Made in Pittsburgh 2014

The city of steel always has been known for its industry – what we make. Today, that defining characteristic expands beyond manufacturing into every aspect of modern life: to technology, clothing, home goods and unique food and drink products as well.


photos by Mark Simpson

 

It’s a phrase that once conjured images of steel, glass and iron. For nearly as long as our city has existed at the confluence of the three rivers, Pittsburgh has been blending raw materials, innovation and an industrious nature to produce a little bit of everything. In 2014, our city is known for robots, apps and other high-tech inventions too new to even have names. We’re still making steel, glass and iron, too — right alongside clothing, liquor, household goods and just about everything else, as illustrated by the 50 examples that follow. Wherever you are, there’s probably something nearby that was made in Pittsburgh.
 



Bombardier Transportation first got a foothold in Pittsburgh in 2001, when it purchased the train division of another multinational transportation conglomerate, DaimlerChrysler Rail Systems GmbH (Adtranz). With the acquisition came a former Westinghouse facility next to the rail lines in West Mifflin that dates back to 1894. The Montreal-based manufacturer of trains and planes employs a local workforce of 900 in three specialties: train propulsion, rail-control systems and automated people movers (the thing at the airport that takes you from baggage to the gate — and warns you to stay clear of the door before it swishes open). Bombardier is the world leader in these, installing them in airports in Atlanta, Miami, Houston, Dubai, Frankfurt, Rome, Madrid, London and, yes, Pittsburgh. — NK

You can give free rein to your national pride while cycling around the region in apparel from Aero Tech Designs, a full-service e-retailer. Though it’s located in Coraopolis, the company’s history is rooted in Florida, where founder and CEO Cathy Schnaubelt Rogers started making women-specific bike shorts in college. There was no existing market for women’s apparel, and the then-standard black wool shorts didn’t offer much for the aesthetically discerning cyclist. Her bright cycling shorts, made from swimwear fabric, were a hit. The company now has four factories in the United States that craft Aero Tech’s bike shorts, tights and jerseys. Working with 3M engineers, Aero Tech Designs also has created reflective wear that helps to keep cyclists visible in low light conditions. Of all of the company’s engineering feats, though, its padded bike shorts take pride of place. Engineered for all shapes and sizes, the shorts represent Aero Tech’s other bottom line: lasting comfort. — MJK

Miller’s Mustard has grown from a family recipe to a fixture on shelves in 800 stores — and now adds a dash of spice to dips worldwide. The Millers established their family-run business 12 years ago, when neighbors requested more of the mustard the clan made each Labor Day weekend in Mars, Pa. When the demand exceeded 3,000 jars, the Millers moved the operation from their kitchen stovetop to a co-packer in Lancaster, Pa. Unlike in traditional mustard recipes, the Millers add sizable chunks of crisp banana peppers to achieve the mustard’s signature zest. Despite remaining a part-time operation, Miller’s Mustard now exports to four foreign countries. Company owner Robb Miller says his family’s success would not have been possible “without those Pittsburgh stores taking a chance on us.” — JS

Nine years ago, Rob Daley, a businessman, and Henry Thorne, an engineer, sat down at Penn Avenue Fish Co. and talked about starting a company. After researching areas where technology would be useful but didn’t yet play a large role, they determined the juvenile-products industry was a perfect fit. The result was 4moms, which now ships 1,500 products a day from its Strip District home, employs 160 people in seven sites worldwide and is forecast to generate $50 million in revenue by the end of 2014. So far the company has six products in the market, including the rockaRoo, a swinglike rocker with an  MP3 plug-in; an infant tub with a digital thermometer; and the origami, a stroller that opens with the push of a button and includes a generator in the back wheels for charging cell phones and a LCD dashboard with a thermometer, odometer and speedometer. “There’s a massive transformation in [the] $8.9-billion-a-year juvenile-product industry, and we’re leading it right here in Pittsburgh,” Daley says. Their next planned endeavor is a car seat that installs itself and runs a safety diagnostic test before each trip. — LD

 



Glass block, commonly known as glass brick, was developed in the early 1900s as a way to admit light into dim manufacturing plants. Typical glass brick is thick and break-resistant with a hollow center; each glass block is made by pressing together two molten halves and allowing them to cool. Family-owned Pittsburgh Glass Block realized that what worked for large buildings also would appeal to private citizens; the architectural feature saves energy and allows for privacy, while allowing natural light into a space. Founded in 1965 as a four-person company, Pittsburgh Glass Block now employs 50 and has made its mark on the region from its home in Etna. Take a stroll through any of Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods for a fun, easy glass-block scavenger hunt: You’ll see all kinds of creative uses shining in unlikely places. — MJK
 


