When you need a large order of 01, A2, D2, S7, or some other grade of tool steel, you can get just about anything you need from one of the regional warehouses of Bohler-Uddeholm, which claims to be the largest tool steel supplier in the world. For example, the firm's Region Central warehouse in Wood Dale, Illinois (a Chicago suburb), typically carries more than 2,500 items, together weighing more than 5 million pounds.
The warehouse operates 11 band saws, ranging in workpiece capacity from 14 inches by 14 inches to 40 inches by 60 inches, that cut metal to the exact size ordered by the customer. It has a large vertical mill that it uses to do rough pocketing work on tool blocks, mill finish the top and bottom and provide flatness and parallelism required by the customer. It also uses Blanchard grinders to produce flatness and squareness of 0.001 inch/foot and parallelism of 0.001 inch TIR, or better. Also, a large horizontal mill provides edge milling, chamfering, handling holes and clamping slots for customers.
But what if you do not need hundreds or thousands of pounds of tool steel? What if you only need a small piece of cold work tool steel to, say, finish a tool or to repair a worn or broken tool? And what if you need it RIGHT NOW?
Tool and die shops that need a small amount of tool steel—down to one piece—can usually find what they're looking for at a Bohler-Uddeholm Steel Store. The Steel Stores are not as numerous as Circle K's or 7-11's, but they are located throughout the United States and Canada in areas with high concentrations of tool and die firms. For example, in the Midwest there are Steel Stores in Elk Grove Village and Rockford, Illinois; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Hiawatha, Iowa; and Germantown, Wisconsin. Also, there are preliminary plans for stores in Benton Harbor, Michigan; and St. Louis, Missouri.
Open Monday to Friday, the stores carry a wide assortment of cold work tool steels: 01, A2, D2, Mold Quality S7, H13, P20, 420 and 420F stainless steel, holder block, Vanadis 4, 10 and 23 (Bohler-Uddeholm powder-metal alloys), drill rod, precision flat ground stock, beryllium copper alloys and high strength aluminum. They can fill small or large orders which can be picked up by the customer the same day in most cases, or shipped for next-day delivery.
Steel Stores offer service as well as convenience: Customers can get their orders cut to exact size on one of the store's band saws. Bargain hunters will also like the savings to be had by shopping at the stores. There is a 5 percent discount for credit card purchases and a 10 percent discount for cash purchases. Shops that do not mind cutting the steel to size themselves can buy a slightly bigger chunk of metal off-the-shelf (no processing by the store) for another 10 percent off. With such bargains, maybe the Steel Stores will end up competing with 7-11's and other convenience stores for corner locations.