Manchester Tank in Crossville takes steel and transforms it to an airtight cylinder to store and transport propane for consumer use.
Because propane can be dangerous, each tank must meet strict specifications and standards, and those that don’t make the grade are rejected.
Manchester Tank makes a variety of pressure vessels used for propane, compressed air and chemicals in the United States, Canada, Australia and Chile, but the Crossville plant makes only the 20 pound gas grill cylinders used for home grills. Thanks to its location just off Interstate 40, with easy access to Interstates 65 and 75, it also acts as a distribution facility for pressure vessels manufactured in Quincy, IL, Bedford, IN, and Elkhart, IN, plants.
Manchester Tank, a division of McWane, Inc., has been in Crossville since 1990, when the company acquired the business from General Processing, but the plant has been in operation since the 1960s.
The facility is about 100,000 square feet, with production facilities, a warehouse and an off-site warehouse.
There are about 90 employees in Crossville, and most of them hail from Cumberland County. Al Morrow, general manager, is also honored to have employees with more than 20 years of employment at Manchester Tank. In fact, the average length of employment is 20 and 1/2 years.
“We also have many employees that are second generation Manchester Tank employees,” Morrow said. “I feel good when a parent would recommend this facility to his children or in-laws. We have several guys whose father’s worked here and have since retired.”
As a combustible material, the cylinder housing propane must meet strict safety regulations for manufacturing and products must be tested thoroughly.
Each cylinder is made from four pieces of steel, which arrives at the plant in large coils. A handle, or collar, foot ring, top and bottom are pressed from the steel. The collar includes unique serial numbers and code required information.
“We can track any tank we build,” explained Allen Walker, Safety Manager.
The process leaves a good deal of scrap metal that is recycled, and tanks that don’t meet standards are also recycled to make more raw material for production. The company also recycles its cardboard.
The tanks also include a valve and a spud that holds the valve. Those are the only parts of the tank not made on-site. A hole is left in the top of each tank for the spud and valve. The tops and bottoms of the tank are offset and welded together.
The pieces are washed to remove a film that acts as a soap and release agent for the presses and then they are welded together. The welds are inspected before each bottle continues through the process. Those that are not properly welded are returned to be reworked.
Next up, the cylinders are heated in the annealing furnace. Steel shot is used to then clean the surface and prepare it to be powder coated down the line.
Next up, bottles are tested in high pressure test chambers. Each bottle is tested to code requirements.
“If they’re going to fail, they’ll fail in there,” Walker said.
The bottles are washed again and sent through an oven to dry. They are then powder coated with paint. The standard color is grey, but Manchester Tank can offer custom colors to its customers.
Once the paint is dry, valves are set in each tank. The tanks are then pressurized and sent through an “ ultra-sonic room” where a sensitive microphone listens for leaks. If any are found, the bottle is repaired.
“Every cylinder is tested,” Morrow said, “and all code required tests are performed.”
After the leak test in the ultra-sonic room, pressure is released from the cylinders. A vacuum is applied and the cylinders are ready for shipping. This allows the end customer not to have to purge the cylinder prior to filling with propane. Labels are applied to every cylinder with appropriate warnings and directions for use, then customer sleeves are applied and the cylinders are packed for shipping.
“We’ve automated some processes where it made sense,” Morrow explained. “At the end of the day, it’s the same tried and true process that has been approved by codes organizations to comply with safety specifications.”
When complete, the cylinders are shipped to customers that include Amerigas, Ace Hardware, TruValue, Tractor Supply, Canadian Tire and Pinnacle Propane, as well as smaller refillers that offer tank exchange.
“The exchange market has made it so convenient for people to drop off an empty cylinder and pick up a filled one,” Morrow said.
Tanks are shipped without propane and are filled by the customer before sale.
Workers move about the Manchester Tank plant working with heavy products and processes that can be dangerous. That’s why Manchester Tank has a robust safety program that goes above and beyond requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
“The nature of the equipment and the process we use require a very intense safety program,” explained Morrow.
There are more than 50 safety programs, such as robot safety, industrial hygiene, lock-out tag-out procedures and more.
“Our safety programs are comprehensive,” Walker said. “They include every component of our safety procedures.”
The safety procedures include work instructions that are written specifically for the Crossville facility, as well.
Each year, every program is audited for compliance and possible improvements.
“We look at every program we have and make sure that it is correct and that we are following our procedures and our work instructions,” Walker said.
Training on those procedures is vital, he said. Last year, the company invested more than 2,000 hours in safety training. That includes awareness safety discussions up to comprehensive and in-depth training on specific procedures.
Manchester Tank also works with the Crossville Fire Department on drills and confined space rescues.
“We let them know the hazards in each space and what they might expect in an emergency situation,” explained Walker. “It’s important to do those drills so we know what to do in an emergency. It also gives the Fire Department an opportunity to practice their procedures. It really helps both of us out.”
The employees also start each day with a short safety talk called a “Start Safe to End Safe”.
“We want our employees to start the day safe and end the day safe,” Walker said.
Employees also rotate from station to station in the plant, moving from labor intensive work to work that allows for a chance to rest a few minutes before moving on.
That helps reduce fatigue and keeps employees focused on safety.
“We had a good year in our safety program last year,” Walker said. “We were well under the industry average in OSHA recordable events. The guys on the floor try to work and stay safe and they do a good job.”
The safety program is also monitored by outside agencies or other safety personnel within the company. Last year, out of six program audits with hundreds of audit questions, only five minor findings were discovered and promptly corrected. That’s the best performance company wide.
“And we’re trying to get better all the time,” Walker said.
To learn more about Manchester Tank, visit www.mantank.com.
n A Salute to Industry series is a project of the Crossville-Cumberland County Chamber of Commerce to feature local industries and businesses.