The road from idea to product can be long and expensive. A design requires a prototype, which must be commissioned, tested and revised — often repeatedly. “One of the ideas behind this robot was to make a super-prototyping machine,” says Daniel Goncharov of the Pittsburgh startup ZeGo Robotics. The ZeGo is a multifunctional tool: a 3-D printer, a plotter, an LCD plotter, an engraver, a wood burner and a pick-and-place machine used for making simple circuit boards. With those tools, inventors can “prototype fast,” as Goncharov puts it. The back-and-forth prototyping process that once took weeks now can happen in hours. By making its design open-source and hosting workshops, ZeGo hopes to attract third-party tool attachments; one recent demonstration featured a cupcake decorator. — EL

Perhaps the best way to characterize II-VI Incorporated is as an enabler: This vertically integrated powerhouse makes all sorts of high-tech innovation possible. A nexus of businesses turning out a wide range of components, II-VI specializes in synthetic crystal growth, electronics and optics. The infrared division creates parts for industrial lasers. On the military and materials side, LightWorks Optical Systems, Inc. creates products used in defense, aerospace and life-science applications. The Advanced Materials Group focuses on scaling up manufacturing, tackling everything from developing new materials to creating a process to make them. Though headquartered in Saxonburg, II-VI impacts technological development around the globe, with facilities worldwide. — MJK

Decades-old mainstay All-Clad stays true to the city’s origins as well as its own; the company still uses American-made steel and continues to handcraft each piece in its headquarters in Cecil Township. The brand has remained relevant over time by creating lines beyond traditional stainless pieces. A new collaboration with revered chef and longtime All-Clad fan Thomas Keller has yielded a 11-piece collection, sold only by Williams-Sonoma. — KM

An unpleasant reality is that women should consider their safety when they’re out and about by themselves. Rather than rely on weapons, they may opt for LifeShel, which offers safety features via a smartphone case. The hardware, dubbed Whistl, integrates with a native app. When activated, the case issues an alert as loud as a chainsaw, emits a strobe bright enough to temporarily blind someone and contacts both the police and designated loved ones. LifeShel is just out of the incubator stage at AlphaLab Gear, and its three founders (all graduates of Carnegie Mellon University, where they met during their freshman year) have been exploring the creative communities outside of the university setting for their company’s growth. Products are available for preorder now and are scheduled to ship in summer 2015. — AW

Its suave image might suggest that the founders of Boyd & Blair Potato Vodka begat their business with cocky assuredness, but it actually took years of anxious planning and analysis before Prentiss Orr (a marketing pro) and Barry Young (a healthcare executive) quit their day jobs. The two met with professors from Penn State University’s fermentation program to plan future products and commissioned a study from a marketing research firm to determine if there was a public thirst for high-end vodka made from Pennsylvania potatoes. There was. Since its 2008 introduction, Boyd & Blair, produced in Shaler Township, has garnered a five-star review in Spirits Journal and become the vodka of foodies, sold in Whole Foods (where state laws allow) and served in acclaimed restaurants, including Thomas Keller's Bouchon in Beverly Hills. — NK

When Kelly Collier started to design a posture-correcting shirt for her Biomedical Engineering Design course at CMU, her plan was simple: Design the shirt, get her degree and pursue her acceptance into the Biomedical Engineering Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University. Instead, she absconded with her mother’s sewing machine and turned her prototype into a business, ActivAided Orthotics, in Pittsburgh. The goal is to keep active people active while addressing their back injuries. Collier’s RecoveryAid shirt uses fabric and elastic rather than rigid braces to give physical cues that make people aware of how to correct their posture. “Basically,” Collier explains, “it’s making ideal posture the path of least resistance.” — KB

Few companies have the Pittsburgh street cred of American Bridge Company, which fabricates bridges and builds other complex steel structures. The 114-year-old company, once a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, has constructed, fabricated or rehabilitated an all-star team of famous local structures, including the Roberto Clemente Bridge, the Andy Warhol Bridge, the Rachel Carson Bridge, the Fort Pitt and Duquesne bridges, PPG Place, the former Civic Arena, the U.S. Steel Tower, the former Three Rivers Stadium, four buildings at Gateway Center and many more. What’s more, the company actually gave birth to a whole town: Take a look at the name of Ambridge, Pa. Am . . . bridge. Not a coincidence. — SC

 

 



Lovingly dubbed ”gumbands“ around here, rubber bands are an office staple — with local roots that date back to 1906. Dykema Rubber Band — a distributor whose brand, Bestuvall, is produced outside the States — got its start in Oakland alongside its former sister business, Pennsylvania Glass Products. Previously family-run, Dykema employs two people at its Windgap office and offers assorted rubber bands for industrial and stationery use, as well as custom bands. — KM

