Above: Willbanks Metals needed a stretcherleveling cut-to-length line that could handle plate in coil.

May, 2024- Everything is bigger in Texas, they say. The owners and employees of Willbanks Metals know a lot about large objects: data processing warehouses, truck trailers, utility towers, oil and gas storage tanks, railcars and more. Founded in 1974 in Fort Worth, the company has continued to grow its customer base, the amount of steel it processes, and its capability to manage larger coils and heavier gauges.

The company’s latest big purchase is a stretcher-leveler cut-to-length line from Red Bud Industries. “We have been processing coils forever,” says CEO Eric Letz. “What we noticed was that our customers needed more dead-flat material. Between the laser and plasma cutting systems, and automation, that became a bigger requirement.”

Many customers were choosing to send their material to a temper line “but even then, they were struggling to get it flat enough. We knew about Red Bud’s stretcher-leveler and the need drove our decision to purchase one,” Letz says.

Willbanks Metals typically brings in 30-ton coils from mills all over the world, but primarily sources from domestic producers. Red Bud installed the line last year and the company started up production in October. The line is rated to go up to 5/8-inch thick and 84 inches wide, says Letz.

“You go from coil to sheet lengths. We are doing everything from 4-footlong to 60-foot-longplates. We process lots of 84-inch-wide and 72-inchwide coils,” and the service center can go as thin as 16 gauge and as narrow as 48 inches.

“The material quality is high,” says Letz. “We sell to OEMs, fabricators and other service centers.”


The new line provides Willbanks with 150,000 tons of additional annual coil processing capacity. “We always have had CTL lines, but we wanted to improve quality and throughput. This line is fully automated. We added some features to clean the surface of the strip, as well as marking capabilities. It’s an inkjet printer that will identify the melt shop heat number, an order number or any other information the customer wants on the material.”

Willbanks cuts both for custom orders and for stock. The new line already operates “20 hours a day, six days a week,” according to Letz. “We increased our commercial team by three people and our production team by 10 in order to sell and manage the volume coming off the line.”

Loading and unloading big coils takes up space, too, so Willbanks Metals purchased a building in which to install its new line.

Dean Linders, vice president of marketing and sales at Red Bud, says the equipment builder has over 40 lines on order as of mid-April; 15 of them are stretcher-levelers.

“We used to be known for light-gauge cut-to-length lines, but now we have heavy-gauge slitters, packaging lines and stretchers that manage plate up to 1 inch thick.”

Linders recalls meeting the Letz brothers (Ryan is co-owner and chief commercial officer) at least six years ago. “We knew the company and that they already had leveling equipment. But we really didn’t have a relationship with them. Another one of our customers was talking to them at a conference about his own Red Bud lines. He introduced me to Eric and Ryan, and that’s how we met. They told me that, one day, they would be ready for a stretcher leveler.”

During that interim, all the material that Willbanks had sent out to other processors to be cut and leveled was coming off Red Bud lines. Linders joked with them, “What other endorsement do you need?”

The previous leveler required manual setups. Now, operators just press a few buttons.


Once Linders received the specifications from Willbanks, he and the Letzes “dove into what the options were.” A smaller CTL line was already in place; the goal was to remove that and fit the new one in the same location. “I had only 168 linear feet to work with. I came up with a configuration that was functional but not ideal,” he says.

“They wanted to run 60-foot-long parts. End rollouts would have added another 60 feet, so our only option was to use side rollouts. We also had to shorten the stretcher and go with a different type of coil loading system to feed the uncoiler,” Linders says.

Normally, he says, specifications are finalized within a few months. “But with their line, they kept thinking about other options. I got in their head: ‘Oh, he makes a good point that we have to live with this configuration for 30 or 40 years.’”

And then, across the road a building came up for sale that the company had attempted to buy for years, but the seller wasn’t interested even though the space was empty, says Linders.

“Eric said they tried one more time to buy it, and the clouds cleared and the sun was shining,” and so Willbanks Metals acquired its new space. As a result, Red Bud was “able to optimize the design of the line in the way we recommended to get the most out of the investment. We redrew the drawings and re-quoted everything. They put a lot of money in the building,” he says. “But they will reap the benefits from having the correct line configuration.”

In order to reduce material handling and save space, hot-rolled coils that are stored outdoors can be loaded onto a conveyor system that extends outside the building. The coils are then conveyed indoors, where they are loaded directly onto the machine. There is also a truck/coil bay located next to the Red Bud line, with support columns between the bay and equipment. Red Bud installed another conveyor to move coils from one bay to the other. In addition to being used as a coil transfer system, it is also used to pre-stage coils prior to their being loaded directly onto the line.


Once the line was installed, operator training took about two weeks. “The guys we trained already ran similar equipment but not the stretcher-leveler.” Linders says, “It was like going from the Flinstones to the Jetsons. The older line requires a lot of manual setup. Now they just press a few buttons. And they feel like it’s the space shuttle. A guy just starting out can learn it easily, too,” he says.

“We want customers to get the most they can out of the line, to realize the benefit of the investment. So we make our lines easy to run, productive and, above all else, safe to operate,” Linders says.

According to Letz, “Red Bud was great with the training, installation and maintenance, and our operators came up to speed quickly. We have seen our contractual business increase, which is part of the purpose of buying this line. For OEMs data center manufacturing, trailer manufacturing, or any laser cutting warehouse what they need is highquality processed material.”

Red Bud Industries Inc., 618/282-3801, http://redbudindustries.com/

Willbanks Metals, 817/625-6161, http://willbanksmetals.com/