OM Member Spotlight: How US Frame Factory Founders Use J.I.T. Manufacturing to Run their Business Lean

by | Sep 19, 2023 | Startup Stories

Picture this: It’s a regular Monday evening, around 4:43 PM, and 24 year old Mateo Atwi is winding down at his warehouse. Suddenly, his phone lights up with an area code from eastern Pennsylvania. The next thing you know, steel coils from Ohio are rolling into the Port of Iberia. Flash forward just 5 hours, and that same steel is now fully transformed into sturdy metal studs and on its way to a development in the Philly suburbs.

US Frame Factory Founder Mateo Atwi

US Frame Factory Founder Mateo Atwi

Mateo Atwi’s journey is anything but typical. A Louisiana native and Georgia Tech graduate with dreams of working in the aerospace industry after completing his internship with NASA, Mateo’s life took an unexpected turn when the opportunity to work for a modular manufacturing startup in Atlanta arose. In 2021, Mateo decided to parlay that experience into starting his own company, US Frame Factory, in South Louisiana.

“Opportunity Machine mentors were some of the first people we spoke with when developing our strategy. Whitney Savoie and Wade Berzas were extremely beneficial in helping us understand and formulate marketing and overall business strategies,” shared Tiago, Mateo’s brother and co-founder.

The initial idea? Crafting modular rural healthcare clinics for underserved areas. That was until the pandemic hit, driving up prices and causing construction material shortages. That’s when Mateo started pondering, ‘Can I make my own metal studs for framing more cost-effectively than buying them?’

How could a small company compete in the huge steel manufacturing ecosystem? The answer, Mateo believes, lies in a Japanese manufacturing concept: Just-in-Time Manufacturing (JITM). It’s all about small efficient factories, small batch sizes, and holding little to no inventory. Toyota is a prominent proponent of JITM.

Mateo got acquainted with JITM in college and saw metal framing as a perfect fit. Historically, the machines required for this process need a significant power source, regular maintenance, and are known for their high cost and loud noise levels. Fortunately, in recent years, smaller roll-forming machines have been developed, lowering the barrier to entry and allowing machines to operate in tighter facilities.

Another factor that suits JITM is the compact raw material. To put it in perspective, a typical 3-bedroom house might have about 12,000 lbs of steel. ‘Our warehouse isn’t massive, just 6,000 sq. ft., but because of these dense coils, we can store over 200,000 lbs,’ Mateo explains. Still, their goal is to keep inventory lean and process quickly. On a good day, they can handle over 20,000 lbs of steel. ‘The goal is to keep the company cash-positive and only buy steel to process that we’ve already sold.’ This approach, coupled with down payments from clients, allows them to tackle large-scale production without relying on credit lines.

A project in Sarasota Florida the US Frame Factory supplied metal studs for

A project in Sarasota Florida the US Frame Factory supplied metal studs for

In the US, metal studs are traditionally sold through distributor chains supplied by large factories. To get a price, the buyer calls and requests a quote. US Frame Factory takes a different approach than traditional wholesalers, using transparent pricing and online sales portals with instant quoting systems. US Frame Factory sells directly to the end-users, reducing costs. “We keep a light sales team, relying on inbound leads from the internet,” says Tiago, Mateo’s brother and Co-founder. “We’re young guys; I’m 27, Mateo’s 24. We don’t have many connections or established relationships with developers and contractors, so we rely on fast service and competitive pricing.”

JITM has been a game-changer for US Frame Factory, resonating with clients across 15 states. Their latest venture? Supplying steel for a 180-room hotel in New Orleans. Looking ahead, Mateo and Tiago have their sights set on further growth in the commercial sector, with dreams of making waves in the residential market, shaping a dynamic future for steel.

To learn more about US Frame Factory, visit