Service Centers POV

Rick Stewart and his team at Stainless Steel Services pioneered many of its practices, and his son Patrick will help move the company into the future.

Rick Stewart and his team at Stainless Steel Services

Rick Stewart and his team at Stainless Steel Services pioneered many of its practices, and his son Patrick will help move the company into the future.

Master Polishers
Stainless Steel Services keeps business in the family
By Lauren Duensing

ick Stewart, president and owner of Stainless Steel Services, often brings a little bowl of plastic horses to trade shows as swag, toys that “people can take home to their kids. They ask me, ‘What’s this about?’ And I say, ‘We’re a one-trick pony.’ We take flat stainless steel and make it shiny.”

Being a one-trick pony isn’t a negative trait where Stainless Steel Services is concerned. The company’s committed focus on polishing has elevated it to excellence in its niche.

Based in Philadelphia, Stainless Steel Services was founded in 1976 as part of the Stewart family fabrication business, Philadelphia Ironworks.

“We received a job that required polished stainless steel pool liners for a nuclear plant,” says Stewart. “My dad was very experienced at building nuclear components but not at polishing them.” The company searched for a polisher who could meet the stringent requirements and came up empty—so they decided to purchase the equipment to do it themselves. Rick was put in charge of the polishing. “I taught myself the business from scratch.”

Any width, length or finish
If it’s made of stainless steel and it’s flat, Stainless Steel Services will ensure the required finish is achieved, up to and including 3 Ra maximum #7-plus near-mirror or pre-buff on any thickness from 14 gauge up to 10 inches.

“Our motto has always been: be the best, offer no restrictions on capability and be accountable to every single thing that you do,” Stewart says.

Polished stainless sheet and plate have a wide range of applications. “If [a product] goes in your body or on your body, there’s a high likelihood it was made in a polished tank or vessel, because of the need for a cleanable, sanitary surface,” says Stewart. Polished metal from Stainless Steel Services finds its way into applications from aerospace to cosmetics, with pharmaceutical and architecture being large markets.

Notable projects include the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a large-scale scientific experiment in southern France that intends to prove the viability of fusion as an energy source. “We polished 1/2-inch-thick 316L plate for the cooling water storage tanks,” says Stewart. The company also worked on the Air Force Memorial in Washington, D.C., polishing more than 180 pieces of 3/4-inch-thick T316L plates, 10 feet wide and up to 20 feet long. “We also have polished tanks for the Coors Light brewery, and we used to do a lot of work with Budweiser,” he adds.
Fifth generation
This is a family business. It always has been,” says Patrick Stewart, general manager, and Rick’s son. Patrick recently came back into the Stainless Steel Services fold after working within professional auto racing for nearly a decade at Team Penske, both in the marketing department and “over the wall” in the pit crew. “The balance between business and getting my hands dirty has always been something I’ve enjoyed.”
Although Patrick grew up in the shop, working part time around school hours, “it’s a benefit to work for someone else. It’s probably best that I didn’t come in right out of high school and start working here. I now have my own knowledge. I don’t think I’ll ever know as much as my dad knows about the steel business, but we complement each other.”
There’s so much work ahead of us, but when it’s your family business, you find another gear.
patrick stewart,
stainless steel services
Now, with Patrick on board, the company is looking toward its future. “We decided to stay in the lane and expand on what we’re doing here, processing more metal, faster.” Rick Stewart says. “Although we’re a small business, we try not to think small. We plan to more than double our production capacity within the next 24 months—those facility and equipment plans are already in motion. We’ve made commitments within the first several months of Patrick being on board that will ensure a very robust company into the foreseeable future.”
“I’m very fortunate to be in the middle of all this potential,” Patrick Stewart adds. There’s so much work ahead of us, but when it’s your family business, you find another gear. We have the most incredible team here, from the office to our shop and every single operator polishing steel. Our quality of people equals our quality of work. There’s a lot of pride in what we’re able to do, and there’s a lot of pride in knowing that we’re helping to build this country.”

“A small business in a world of much larger businesses is always in a constant state of trying to figure out how to position itself,” Rick Stewart says. “But the greatest reward is the recognition we have in the marketplace.”

Stainless Steel Services, Philadelphia, 877/927-4463,