After a catastrophic earthquake struck in Haiti in 2010, Ian Rosenberger decided to travel to the country, take photos and sell them to raise money for the victims. In his photos, he noticed trash and poverty — so he came up with a way to use one to combat the other. “I literally Googled what you could turn trash into, and one of the most amazing things was fabric,” he says. He created Thread, based in East Liberty, with a founding team of five members. The company uses trash collected in Haiti and Honduras to create fabric — some of which is used in bags by Pittsburgh-based Moop. Rosenberger also founded Team Tassy, named for Tassy Fils-aime, a Haitian boy he met who now studies at La Roche College on a scholarship. Team Tassy has placed about 20 Haitians in manufacturing jobs — some in companies that work with Thread. “The two organizations are separate . . . but they operate with the same philosophy that jobs end poverty,” Rosenberger says. — LD

In 2006, TreeHouse Foods moved into a former North Side plant that served multiple uses; it once was the site of H.J. Heinz Co. and Del Monte plants. TreeHouse creates private-label soups and sauces for retailers’ house brands. Its local operation falls under the Bay Valley Foods umbrella. — KM

Buying shoes online can be complicated if you’re not sure what size will fit. Shoefitr stepped into the picture in 2010 to help. The three owners (and CMU grads) use 3-D imaging to scan shoes in order to build a database of accurate internal measurements. What that means to you: Use the Shoefitr module when buying pumps, say, from Nordstrom to determine if you should purchase the size you normally wear or learn if the heel runs true to size. Shoefitr so far has supplied more than 15 million recommendations and logged more than 1,200 brands. The owners intend to keep the flagship on Oakland Avenue near the University of Pittsburgh campus, where 20 people work, while expanding; the company already has a presence in California’s Bay Area. — KM

While working in a Massachusetts Institute of Technology lab on a wireless communication system, electronic engineer Jeffrey Rieger had an idea: If the system were connected to a thermometer, it could remotely monitor restaurants and groceries if refrigerators were underperforming. “It could send a signal to a modem, which could send a message to any smartphone or computer,” Reiger says. Thus, FreshTemp was born; it since has been developed at AlphaLab Gear with testing in a few Subway, McDonald’s and Popeyes locations. FedEx, which delivers medications and other climate-sensitive materials in “cold cars,” also is using it. — NK

 



You don’t get much more Pittsburgh than Robinson Fans, Inc. This sixth-generation family company doesn’t make the splashy tech headlines — rather, it’s in the business of making large air-moving equipment for industries as old as coal and as contemporary as chemical engineering. Robinson Fans prides itself in research as well as manufacturing and has been a staple in mine-ventilation safety since the 1930s. The company’s family atmosphere doesn’t stop with the descendants of founder Samuel B. Robinson: Pittsburgh’s famous loyalty to both geography and community means that multiple generations of other families have found work in areas as varied as welding and engineering, project management and market coordination. — AW

Victor Ravioli, Inc., based in Verona, offers such Italian favorites as gnocchi, tortellini, cannoli, cannelloni, stuffed shells and meatballs. Fresh, frozen and bakery items all are available from this more-than-50-year-old family-run company, which operates a factory outlet store for those seeking the freshest pasta possible. — LD
 



While drones have become controversial weapons of war, a local company is using similar technology to keep people safe. Andy Wu, an MIT economics grad, and Dick Zhang, who earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, have licensed technology from Penn for Identified Technologies, a startup housed in AlphaLab Gear that builds “aerial data collection robots.” The company’s robots, small and light enough to be held with one hand, fly via propellers. Guided by GPS coordinates, they can haul sophisticated cameras above potential hazard zones, such as construction sites, oil pipelines or wildfire-prone acres. “We’re thinking of situations that change rapidly, so satellite imagery might be too slow,” says Zhang, “but also where it would be difficult or dangerous to get a person.” Their first clients had slightly less-pressing needs. The North Shore-based Mascaro Construction Co. hired Identified Technologies to provide bird’s-eye photos of its sites. “It’s a way for us to show the people who have hired us the progress we’re making,” says Project Manager Jonathan Machen. — NK

In spring 2013, 20-somethings Ashley Ferraro and Rapha Costa put their heads together to combine the best properties of athletic and leisure attire for their women’s apparel line Dona Jo Inc. “Our clothing evokes energy and confidence,” says Maggie Wissler, the company’s creative media assistant, who works at Dona Jo’s office in the Strip District. While design and business functions take place in Pittsburgh, all apparel is produced in Costa’s native Brazil; in another nod to his roots, Dona Jo is named for his grandmother. The couple considers that its clientele may want to wear the ensembles to yoga class or to lunch, so the color palette is more vibrant and the light material more flexible. Looking ahead, the brand will carry menswear by year’s end. — KM

