Monday, January 30, 2023

Super and stealth: Like many things you take for granted, Super Radiator Coils is more important to your selfies and sandwiches than you’d imagine

About 300 people work at the Midlothian location of Super Radiator Coils, which houses its corporate office as well as engineering and manufacturing of heat exchangers used in a wide range of industries. The company recently expanded by 55,000 feet to a total of 170,000 square feet. ASH DANIEL

About 300 people work at the Midlothian location of Super Radiator Coils, which houses its corporate office as well as engineering and manufacturing of heat exchangers used in a wide range of industries. The company recently expanded its space in Chesterfield County by 55,000 feet to a total of 177,000 square feet. ASH DANIEL

Matt Holland, vice president of Super Radiator Coils, makes quick work of the question: What’s the most obvious example of the machine components produced at the company’s Midlothian plant?

“There’s the closest,” Holland says. “And then there’s the impact.”

Super Radiator Coils, based in Chaska, Minnesota, makes custom-engineered heat exchangers, which are critical to almost any industry that burns fuel or uses electricity. The company has had an anchored and growing presence in Chesterfield County since 1980, five years before it acquired a production plant from another company.

Holland could draw from a broad range of industries the company serves, which include retail, TV production, technology, manufacturing, transportation and the U.S. military.

But, he says, the most visible example of something SRC makes is hiding under the sandwich you’d grab from a cooling case in the middle of a Wawa convenience store.

“There’s a component in there keeping that sandwich cool,” Holland says, “and that component is made by Super Radiator Coils.”

Then he raises his hand, clutching his smartphone.

“The other thing you’re closest to is the phone you’re holding in your hand,” Holland says. “The data managed for that is in a data warehouse center and those computers are generating so much heat and they’ll overheat if they’re not cooled by components made by Super Radiator.”

Super Radiator Coils in Midlothian produces heat exchangers that serve an array of industries including food service, the U.S. military, technology, transportation and manufacturing. It offers design and engineering services to create the customized components. ASH DANIEL

He says he could keep going, and does: He describes a U.S. Air Force fighter jet, the F-35, as “a flying computer,” which needs immediate cooling upon landing. The components pumping the coolant are produced by Super Radiator Coils.

The company was founded in 1928 in Minneapolis and today has three divisions including Chaska, Chesterfield and Phoenix.

With about 570 employees total, more than half of Super Radiator Coil’s workforce – 289 people – are based at its Midlothian plant on Southlake Boulevard.

The company took ownership of its Chesterfield production facility in 1985 and has expanded three times since then – in 1992, 2001 and earlier this year, when it added 50,000 square feet to its plant and added 5,000 square feet for employee amenities.

On Nov. 3, the company will celebrate its expansion with “Super Day,” an event featuring a visit and remarks by Jon Holt, the former CEO and now chairman, and his son, Rob, now serving as president and CEO. Holland will also speak, and organizers will present a program telling the history of Super Radiator Coils.

The Holt family took ownership of Super Radiator Coils in 1985, and Jon Holt’s daughter, Kari Mellina – sister of CEO Rob Holt – serves as executive vice president and chief financial officer and works in the company’s corporate operations based in Chesterfield.

Mellina, like many of Super Radiator Coils’ employees, came to her family’s company with a technical degree and started as an engineer before moving to materials manager. Along the way, she picked up an MBA at the College of William & Mary, and shifted into the company’s accounting operations.

Engineering across a range of applications, though, is exactly what differentiates the company from much of its competition, she says.

“We’re not just manufacturing,” Mellina says, “and we have whole gamut of offerings with our engineering.”

Super Radiator Coils plays a field of industries, she explains, and therefore has a read of the marketplace based on the kinds of products – and the quantities – that companies need.

“It might be really high volume,” Mellina offers as an example. “We might not really want that business, because we’re more engineering side, with manufacturing as a service – versus just manufacturing. … [There are] customers that want that to come to us and say, ‘Build this. We want thousands of them’ – that’s not really what our niche is.”

Holland adds later that the company’s ability to meet customized specifications is not Super Radiator Coils’ biggest magic trick, though.

It’s “the agility to do it, and the range. … Are you listening to the customer – what they need – and can you respond?”

The relationship with customers begins with application engineers, explains Brooke Hughes, the director of design and materials, and their primary goal is to seek out the specific design solution each client needs.

Hughes says her team receives the specifications from the front-facing “sales” engineers. “We’re called the design engineers, so we’re not interfacing with the customer. We are in charge of designing the coil for the customer’s needs to meet performance and for the manufacturability aspect of it.”

The designers working with Hughes will model a product prototype that then will meet basic testing and review by customers in an iterative process that involves both the applications and design teams.

Hughes, who has worked for Super Radiator Coils for 18 years, represents a piece of the company’s basic DNA – a happy and committed workforce of longtime employees.

The Chesterfield native began as an intern while finishing her engineering degree at Virginia Tech, and like Mellina, managed to move throughout the ranks to her current job.

Kari Mellina, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Super Radiator Coils, started at the family-owned business as an engineer before moving into accounting operations. ASH DANIEL

“Part of what makes us super unique here is our people,” she says. “We have a lot of tenured people here. But we’ve also seen a lot of growth within the last five to seven years.”

The culture of her workplace, Hughes continues, sometimes feels like a well-kept secret because Super Radiator Coils is not as visible to people in the region as companies in other industries.

“We have a really nice sprinkling right now of hospitality people,” she notes. “We got a lot of restaurant people through the pandemic and a lot of other industries. … We’re really in the general labor category and we’re looking for people who really just fit our culture.”

Holland emphasized as well that Super Radiator Coils, unlike other companies, “was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the pandemic era.”

He notes that the company’s care with its workers mirrors the attention it gives to its customers, and he described an employee-directed yearly review and goal-setting program that allows workers to target new areas for development and new jobs within the system.

While showing a reporter the expansive warehouse where employees fabricate, assemble and move heat exchanging units, Holland received nods, greetings and smiles from hard-hatted workers. Some fired up blue-flamed torches to braze copper tubes on to larger copper tubes. Others managed metal processors that created folds to go in an exchanger.

Holland said hello to Sheridan Irvin, a mechanical engineer in her early 20s who moved from San Diego to take a job at Super Radiator coils.

She said the camaraderie of the company keeps her busy and happy during her work days.

“I love interacting with everyone in my department, she says, adding, “On the floor, I get to interact with so many people, and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts of the job.”

Just beyond the warehouse Holland shows off newly added break rooms, lockers, a gym – spaces that offer some rest and respite. He notes that one of break rooms was turned into a clinic during the surge of the panemic and that the company did not miss a beat during the days that battered other companies.

One of his workers, he says, told him, “I feel safer here than I do at home.”

The culture of the workers, Holland notes, and is one thing that he thinks communicates all the way to its clients.

“That service part for us, when the supply chain went wacky – because we had great customer service – we stood out. … It differentiated us hugely in this time period. It’s going to serve us well going forward too.” ¦

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