Experience at Work: A Look at Olin Brass Technical Services in Action

If you ask Aaron Barklage what makes Olin Brass Technical Services the best in the business, his answer can be summed up in a single word:

“Experience. That’s the key, no question about it,” said Barklage, the Olin Brass Technical Services Manager. “Among our TSEs [Technical Services Engineers], we have three guys whose combined experience with the company totals over 90 years. I’d say they know as much about this business as anyone anywhere.”

That’s why he’s quick to defer to them when asked for examples that illustrate the team’s exceptional capabilities. “I’m only three years into this industry, which is next to nothing compared to most of our team.” said Barklage, a metallurgical engineer who joined Olin Brass in 2011 after spending nearly a decade in engineering management with Caterpillar. He points to Dave Brueckner, a 35-year Olin Brass veteran who has been a TSE for the last 30 years, as an example of the difference experience makes.

“Dave works primarily on our automotive accounts, and after all the years he’s put in, there aren’t many problems he hasn’t seen,” Barklage said. “Recently, I personally witnessed how much that can mean to a customer.”

“One of his clients, an automotive stamper, was having trouble with metal running through a complex stamping die. They were stumped because nothing appeared to be ‘wrong’ – the strip met all the correct specifications. For Dave, that signaled  it was time to ‘let the metal do the talking’ – which meant gathering samples and taking a trip to the East Alton Metallurgy Lab.

“He quickly identified the cause of the problem and, with help from Brian Stacks in process engineering, was able to resolve it by implementing some slitting improvements to the metal strip. The result was product that worked flawlessly in the customer’s press.”

This is a good example of what Barklage calls “meeting the unspoken needs of the customer,” a talent he said only comes from experience. For Olin Brass, it is a critical tool for maintaining and retaining loyal clients – and occasionally, for gaining new ones.

“Last year, Dennis Mueller [another member of the Technical Services team] got a call from A. J. Oster with a request for technical support,” Barklage said. “It seems they [Oster] had received a call from a small manufacturer who was having an issue with the formability of an alloy they had purchased from one of our competitors.

“For whatever reason, the competitor’s tech services staff either couldn’t or wouldn’t resolve the problem. So the customer called Warwick [A. J. Oster East], who in turn contacted Dennis.

“After consulting with our Metallurgical Laboratory in East Alton, Dennis was able to identify the source of the problem and propose a solution, which involved some slightly different processing on our end. But he didn’t stop there.

“Instead, with a little bit of luck and a great deal of persistence, he very quickly managed to get a sample of the reprocessed alloy – our alloy – delivered to the customer’s facility. It worked perfectly, of course. And the end result? Olin Brass wound up with a brand new customer, thanks to Dennis’s efforts.” 

Barklage stressed that stories like Mueller’s and Brueckner’s, while exceptional, are not at all uncommon. As far as his TSEs are concerned, it’s all in a day’s work.

“Talk to the guys in my group, and you’ll see what I mean,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of pride in their technical skills, and they’re always eager to tackle any problem, take on any challenge. It’s the most rewarding kind of work there is.”

Their customers couldn’t agree more.

 A subsidiary of Global Brass and Copper Holdings, Inc., Olin Brass is a world leader in its own right, one of the oldest, most innovative and diverse producers of copper alloys and products in the world. With six domestic operating units and an international group serving Asia and the Pacific Rim, the organization is poised to maintain and expand its presence in copper markets worldwide.  For more information, please visit