For more than 30 years, Adams Manufacturing has been making suction cups in the Pittsburgh region. Bill Adams started selling his product out of the back of his car in 1976. The design included diffusion rings that would disperse rather than focus any light traveling through the cup. The Portersville-based company, which has five other locations and employs about 300 people, also is the largest resin or plastic furniture producer in the country. Adams manufactures the RealComfort Adirondack chair, as well as new stackable rocking chairs that don’t require assembly. — LD

Allegheny Technologies Incorporated has a long history; among the companies scooped up in mergers and acquisitions to create the modern ATI is one that made cannonballs for the Continental Army. While the company’s manufacturing has spread out around the globe, ATI still has an office downtown and makes its high-tech metals, such as titanium alloys and grain-oriented electrical steel, in Vandergrift and Harrison Township. — NK

Creations by Cicci has been designing and manufacturing dance recital costumes for 60 years. The company ships costumes all over the country, and to places as far-flung as Canada, Australia and Japan. If it seems unlikely that a company of 80 people would be distributing dance costumes across the globe, Vice President Margo Cicci credits the quality of the costumes, almost all of which are made in Finleyville. It was Cicci’s original philosophy that everything would be made right. “Nothing was ever just ‘good enough,’” she says. Why the strict attention to detail? Cicci products have been (or will be) featured in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, on the “Dance Moms” television show and at the World Baton Twirling Championships. And remember that a dance costume is never just a dance costume. It is dress-up wear; it is a princess gown; it is clothing for a rainy day; it can even be a bathing suit (a use that’s not necessarily recommended). The costumes get passed down in families and neighborhoods. And they last for years and years. — KB

David Levine wanted to make chocolate healthier to eat when he produced the first NuGo bar. The Duquesne alumnus co-launched NuGo Nutrition 14 years ago. His mission: to concoct a protein-packed snack with real dark chocolate while avoiding artificial alternatives. Now making five lines of NuGo bars, the Oakmont-based company of 21 employees says it has one of the fastest-growing lifestyle brands in the natural foods category. — JS

Lani Lazzari’s philosophy is if you can’t eat it, you shouldn’t put it on your skin. That guiding principle has driven her skin-care business Simple Sugars. In 2005, her frustration with finding products for her own sensitive skin inspired her to mix up body, facial and foot scrubs with all-natural ingredients such as coffee, lemon, rose and lavender. The chemical-free products contain pure cane sugar and a blend of all-natural oils supplied by certified distributors to exfoliate, cleanse and moisturize. The 20-year-old entrepreneur appeared on ABC’s hit show “Shark Tank,” where she scored an investment from South Hills native Mark Cuban. Since getting that opportunity, Simple Sugars now sells internationally via its website and stocks products in 700-plus retail locations nationwide, such as Giant Eagle Market District. — GAT

A keen understanding of workplace danger has motivated MSA, the former Mine Safety Appliances Co., since its founders partnered with Thomas Edison a century ago to invent the electric cap lamp. Since then, the Cranberry Township-based safety company has produced self-contained breathing apparatuses for soldiers and firefighters, air filters used by clean-up crews after the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and on-site help at Ground Zero in New York City following the 9/11 attacks. Its V-Gard hard hat is among the most iconic products in the world — seen everywhere from local construction sites to the heads of the 33 miners rescued in 2010 from the collapsed copper and gold mine in Copiapó, Chile. MSA employs some 5,300 people on six continents, but its heart and its headquarters are here. Its new G1 breathing device for firefighters was designed in Cranberry and built in Murrysville. — EL
 



Tim Russell, founder of Maggie’s Farm Rum, took classes from a master distiller who works in Grand Cayman. But there’s nothing tropical about the distillery and bar tucked into an industrial stretch of the Strip District, which recalls bootlegging-era speakeasies rather than sandy beaches. The ’20s look fits Maggie’s Farm because the bottles of White Rum sold on its first day of business, Black Friday 2013, contained the first drops of Pennsylvania-distilled rum on the market since prohibition. Maggie’s Farm also offers a spiced rum and the Queen’s Share, a complex spirit distilled from the tails of other batches. Stop by Friday nights and Saturdays to try a cocktail (for $6), or look for Maggie’s Farm on the menu of local spots such as Butterjoint and Burgatory. — SC

Let’s say you need to find a really good card — but you’re traveling. Or the dog ate your lovingly crafted missive. Or the grocery store isn’t cutting it. Whatever the impetus, it can be quite the pickle to find just the right way to say what you need to say. That’s where Pittsburgh comes in: Sapling Press is a letterpress design and print bonanza located in Lawrenceville. As the company’s website informs the curious, “We make the cards you give to that one friend of yours who truly gets it. You know the one.” Using a 19th-century press to physically press ink into a surface, Sapling has made stationery, greeting cards, invitations, announcements, business cards and gifts since 2003. For a local shop that employs five people, Sapling has quite the presence: Its work can be found in 46 states, six countries and just about anyplace in between through Etsy. — MJK

