All-Clad a heavy metal band that performs worldwide

Rick Shrum
Observer Reporter

More than a half-century ago, John Ulam had a passion for bonding dissimilar metals. That led to a passion for patents, which led to a global company.

He found that bonding – also known as cladding – resulted in high-quality metal pieces that could be converted to products that retained heat and were chemically resistant. Ulam, a metallurgist, was ultimately awarded more than 50 national patents, plus a contract with the U.S. Mint to make coins from bonded metal layers instead of solid silver – a process the Mint continues today.

Ulam turned his metals expertise into a business in 1967, called Clad Metals, which launched off Morganza Road in Cecil Township. The company grew and morphed into All-Clad Metalcrafters four years later, producing professional-quality cookware. Then the growth accelerated.

“We were really small at first,” said Bill Groll, vice president of research and development, and a longtime employee. “John Ulam was all in on All-Clad. He really put us on the map.”

Headquarters may be a dot in the north-central portion of Washington County, but All-Clad’s reach is international. The company sells cookware, ovenware, and kitchen tools and accessories in numerous countries. All of its fully-clad cookware is produced in the factory off Morganza, on a 40-acre tract fronted by a picturesque lake, and 90 percent of its products are produced in the United States.

“We buy all materials domestically,” Groll said, while directing a tour for about 50 members of the Washington County Manufacturers Association. Durability and performance, he added, are the hallmarks for All-Clad products.

“Our cookware,” Groll explained, “is for the serious professional or amateur cook.” All-Clad products are regarded as being expensive, but worthy of the cost.

Groll’s tour of the buildings was enlightening and entertaining. All-Clad, he explained, was a family-owned business until 1989. The company has been sold two times since – in 1999, then in 2004 to the current owner, Groupe SEB, a large, French-based consortium.

It employs a workforce of 160, with shifts operating around the clock. Employees, human and robotic, functioned purposefully as the tourists proceeded through the factory. Partially completed pieces sit inside, awaiting the next step. Raw materials abound, stacked neatly and unobtrusively throughout.

“There is about $8 million in raw materials inventory in this building at any one time,” Groll said. “About 6,000 pieces a day is our usual output.”

Manufacturing these pieces may appear to be easy to the untrained eye, thanks to the wonders of modern machinery, but the reality is the shaping, polishing and other work require high levels of precision, due diligence and tender loving care. And water. A little dirt or a slight ding can result in an imperfect product and lost revenue.

Items with flaws that are cosmetic, but will not impact the items’ use or expected lifetime, are sold at a discount that includes the manufacturer’s full lifetime factory warranty.

“Cleanliness is a priority in making these pieces,” Groll said. “There can’t be one speck. That requires a lot of quality-control people.”

The company’s largest customer, perhaps not surprisingly, is Williams Sonoma Home. Groll said Neiman Marcus, Macy’s and Bloomingdales also carry high volumes of All-Clad products.

That brand is certainly in demand, and it is most evident in early June during All-Clad’s annual Factory Sale, which attracts customers from numerous states. This year’s event is scheduled for June 7-8 at Washington County Fairgrounds.

John Ulam, devoted metallurgist, probably did not envision Clad Metals becoming all-world when he embarked on this enterprise in 1967. But he certainly put the company and its well-recognized successor, All-Clad, on the map – and into a lot of kitchens.