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Forging ahead

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Articles - October 2012
Monday, September 24, 2012


1012 Tactics 01
Dan Ulven, president of The Ulven Companies.
// Photos by Leah Nash

In 1971 Ulven Forging was a single company that forged hooks, shackles and logging tongs for timber harvesting. Forty years later, the Hubbard-based metal components manufacturer has evolved into The Ulven Companies, a family of four individual businesses catering to the oil and gas, maritime, and defense industries — as well as other markets that have a need for Ulven’s casting, forging, machining and rigging supplies.

In 2012 the Ulven group continues to grow and diversify. The companies already support an array of manufacturing capabilities, from traditional blacksmithing to robotic welding. Now Ulven executives are expanding physical-plant capacity and implementing new marketing and lean manufacturing initiatives. The goal is to become more efficient, help recruit top talent and develop new products for contemporary applications.

“We’ve had tremendous growth, but we lacked good organizational systems and processes,” says president Dan Ulven. Coupled with significant capital investments, the decision to streamline administrative and shop procedures is “generating great results,” he says, noting that in the past year and a half, the company has already boosted sales and “become more competitive.”

The Ulven Companies
President: Dan Ulven
Founded: 1971
Employees: 175
Fun fact: Manufactures more than 5,000 discrete parts

Located on 35 acres in Whiskey Hill, Ulven’s family-owned businesses consist of Ulven Forging, Skookum, Wolf Steel Foundry, and Houston Structures. Operating four companies as individual corporations allows Ulven to offer more manufacturing capabilities and product lines while also enabling efficiencies gained through vertical integration, Ulven says. The different companies also reflect Ulven’s strategy of acquiring niche businesses that allow the Ulven group to expand into new industries.

Wolf Steel, for example, was acquired in 1988, adding casting capabilities to the Ulven forging plant. Houston Structures specializes in engineered packages for suspension bridges; the company supplied the vertical cable assembly for the St. Johns and Sauvie Island bridges in the Portland metro area. Skookum, a former competitor founded in 1890, produces blocks and shackles for the offshore oil and gas and the defense industries.

“Early in the company’s history, my father recognized the need to be diversified,” says Ulven, 39, who succeeded paternal company founder Andy Ulven as president two years ago. “Right now, the oil and gas markets are really strong, so we are focusing on that,” Ulven says. But when those markets enter a down cycle, Ulven will have other businesses to sell to. “Everything is countercyclical,” says Ulven.


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