It would be easy to think that filtering water doesn’t go beyond drinking. But filtered water is used in everything from heating and cooling, to nursing and biomedical research, to glass cutting and welding — just to name a few. Given the many needs of its customers, All Water Systems, Inc., located in Turtle Creek, works with customers at every stage — it designs, builds, installs, maintains and retrofits. A business of only 12 employees, it still find ways to serve the universities and almost every major manufacturer in Pittsburgh. In fact, President Ron Hoolahan credits the company’s small size with its ability to remain so flexible. — KB

Ava DeMarco and her husband Rob Brandegee began their business, Little Earth Productions, Inc., by making recycled metal handbags. Through a recent partnership, those products are distributed by Wendell August in Grove City. The South Side business offers licensed sports accessories for the NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA and 70 NCAA teams. — GAT

 

 



At Schell Games, creating video games is about more than entertainment and technical wizardry. The goal is to develop “transformational games,” which incorporate educational and otherwise enlightening elements into undeniably fun experiences for players of all ages. Schell was formed in 2002 by Jesse Schell of CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center; this year, the company relocated from the South Side to Station Square, in an open space chosen to foster collaboration among designers. About two-thirds of the games Schell develops are for outside clients, such as a line of “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” tie-in games for the Fred Rogers Co., available for free on pbskids.org. Those short games are aimed at teaching young children social and emotional skills, Director of Marketing Jill Sciulli says. “Those two subjects aren’t tackled very often in children’s games, particularly for that age group,” she adds. Schell also does release some games itself; in the side-scrolling shooter “Enemy Mind,” released for PCs via the popular Steam platform, players can fire at spaceships until their own ship runs out of ammo, forcing them to jump to another nearby vessel. — SC

Lanxess was founded in 2004, taking over the chemicals and polymer division of Bayer AG. The global company manufactures chemicals, synthetic rubber and plastics for use in industries such as agriculture, construction, leather, pharmaceuticals and water treatment. One development: chemicals used for lightweight, high-tech plastics in automobiles. In the event of a crash, the plastic is safer than metal, and the weight helps to save on fuel economy. Because the company has been so successful, its Gastonia, N.C., plant plans to add a second production line. Lanxess Corporation has 16 locations and a total of 1,400 employees throughout the continent, including the North American headquarters in Coraopolis, as well as sites in Burgettstown and Neville Island. The company’s name is a combination of the French verb “lancer” — to launch — and the word success. — LD

Given the inherent unpredictability of the wind and sun, battery technology firms such as Aquion Energy, Inc. are key to harnessing the potential of green energy. With this in mind, CMU professor Dr. Jay Whitacre produced the first modular Aqueous Hybrid Ion battery in 2008. Investors bit, and the company opened offices in Lawrenceville in 2010 and a manufacturing plant in Westmoreland County in 2012. — EL

BodyMedia has had a reputation for staying a few steps ahead of trends, developing tech gadgets for the active set and those who want to join it — including the Fit device, which keeps track of activity metrics. Last year consumer technology and wearable device firm Jawbone acquired the downtown-based company. Both businesses’ research and development departments, based here, now operate under the Jawbone name. — KM

After Emily Walley received a positive reception to her jewelry at a 2012 craft showcase at the Mattress Factory Museum, she decided to make jewelry full-time. “I made a list of everything I wanted my jewelry to be: unique, beautiful, source-conscious, accessible [and] fun,” she says. Minimel Design officially became a business in January, and the jewelry is just what Walley says she imagined. Most of the pieces — created in her Homewood studio — are made of reclaimed wood. The metal she uses is made in the United States and the sterling silver is made from recycled, reclaimed or certified ethically mined metal. She recycles any scrap. Walley, who has a master’s degree in fine arts, says she takes inspiration from Pittsburgh’s layered architecture when creating her designs. — LD

The American Textile Co. has been churning out bedding items in the Pittsburgh area since the days of soot and moonshine. The company set up shop downtown in 1925 and has moved only as far as Duquesne; its headquarters there employs 200 and produces bed pillows. (Its other products come from operations in Dallas, Salt Lake City and Tifton, Ga.. as well as China and El Salvador.) Although sleep hasn’t evolved much, the bedding market has. “Consumers increasingly want products customized to their needs and habits,” says Vice President of Marketing Patrick Seiffert. The company offers AllerEase, a line of allergen-barrier products, and EvenTemp, made from a fabric that holds moisture to insulate and releases it to cool. — NK
 

 


