Manufacturer traces its history to a blacksmith shop
Huey P. Yaun Jr.’s, high-tech manufacturing business stretches like links in a chain back to a blacksmith shop near the Mississippi River where his great-great-grandfather shoed horses and forged wagon wheels and implements.
Yaun’s business, Precision Industries Inc., is a 40-employee machine and fabrication shop that manufactures incredibly precise industrial nozzles exported around the world.
His business is about to nearly double in size because it is gearing up to make and export hundreds of nozzles for one of the world’s largest refineries.
Within the next 26 months, Precision Industries will build and export 355 nozzles for a gasification facility at a Mumbai, India, refinery at a cost of $25,000 to $250,000 each, depending on their size and location in the plant. The long-term agreement, which includes providing sub-assemblies for ongoing future replacements will total $23.6 million, Yaun said.
“We have a niche; if you don’t have a niche you don’t grow,” Yaun said. “We’re building devices most people have never seen before.”
“There have been quite a number of occasions where we’ve built the world’s total supply of a device,” Yaun said at his shop at 7978 S. Choctaw Drive, Baton Rouge. “These burners are a case in point; nobody has ever built these nozzles but us.”
The nozzles, also called burners, are unique and precise and referred to as “exotic” because they are forged from a variety of specially blended metals, depending on the application. “They’re not horseshoes,” he said with a laugh.
Yaun compared the nozzles to a “sophisticated carburetor” for an automobile, which precisely mixes gasoline and air into an explosive vapor that, when ignited by a spark, powers the engine.
The nozzles perform a similar task, but with a variety of liquids and gases inside a variety of industrial vessels.
These nozzles will be inside a gasification unit mixing petroleum coke, a by-product from refining the sour crude, that will produce energy for the refinery, he explained.
The project is so large Yaun is building a 7,000-square-foot addition to the company’s 15,000-square-foot, two-bay machine and fabricating shops. The addition, scheduled for completion by the end of this year, will be stocked with the latest machinery. He plans to add 20 more workers to his well-experienced crew in the next few months.
Delivery to India is to begin in October 2014 and be completed 14 months after that, Yaun said. Parts of the nozzles wear out and must be routinely replaced, he said, and Precision Industries will provide those as well.
The nozzles are quite a leap from the horseshoes Yaun’s great-great-grandfather, John Coker Yaun made. When he came to Baton Rouge at the turn of the last century, he settled near the ferry landing and opened a blacksmith shop.
“He shoed horses and made mechanical devices,” Yaun said.
Yaun’s great-grandfather, Jess Farish Yaun, worked with his father, “but he didn’t shoe horses. He repaired wagon wheels and made parts for wagons and repaired whatever was going back and forth across the river.”
Jess Farish Yaun went to work for what is now ExxonMobil and was one of a group of men sent to Lincoln Electric to learn how to use new electric welders, Yaun said.
He worked on the construction of the refinery and when they began building the levees, he crafted the metal scoops drawn by horses and mules to spread the material dredged from the river bottom.
“He was instrumental building the levees,” Yaun said.
The business soon grew to where they were making large buckets for draglines, clam-shell buckets and grapples and tongs.
“He built a two-tine, 10-ton, rock-tong for a construction company in Port Lavaca, Texas, that was building a jetty,” Yaun said, “so they could carefully place square, 10-ton rocks and stack them real neat.”
Under Yaun’s grandfather, Clifton, the business grew to a 200-person shop where Yaun’s father, Huey Sr., also worked and where Yaun also got his start.
“I’ve never done anything else,” Yaun said. “I worked in my grandfather’s machine shop when I was 14 years old as a janitor’s helper.”
Yaun graduated from Baton Rouge High in 1963, and when his grandfather’s shop was sold in 1968, he started his own two-person shop in 1969.
“I rented a 1,500-square-foot building on Darryl Drive and leased some tools,” he said. Over the years, he took some trade-school classes, some LSU finance classes and attended business seminars.
Early on, he hired Scott Tetlow, “the best move I ever made,” he said, who has been with him ever since.
“I have the passion, he’s got the know-how,” Yaun said. “He’s the company ‘guru.’ I get us in trouble and he gets us out of it.”
Yaun also credits a lot of his success to “my life-long business partner,” his wife of nearly 50 years, Maureen Tarleton Yaun, who recently retired. “We worked together side-by-side for 45 years.”
Yaun’s son, Brian, also works in the shop.
“He’s a very good machinist,” Yaun said, but he has little interest in management.
“We have a lot of passion about what we do,” Yaun said about his family and staff. “Every day is different and interesting. I’m not highly educated but I am passionate about what we do. That’s my driving force. I get up every morning ready to go to work. I’m happy going to work.”
His advice to young people?
“Don’t tell all those kids in school they have to go to college,” Yaun said. “Get a trade. I don’t care if it is a carpenter, a plumber, a machinist, a welder, a fitter, auto mechanic — there are a lot of good trades out there that make good money.”
Yaun is also optimistic about the future economy.
“Things are re-shoring, coming back to the United States,” Yaun said. “We are one of the most effective workforces in the world. We can do just about anything. We work very hard. We are energy independent; China is not, Japan is not.
“They do stuff cheap but they are limited to what they do,” he said. “One of our customers is trying to open a plant in China to build similar devices and they’re having a tough time.
“With natural gas, we will be a lot more self-sufficient. I see a lot of things coming back, but if they try to run it like they ran Detroit, it’s not going to make it,” Yaun said. “I’m not anti-union; there is a place for unions. But in Detroit they overdid it.”