Take a family-owned company with years of experience in the manufacturing field, combine it with dedicated employees and skilled tradespeople who have been immersed in the industry for decades, and you have the values and capabilities Ascension Industries can offer its customers and clients.
Founded in 1956 as St. Mary Manufacturing Corp. in North Tonawanda, NY, Ascension has provided electrical, machining, welding, and assembly work for some of the same clients for upwards of 50 years. In 1975, John Kopczynski founded Ascension Sheet Metal Fabrication, Inc., with complementary capabilities to provide services to OEMs and machinery and fabrication product users. Customers today include numerous Fortune 500 companies in metalworking, automotive, aerospace, defense, turbo compressor, process equipment and automation industries, as well as a variety of smaller firms.
“We take a great deal of pride in our manufacturing and quality,” says Miles Priore, Applications Engineer. “We have many tradespeople who have been here their whole career. They started fresh out of high school or college and they learned from the experts. We have very skilled welders and machinists that started doing this work for multiple decades, and are truly experts in their fields.”
To this day, says Priore, Ascension attracts employees who want to work for the company specifically to learn skills that, for the most part cannot be automated given the intricacies and complexity found in the variety of work the company undertakes. Ascension is proud to have the ability to take the starting skill set of a new employee and bring them up to the next level, or multiple levels above that, taught by those who honed their abilities over many years.
“This is a true long-time family value and family-oriented business,” says John Domagalski, Director of Sales. “We started out mainly as a machine shop – a tool and die company focused on oil and gas – and we’ve evolved throughout the years based on the economy and customers to become a full manufacturing resource and metalworking company.”
When the industry took a downturn in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Ascension was forced to examine itself, understanding it could no longer be just an extension of other companies’ manufacturing and products, says Domagalski. “We realized we needed diversity, and that led to some introspection, and investigating emerging and changing technologies.”
Ascension acquired the rights to the Durco Filters line of industrial filtration products in 2003, forming the Durco Filters division of Ascension Industries. With Durco Filters, Ascension now designs, manufactures and sells pressure leaf filters, filter presses, pressure nutsches, self-cleaning tubular filters and sludge dryers worldwide.
“Durco Filters had an established customer base, reputation for quality and established product line. We reviewed the company, product and history and it fit all of our disciplines, with our expertise in piping, pressure vessels, instrumentation, and electrical control,” says Domagalski. “We decided it would be a perfect fit for what we’d already established.”
At the same time, Ascension experienced an uptick in inquiries and sales for filtering lithium for the production of batteries. With electric cars on the rise and the ongoing push for a greener future, Ascension wanted to focus, as part of its growth, on being involved in energy technologies and partnering with companies working in fuel cells and energy storage.
The company works hard on a daily basis to address a multitude of changing customer requirements, abiding by strict internal quality guidelines and maintaining its ISO 9001 certification.
“That’s a huge accomplishment in a manufacturing facility,” says Priore. “Others can take comfort in that. We work very hard to get it and maintain it on a daily basis and we frequently receive positive customer feedback on the quality of our workers’ skills and craftsmanship.”
Industry challenges have included fitting into an ever-changing global economy, and striving to provide wide ranging products to meet those changes and assume more responsibility that was previously assumed by its customers such as design, electrical and programming work for the systems it builds. Ascension can build pressure vessels to code for Europe, China and the Americas, says Priore, offering large customers the ability to have a single manufacturer to support their global sales efforts.
“In 1956 the United States was still rapidly growing its industrial economy and many of the opportunities were in our backyard. Today, it’s difficult to have a successful company that only deals locally or regionally,” says Domagalski. “While we may not be as large as some competitors, we can provide our customers with a more flexible model that enables us to find the right partnership and be a total solution provider.”
That’s where they separate themselves from other companies in industry. While some can provide a filter to size, Ascension’s goal is to deliver a system installed with a seamless transition that leverages the control systems and process philosophies of the existing plant. That is where the phrase, “total solution provider” comes into play.
“We also like our customers to see us as one corporate face from beginning to post-sales service, with no disconnect,” says Domagalski. “Whether there are any issues or replacement parts needed many years down the road, we don’t want the product to hit your door and have it be your problem. We want to make sure it’s a success for the long term.”
It’s that kind of dedication to customer satisfaction that has kept so many employees on board for numerous years, including Domagalski.
“Ascension has a family atmosphere that you can see and feel, because people like myself who have been here 20 plus years want to stay and want to be here and want the company to succeed. The owner himself says his biggest pride is employing people, and allowing employees to be able to provide for their families through jobs and work they can be proud of. Ebbs and flows in the economy always happen, but you can see that it’s a very important issue for him and he takes it to heart.”
Personal and corporate success is at the forefront at Ascension, fostering open communication between the company and employees. With a solid emphasis placed on growth and skill development. Ascension is dedicated to not only providing training for those entering the industry, but ensuring that those retiring pass their knowledge along through intensive job shadowing.
Beyond formal training, Ascension also gathers vendors or subcontractors for informal meetings to foster open dialogues about learning capabilities and new education applications.
“We try to create a learning culture and try to put everyone on a growth plan,” says Domagalski. “Our work crosses a wide spectrum of engineering and manufacturing across a diverse customer base. We provide a lot of employee support, and try to cross-train our employees who transition between departments and we believe it makes us stronger overall. The senior staff has a wealth of knowledge to share and pass on, so we partner new employees with senior staff on the floor to work with them and educate them. They’re then comfortable in their position and we’re comfortable passing on new and harder projects. If you’re not growing you’re not getting better!”
Ascension strives to put itself in a position for growth as it relates to its filtration products and also its manufacturing and engineering services provided to others.
“The old adage, can’t put the cart before the horse, is definitely true here,” says Domagalski. “You have to have the people and processes in place in order to make that growth happen. And that’s what Ascension is doing right now. We see a need and opportunity and are addressing it so our plans for the future can be realized. It’s easy to say you want to grow but if you don’t put some investment into preparing for and enabling that growth in the beginning it’s very difficult to ultimately achieve.”
Ascension also works with other manufacturing companies in wellness programs for employees doing health checkups, flu shots, biometrics, and holiday drives, says Priore.
“We try to always emphasize family and culture here, and follow the Golden Rule: treat others likes you’d like to be treated. If you do right by your customers they’ll do right by you,” he says. “We don’t take the cheap way out. We strive to do both what’s right and what’s efficient.”
Ascension has many industry experts who can help improve a factory’s process and reduce overhead, helping companies make money, either by saving energy or improving overall efficiency.
“If we can help a customer, they’ll remember that and they’re going to recommend us and come back – whether it’s this year or 20 years down the road. It’s all about relationships,” says Priore.
Those relationships are ones based on solid leadership, striving to deliver a quality solution and sticking it out through thick and thin, says Domagalski. By creating good brand-identity that employees can get behind, both short-term and long-term goals are met successfully.
When a company succeeds financially, its profitability means reinvesting in the company with regards to personnel or new technologies, says Domagalski. The bottom line for them means possibly venturing into new product lines or expanding existing product lines with regards to filtration or other manufacturing and engineering capabilities. Without growth, he says, it’s difficult to say you’re succeeding.
“Not only do we offer a great product, the people who work here take great pride in producing that product. We know you can’t just go to any shop and get the quality and total support that we provide. The people here have put their whole lives into their craft and making the name Ascension what it is today. It means a lot when you can retain employees like that and that they are committed to furthering the reputation they helped create.”