Arden Rosenblatt and his colleagues at PieceMaker Technologies found a way to bring 3-D printing technology to a fantastic and logical application: toys. In a toy store. Until this fall, you could visit the downtown or Squirrel Hill locations of S.W. Randall Toyes & Giftes and hit up the PieceMaker kiosk, browse a gallery of options and customize to your preference. Within 20 minutes, the machine would print your very own piece, hot off the 3-D press (the first piece was a red heart pendant that read, “Marry Me”). PieceMaker — which just pulled the first generation of its machines out of stores in anticipation of a second iteration — started at CMU’s Project Olympus incubator and also passed through the state-sponsored tech center AlphaLab Gear. The small but growing company takes advantage of upcoming university talent as well as local manufacturers. — AW

Did you ever wish you were small enough to live inside that dollhouse your Pap made for you when you were a little girl? Family-based Lilliput Play Homes, Inc. has been making that wish a reality for more than 20 years at its shop in Union Township (it also has a showroom — and play space — in Peters Township). These playhouses are loaded with impressive features: skylights, bay windows with seats, wraparound porches, climbing walls, real fire hoses and — wait for it — secret spy rooms. — AW

From personal computers to personal pan pizzas, autonomy is a central theme of modern life. SolePower, a company with its roots in CMU’s engineering department, pushes the envelope even further with footwear that makes it possible to serve as your own power source. Here’s how it works: A tiny mechanical device is implanted in an insole cut to fit any shoe. The kinetic energy you generate as you walk is converted into electricity and stored in an external power pack that sits atop your kicks or on your ankle. The power pack’s USB port can be used to charge whatever device needs juice. Co-founded by Hahna Alexander and Matthew Stanton, SolePower is based in East Liberty and will manufacture in the northeast as much as possible. Though backpackers and walking commuters will benefit from off-the-grid energy, SolePower foresees applications in the military as well as in developing nations. — MJK

Moop founder Wendy Downs says she’ll always be directly involved in creating her company’s product, and that product always will be bags. An artist and photographer, Downs says she also wants her business to remain a studio practice, as it was when she started it nearly eight years ago. Three production employees sew each of 20 or so designs of messenger bags, tote bags and more alongside Downs in Moop’s North Side studio. “I’m not interested in the startup culture in which businesses are launched for the sole purpose of selling the business to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time,” Downs says. “[People ask,] ‘Why don’t you have somebody else manufacture everything?’ And when it reaches that point, it feels pointless to me because there’s no connection back to the product.” — MJK

Since 2005, Brownsville Marine Products has been building steel-based barges on the site of the old Hillman Barge Company building in Brownsville. That’s just the beginning of its connection to a more industrial Pittsburgh. The 177 barges it will build this year will carry products such as coal and iron — continuing to support some of the very industries that make Pittsburgh what it is today. — KB

Maybe you’ve recently had a Daily’s frozen cocktail — those alcoholic pouches of delight you’ll sometimes find at concerts. But Verona-based American Beverage Corp. offers refreshment for all ages: In addition to bringing you fun on Saturday nights via its adult beverages, the business also brings your young’uns fun at a Saturday-morning soccer game — in the barrel shape of Little Hugs. — AW

The resurgent Pennsylvania oil and gas industry has rejuvenated manufacturers who date to the days of steel, such as Dura-Bond Industries. When J. M. Norris founded the Export-based company in the 1960s, Dura-Bond worked hand-in-hand with such giants as Bethlehem Steel. Having outlasted some of those partners, the company now produces structural steel, steel pipe and specialty coatings for the marine industry, civil engineering projects such as highway construction and especially the oil and gas industries, which now account for the bulk of Dura-Bond’s business. The booming shale industry even allowed Dura-Bond to open a new pipe-coating mill in Duquesne in late 2012, which complements its long-standing mills in McKeesport and Steelton, as well as its facilities in North Carolina and Florida. — EL

 



It’s often said that children are learning quicker than ever, thanks to technological advances. Digital Dream Labs, LLC may add to the movement with its first product, currently called Ludos. DDL’s gaming platform encompasses software as well as physical tiles that digitally connect kids (ages 4-12) to the game they’re playing. Here’s how it works: Kids launch one of the free exclusive games on an Apple device — the first is “Cork the Volcano” — and get out the puzzle-piece tiles. The company’s tagline, “program with your hands,” summarizes the goal — by manually placing pieces on the toy, kids dictate how the game unfolds. Each Ludos package includes movement, character, modifier and loop tiles, allowing for innumerable game-sequence possibilities. The co-founders, a trio of CMU Entertainment Technology Center alumni, have found a way to incorporate programming into play. — KM

