This sign, made by Tal-Mar, was once part of the marble entryway to Chicago’s Hard Rock Café.

Jim Cesak is exceptionally proud of his company. He’d rather talk about it than himself.

Tal-Mar Custom Metal Fabricators Inc. in Crestwood, Ill., a suburb south of Chicago, is not your typical sheet metal shop. Started eight years ago by six sheet metal workers, Tal-Mar was created to fill what they saw as a need for industrial sheet metal shops in the area.

If you were to tour Tal-Mar’s 30,000-square-foot shop, it would become immediately apparent that something is different. What you wouldn’t see is galvanized iron or ductwork. What you would see is a variety of projects being fabricated out of stainless, aluminum, hot-rolled steel, cold-rolled steel, copper, brass, titanium or some other exotic metal or alloy. You may encounter a project using materials that are razor blade thin or structural steel that may be eight or 10 inches thick. It is all about whatever the customer requires. Tal-Mar is capable of engineering, drawing, fabricating, installing and servicing just about anything made of metal.

The company’s customers include corn-processing plants, commercial bakeries, cereal and snack food plants, candy factories, oil-processing plants, chewing gum manufacturers, paper mills - and, they add, any other industry in the “Chicagoland” area and Midwest that needs a “unique something” fabricated or serviced.

This food-handling machine was made by Tal-Mar so a client could attach a 200-pound nylon bag.

Varied work

That might be a stainless hopper for sugar with vibrators attached to keep the sugar from clogging. It might be an aluminum catwalk with stairs and guardrails. It might be a chute made to resist wear from hard corn kernels. Whatever the customer’s maintenance or service needs, Tal-Mar tries to fill the bill.

Tal-Mar does quite a bit of work for other sheet metal companies in the area as well. Its shop contains:

  • A plasma cutter capable of slicing up to 2-inch-thick plate and nearly unlimited thicknesses using oxy/fuel on carbon steel.
  • Three hydraulic presses, the largest 230 tons.
  • A 10-foot power roller and three smaller ones.
  • A 3/8-inch by 12-foot plate shear with power back gauge.
  • Eight bridge cranes that cover every square inch of the shop.
Owner Cesak is hoping to add a water-jet cutting machine and a longitudinal seam welder soon.

Cesak said the success of his company is not due to the equipment it has. Any shop can purchase the same equipment, he says. He believes Tal-Mar’s success is due in large part to his personnel and the service they provide. He employees about 50 people, most of whom are members of Chicago-based Sheet Metal Workers union Local 73. Six machinists belong to Local 701.

“A great majority of our work is emergency service and maintenance,” Cesak says. “Our customers have 24-hour access to us. We always have people on call. We’ll open our shop any time of the day or night.”

A stainless steel “ribbon” ingredients mixer made by Tal-Mar.

Demanding conditions

That means the demands on his employees are enormous. Their work is oftentimes cold, hot, wet, dirty, heavy, high, hard or dangerous. It means long hours, many of which include weekends.

Despite these stressful conditions and lots and lots of overtime - it is not uncommon for an employee to work 2,400 hours a year - turnover is almost nonexistent. Many of Tal-Mar’s employees are in their 50s and 60s, a trend you don’t see in many other shops.

Cesak says he employs the very best mechanics and welders in the area.

“Training is what separates the very best from everyone else,” he says.

Nearly all of his 50 employees have served an apprenticeship. All sales staff, project managers and supervisors have served apprenticeships as well. Cesak was himself once an apprentice - a fact of which he is very proud.

Cesak is so committed to training that he is a member of the Sheet Metal Workers union-affiliated International Training Institute’s curriculum task force.

He is also vice president of the Chicagoland Sheet Metal Contractors Association. For him, it’s part of a business strategy.

Some of Tal-Mar Custom Metal Fabricators Inc.’s shop employees.

“Industry in general, and the sheet metal industry in particular, are so transparent, that there are no industrial secrets. Every contractor knows every other contractor’s customers,” he says. “We buy machinery and equipment from the same companies at about the same prices. We buy iron and steel from the same companies for roughly the same prices. All the contractors in the Chicagoland area are operating in the same environment. In order to stay competitive in today’s market, a contractor must stay informed. A few of the most effective ways to do that is to belong to and participate in the trade associations, attend the conferences and trade shows and, lastly, subscribe to and read as much trade-related literature as possible.”

Cesak is hoping to soon expand into HVAC work. Last November, two employees were hired to start up a testing-and-balance division, with an HVAC installation operation to follow.