a company has a reputation for good, quality work and responsive customer service, and that has been the case at Cameron. As word spread and as the list of customers and industries it served grew, the company hired more welders, machine operators and engineers. Coming from different parts of the industry, these new employees brought more customers along with them.
Recognizing the value that each individual brings to the table, when LaViola retired in 2007, he converted Cameron into an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), which gave workers ownership interest in the company. Jim Hornbeck, director of sales at Cameron, has been with the company for 22 years and remembers LaViola’s rationale when making the designation.
“Frank was a firm believer that the team he hired helped him get to where he was in life,” Hornbeck says. “He wanted to reward the people that truly lifted up the company, and he also didn’t want to sell it to an outside company that would come in here and tear it all down. So, he gave us the opportunity to buy the company from him. Since then, everyone embraces the ESOP spirit and works together to keep costs down and quality high.
“Whether they’re writing a job ticket or building a part, the employees here have more skin in the game compared to other companies that aren’t employee owned,” he adds. “Potential customers understand the value that brings.”
Today, Cameron employs 160 people – although, Loomis says the sweet spot is between 180 and 200. Like most businesses during the pandemic, work tapered off, but he adds that work is returning, and so, too, is the company’s employee base.
Cameron’s growth can be attributed to the dedication of its staff, but it is also tightly intertwined with its impressive list of capabilities: laser and waterjet cutting, punching,
bending, rolling, sheering and machining. The company also boasts its own paint room, which isn’t a common capability based on the rigid health and safety guidelines.
Welding also serves as a big part of Cameron’s laundry list of capabilities. Its welders are certified to ANSI, AWS, ASME, D1.1, D1.2, D1.3, D1.5, D1.6, D17.1, D17.2 and are proficient in all welding processes, including GMAW, GTAW, SMAW and SAW. The company also offers orbital welding services for stainless steel, carbon steel, hastelloy and sanitary tubing. Alternate pipe welding methods are also available for larger diameter pipe and tubing.
In full, Cameron’s resume includes custom metal fabrication, machining, engineering and installation. With its full line of capabilities and top-of-the-line equipment, the company can take a part from start to finish in-house, which means it can tightly control customer time frames and expectations.
“Our three lasers are Amada as well as the majority of our press brakes,” Loomis says. “The service from them is unmatched and that has kept us loyal to the brand. We also have an older 230-ton Cincinnati press brake, which is our largest. On the machine shop side, the majority of our equipment is from Haas.”
In terms of its Amada lasers, Cameron relies on a combo punch/laser machine as well as two CO2 lasers. While the plan is to invest in fiber lasers in the near term, Loomis says that currently, its combo machine is running around the clock.
“The combo machine has a sheet loader, so depending on the parts we’re fabricating, we’re able to run it lights out,” he says. “Soon, a new pick-and-place cobot from Universal Robots will be helping us achieve a higher level of lights out manufacturing. The goal is for it to remove surface critical parts from the cutting table instead of relying on an operator that could better spend their time on other tasks.”
Cameron’s impressive equipment mix combined with the vast experience of its workforce has resulted in an equally impressive customer base. Customers flock to the company’s 125,000-sq.-ft. facilities with a wide range of needs.
When asked about the industries the company serves, Lew Hill, engineering service representative at Cameron, says that rail car, food and dairy are big focuses, but adds that many customers require confidentiality agreements. To provide some color, Hill offers examples of a few of the company’s recent and ongoing projects.
“We make floodgate doors for a customer for parking garages and apartment buildings,” he says. “These types of floodgates are put in place in hurricane-prone areas to keep a structure from being inundated with water. To date, the biggest one we’ve built was aluminum with a steel casing, which was 8 in. thick, 10 ft. tall and 37 ft. long.
“We also produce large sound-proofing enclosures for a customer that makes braided metal cables,” he continues. “They take individual wires and braid them into multilayer cables. These things spin at thousands and thousands of RPMs, so the noises made by wrapping these cables together is extremely loud. The customer was so pleased with our work that they basically shut down their production line and moved everything to our facility.”
Reflecting on the range of customers and projects that the company is involved in, Hornbeck feels grateful to be part of the Cameron team. Company-wide, the sentiment is the same.
“As a one-stop shop with design, fabrication and installation expertise, our versatility allows us to rise up to meet new challenges on a daily basis,” he says. “There is a lot of talent and experience here, which means we can tackle the needs of our customers no matter how unique or complex they may be or what industry they might represent.”
For heavy fabrication jobs, Cameron has a dedicated 13,000-sq.-ft. building equipped with overhead cranes and positioners to facilitate the handling of heavier materials and structures. For customers with confidentiality concerns, the facility is designed to accommodate the loading and unloading of fabrications and components completely inside the building.
Success comes in many forms, but at Cameron, nothing is more important than treating customers and employees with the respect they deserve. Just ask Barbie the Welder, the social media metal welding sensation that cut her teeth at Cameron so many years ago.
“I cannot love that company enough,” she says. “They blessed me. When I first got my job there, I asked for $10, thinking I was worth $9, but they gave me $13. I became a journeyman and really just found my way in the industry there. I still go to Cameron to buy my sheet metal and am constantly impressed with them. They have done so many big projects, working with companies all over the world. Their story is amazing, and I couldn’t be prouder to say that I worked there.”