“I wanted to take her something as sweet as she was.” That’s what the late Frank Sarris always said when he told the story of bringing chocolates to his wife-to-be, Athena. A forklift operator by day, he started making chocolates in his basement at night. By 1963, Sarris Candies was a tiny shop next door to Sarris’ home in Canonsburg. Nine additions later, that shop — under the eye of owner Bill Sarris, who took over in 2010 after his father's death — now takes up the whole block. What accounts for this success? Frank’s granddaughter Athena Sarris Simms says it’s the quality — not just the use of the best ingredients, but also that each piece and each box has the family’s name on it. “And if it has our name on it, we want to be able to stand behind that product proudly.” — KB

Matthews International Corp. is a global leader in two relatively small fields, memorialization and brand solutions. The former includes cemetery plaques; the latter includes corporate displays for companies such as Nike and BP. Those fields initially might seem to be dissimilar, but they both serve the same purpose: to identify people or companies in a meaningful way. “What we do in Pittsburgh is the core of what we’ve always done,” Matthews International CEO Joe Bartolacci says. John Dixon Matthews was a skilled engraver from England who immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1850 and opened a shop downtown to make dyes, stamps, branding irons and ornate engravings. By the 1920s, the company began focusing on bronze plaques, marking products and graphic imaging — the same business Matthews now operates on a larger scale. Globally, Matthews employs some 5,700 people in 24 countries on four continents, numbers that are set to grow with the recent acquisition of global branding firm Schawk, Inc. Even with that worldwide reach, Matthews International remains based in Pittsburgh. Its North Shore headquarters is just a short walk from John Dixon Matthews’ original shop. — EL

From 12 employees to 14,000, from $30,000 in revenue to $3 billion, Kennametal, Inc. has created a name for itself from its western Pennsylvania home. The Latrobe-based company started as McKenna Metals Co. in 1938, and its tools were used for cutting steel. Today, its tools, application engineering and surface technologies are used in fields such as aerospace, energy, transportation and general engineering. More than 650 people work at the company’s world headquarters in Latrobe, but more than 14,000 employees fall under the company’s umbrella. Jobs range from technical machinists to those in the supply chain and logistics function to environmental health and safety experts. — LD

One of the largest family-owned cleaning-supply manufacturers in the United States began in a Greenfield home more than 100 years ago, and it has remained in the area ever since. James Austin Co. was founded in 1889 when James Austin wanted to make soap for his wife, who was struggling to wash their rugs. Today, the company, which employs about 260 people in four factories (in Mars as well as Massachusetts, North Carolina and Florida), creates cleaning products from bleach to fabric softeners; it also is one of the largest U.S. suppliers of windshield-washer fluid and swimming-pool chemicals. — LD

For years, Cellone's Italian Bread Co. drivers have started their day by making 3 a.m. bread deliveries to local businesses. Working with more than 1,500 eateries, the 103-year-old company has become known for its Italian loaves and egg buns, first created by Ernest Cellone. The fresh, hearth-baked breads also are available at area retailers. The 130-person, family-owned operation in East Carnegie plans to move to a larger space in Crafton. — KM

 
 

 

Faster, Lighter, Better, Stronger

 

The future of manufacturing and the future of the planet go hand-in-hand — and innovators in Pittsburgh are redefining that future.

 

By 2050, the world population could grow to 9 billion. Preparing for 2 billion new arrivals who will place greater demands on natural and manmade resources requires some serious forward thinking; it’s like planning the biggest potluck ever. Where will everyone sit? Will there be enough food to go around? Did we buy enough garbage bags? The task of ensuring the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants is being taken up by an unlikely sector: manufacturing. In Pittsburgh, companies and university researchers are retooling how we produce goods, changing the fabric of everyday life in the process.

Professors at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering are pioneering a range of new ideas. Dr. Jörg Wiezorek, a mechanical engineering and materials science professor, is working to sustainably produce high-performance magnets. “Life as we know it depends on [magnets],” says Wiezorek. “They’re used in cell phones, in medical imaging, for digital information storage; they produce electrical currents that end up in outlets, in offices and [in] homes.” While most magnets are comprised of rare earth metals and made at high temperatures, Wiezorek and co-researchers are investigating a process that uses alloys of manganese and aluminum and could save energy and time.

Also at the Swanson School, Dr. Albert To wants to use 3-D printing to produce similar energy savings. Many important products, such as airplane or car parts, are incredibly dense, and therefore easier to make via traditional means; that density allows them to withstand high speeds or pressures. Additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing, can be used to print any complex shape; To believes the extra bulk would be unnecessary if an object were supported not by volume but by a strong central core designed like a skeleton. “A big driver in these advanced manufacturing techniques is really in saving energy by reducing the weight of the structures,” he says. To cites aerospace engineering: if an airplane’s parts weighed 50 percent less, it would require far less fuel during flight.

