By OLIVIA BERGMEIER
The popcorning sound of welders alongside the whirs of large overhead cranes moving heavy pieces of steel around the shop is a typical Tuesday for the workers at PKM Steel Service, INC.
Blue light cast against the welders' masks, and each took pride knowing that this American steel would be part of Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.
Before 2019, PKM Steel began work on more than 400 tons of American-made steel for part of the giant stadium, and in just a few short days, it will be the stage for Superbowl LVIII.
"405 tons took 11,630 hours of shop labor," said PKM Project Manager Todd Crissman. "That's us, production control, parts, beam line, cutting and fitting, welding, blasting, painting, and then loading it on the truck and out the door."
By 2019, PKM Steel finished shipping its section of Allegiant Stadium, and the stadium opened in 2020.
The company also constructed the steel for the Las Vegas Raiders Headquarters and Training Facility Intermountain Healthcare Performance Center in Henderson, Nev.
PKM Steel, the best-kept secret of Salina
The now-global steel production business began small, with Founder Paul Mai, a German immigrant from Schweinfurt, Germany, beginning his career as a young man in the post-war landscape of Europe.
He soon moved to the United States in 1958 with only about $20 in his pocket and no way to speak English. This didn't stop Mai from completing various jobs around Central Kansas until 1962 when he set up shop in Salina.
According to the PKM Steel Service website, he opened a one-person welding shop in the southern industrial area of town. His first contract was the Roosevelt-Lincoln Middle School Gymnasium.
Sometime later, Mai contracted with Fort Riley to build the Bombing Range observation towers, and business began growing from there.
"Our founder built a heck of a facility all those years ago," said PKM Steel Project Manager Richard Roland. "We have an 80-ton crane lifting capacity, a 12-foot by five-foot blaster, and very good welders that can do complicated structures."
Roland said much of the company's success stems from Mai's initial business structure, gaining customers based on the worker's merit and dedication to steel fabrication.
In 1988, PKM Steel Service Inc. established itself as a permanent feature of Salina's industrial region. PKM has 290,000 square feet of fabrication space today and multiple additional companies, including MSS Transport Inc., Salina Steel Supply Inc. and Maico Industries Inc.
Many of its customers know the company for consistent work and complicated welding capabilities. The Allegiant Stadium was a recent example of how complex welding can become in steel fabrication.
"This was a very complicated project. It was a lot of heavy welding," Roland said. "It was quite a bit of man hours per ton — we have some [projects] that are 1,600 tons that only take 8,000 man hours."
The Allegiant Stadium project had 28.7 hours of labor per ton of steel, which Crissman said was primarily due to the complicated welding required for the stadium.
PKM Steel was only one of about 20 different steel fabrication companies in the U.S. that worked on the stadium, so they built just one portion of the larger structure.
Before any steel arrives at PKM, they source it from a foundry, often in the United States, to fabricate it for large projects like stadiums and arenas.
PKM initially sourced its steel from Belgium, but it began sourcing the metal worldwide once production became demanding.
Most of the steel arrives by train or truck in large beams or sheets, where welders and engineers at PKM will then cut, clean and construct various parts of the overall build to prepare for shipping.
According to PKM Project Manager Mike Whittecar, workers fit each part together before shipping the final product to customers.
Today, the President of PKM Steel, Frieda Mai-Weis, is the daughter of Paul Mai, and she continues his legacy with Whittecar, Roland, and Crissman, citing her leadership skills as a contributor to the company's global success.
"That sense of pride is a big thing," Crissman said. "Small-town guys putting steel together that goes nationwide — coast-to-coast and around the world."