McSweeney’s Inc.

Founded in 1967 by Larry McSweeney, McSweeney’s Inc. quickly gravitated toward manufacturing unique products for the mining industry. Still president of the company, McSweeney had been a miner for “the better part of his life,” says his son Joe McSweeney, who is CEO. “Our business has been somewhat focused around mining from the very beginning,” Joe McSweeney maintains. He manages the business with his sister, Vice President Sandy Blackburn.

Located in South Point, Ohio, in the tri-state area of Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, McSweeney’s Inc. is near steel mills and a nickel plant as well as companies that support the nearby coal mining industry. The company is approaching its fourth year of successful annual ISO 9001:2008 recertification, and this year received the small business of the year award from the Greater Lawrence County Area Chamber of Commerce.

The company will celebrate its 45th anniversary in 2012. “Our father had been a coal miner the better part of his life,” McSweeney says. “He left the mining industry and moved to Huntington, W. Va., and got in the trucking industry. Then he got into sales for another company. That company called on the mining industry, and he left them and started his own business. At that time, he was calling on the chemical and mining industry throughout a tri-state area, even into Pennsylvania.”

The elder McSweeney’s business started as a job shop machine shop, but the company now is strictly a production shop. McSweeney’s Inc. manufactures various types of face drilling products that can be used in any underground mine on roof and face drilling. The company also manufactures forged handholds and parts used on the sides of railroad cars.

“The bigger part of our business – where we’ve had our growth – is in the mining industry,” McSweeney points out. “Our other product lines, such as carbide cutting edges used in mining, snow removal and road maintenance, have shown decent growth as well.”

McSweeney’s Inc. serves clients in the underground mining industry in the United States, Canada, Mexico, South America, some of Norway, a small amount of the rest of Europe, South Africa and Australia.

“We’ve had some conversations with a few companies in South America,” McSweeney relates. “They’re not aware of our company and our particular type of product. They’re using the competitors’ products, so their options are limited at the moment.

“I think we might be able to capitalize on that and give some of the operators down there a better option and safer products to use. South America and South Africa are the two that have the potential to go into it.”

Twist and Lock
One of McSweeney’s products designed for safety is the patented Hands-off Twist Lok drive-end design. It is used with roof-bolting machines to drill holes in the roof of an underground mine so truss and rib supports can be bolted to prevent collapse.

“We make the receiving component for it that fits in the roof bolter,” McSweeney explains. “You put the drill steel into the chuck, which is installed in the roof bolter, you start rotation and that bottom piece of steel is locked into that driving chuck so it doesn’t fly out and injure the operators. That’s been a great safety feature there; the other products don’t have that. Also, the operator does not have to pull the steel out of the hole.”

Competitors’ products use hexagonal tubing with slip-end connectors. “They use machine components to change the ends to various configurations,” he notes. McSweeney’s uses round tubing. “Our ends are forged onto the steel itself in one piece,” he says. “That’s where we feel our product is superior, being a forged product on the ends.”

Another safety product that McSweeney’s Inc. manufactures is a slip clutch used on smaller four-wheel mining vehicles called buggies that transport workers throughout a mine. “Most do not have power steering, so when you’re driving along and you hit debris and you’ve got small tires on the vehicles, it has a tendency to jerk the steering wheel out of your hand,” McSweeney explains. “This clutch is designed to slip rather than to put excessive force upon your hands or arms.” Sale of this product is starting to take off, he says.

Sophisticated Manufacturing
McSweeney’s Inc. uses computer numerical control equipment in some forging, welding and machining operations, but it is prevented from extensive use of automation because of the short production runs – which vary from 20 to 200 – of the nearly 2,000 parts it inventories.

The company also offers custom machining and fabricating services, has its own full-service machine shop and does its own tool and die work. “We’re very self-sufficient,” McSweeney points out.

He credits the company’s distributors and equipment manufacturers that use the company’s products for its international business. “They’ve opened up the door a little bit to save us a little bit of legwork,” he says. He would like to expand the business further internationally. “I think there’s not a whole lot of competition there with our type of product the way that we make it,” he maintains.

The company’s growth has been solid. “We’d like to grow at least 10 percent a year,” McSweeney emphasizes. “This past year, we increased 24 percent over the year before.” He estimates from 85 to 90 percent of the company’s products are used in underground mining.

“The coal mining industry has been very strong for several years, and I think it’s going to continue to be strong for the next three to five years,” McSweeney forecasts. “With the discovery of the Marcellus gas shale or shale gas in New York, Pennsylvania and northern West Virginia, that’s going to put a lot of stability in the natural gas industry and may make the steam coal industry soften up some. But I think coal will continue to stay strong. I guess it all depends on the world economy. With the metallurgical business, we’re continuing to stay strong. We’d like to find some products in another energy-related field, such as gas and drilling, that has to be worked on and developed.”

McSweeney and his sister have no particular plans for the company’s 45th anniversary. “Just work hard and try to make it a better year than the one behind,” he remarks. “We’ve been too busy to celebrate.

“We just continue to look for the products that may come our way that we can maximize on and improve on. We don’t like to be the me-too guy – the me-too items, everybody can do those. We’d rather make something special.”