Rapid TPC, a startup out of AlphaLab Gear, also is in the weight-reduction game. Composites, such as carbon fiber, can be five times stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum. But how they’re currently produced makes them way too expensive for most markets. CEO Ben Charley and his team are working to create a manufacturing system for those materials that would be accessible to many industries; for example, baby carriers made from carbon fiber could lighten the load for parents without breaking the bank.

Carnegie Mellon’s driverless cars could change daily life for millions of people. The average American commutes for about 51 minutes every day, and most people do it solo. Automated driving technology could free up commuters to relax, read for pleasure or spend time talking with their families, says Dr. Raj Rajkumar, who has been working on the technology since 2006. According to Rajkumar, widespread adoption isn’t a matter of if — but when. “We’re at a point in time where the technology side, the policy side and the regulatory side are all coming together,” he says.

Since the Industrial Revolution, humans have been intent on increasing efficiency: to do more, faster. Pittsburgh is leading the charge in the new century. 

 

 

Industrial Icons

These five stalwarts have stood the test of time, continuing to keep local roots.

 

Success and innovation can be fleeting. So when a company that had a hand in getting the Wright brothers off the ground is working on futuristic power sources today, something is going right. Alcoa, founded by Charles Martin Hall in 1888 as the Pittsburgh Reduction Co., provided the aluminum for the engine block and crankcase in the plane at Kitty Hawk; other historical innovations have ranged from aluminum foil to beer cans. Today, its lightweight metals are used in a wide-ranging variety of applications in transportation, manufacturing, technology, lithium-aluminum batteries and many more — and all of the research begins at the Alcoa Technical Center in New Kensington, where Alcoa has been located since 1891. More than 2,000 Alcoa employees work in the Pittsburgh region, some in window manufacturing at Traco in Cranberry Township (which Alcoa acquired in 2010) and others in administrative and corporate offices at the Alcoa Corporate Center on the North Shore.

When Germany-based Bayer began operating in Robinson Township in 1958, it did so in one building that housed 35 employees. Today, there are 14 buildings and more than 1,500 workers (of nearly 2,300 throughout the region) at that site, performing cutting-edge research and development for Bayer MaterialScience. Work in Robinson has led to energy-efficient polyurethane, plastic or adhesive materials that almost certainly are in your car, office building or mattress right now. Meanwhile, at additional sites in Saxonburg, Indianola and O’Hara Township, Bayer is manufacturing specialized radiology imaging equipment used for MRIs and CT scans under the Bayer Medical Care banner. “These medical devices require certain advance technologies that we have quite a nice talent pool for here in the Pittsburgh area,” says Jeff Owoc, Bayer Medical Care’s head of global product supply. “We have employees coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, out of Carnegie Mellon, out of Penn State and West Virginia [University].”

Most Pittsburghers know that the local roots of PPG Industries run deep — back to the company’s 1883 founding by the team of John Pitcairn Jr. and John B. Ford. Known then (and for many, to this day) for the plate glass that gave the company its name, the modern PPG is a leading manufacturing of coatings on “products that consumers come into contact [with] on a daily basis,” says Mark Silvey, PPG’s manager of corporate communications. Those include the paints and coatings on your Whirlpool washer or your Harley-Davidson, the dyes that allow your transition lenses to do what they do and quite possibly the paint on your house. PPG produces paints under a variety of brands, including Glidden, Flood, Olympic and PPG Pittsburgh Paints. More than 2,200 people work for PPG in the area — including jobs in manufacturing, research and development and business — at sites in Allison Park, Monroeville, Springdale, Harmar Township, Cranberry Township and the company's downtown global headquarters.

If the formidable Mon Valley Works was the sole Pittsburgh-area division of U.S. Steel, it’d be more than enough to justify the Steel City moniker. The Clairton Plant is the largest coke manufacturer in the United States, producing a staggering 4.7 million tons every year; that coke is combined with other materials at the Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock to create liquid iron, which in turn is refined into steel. The Irvin Plant in West Mifflin completes the process, turning the steel into a variety of sheet products. In addition to those three sites and U.S. Steel’s downtown corporate headquarters, the company has research, administration and support operations at five different sites, with approximately 4,500 employees in the region.
“If you look at any locomotive, any freight car, any subway car or any bus in North America, it’s guaranteed to have some Wabtec content,” says Tim Wesley, the company’s vice president of investor relations and corporate communications.

Formerly known as the Westinghouse Air Brake Co. and later as Wabco, Wabtec not only is a thriving piece of the former Westinghouse empire — it’s the original piece. George Westinghouse founded the business — his first — in 1869. In addition to manufacturing and business sites in Wilmerding, Greensburg, Irwin and Lawrenceville, Wabtec has operations in 20 countries worldwide and sells products to more than 100 nations. “People lose sight of how critical skilled labor is,” says Wabtec CEO and President Ray Betler. “You have a lot of know-how that has been developed over decades here.” 

Categories: Business + Ed Features