Sheffield Metals is just 12 years old. In a historically manufacturing-rich place like Northeast Ohio, that qualifies as a newcomer. But, in those short years, Sheffield Metals International has formed an impressive presence in an unlikely fast-growing niche industry — metal roofing.

The company has set an example for others, rising from the steel belt to grow roses from the ashes. In fact, Sheffield Metals has turned its manufacturing-based business into a nationally in-demand success. It has shown that manufacturing can still be an important force in the national economy — it can just add an updated product representing a new industry.

Specifically, this company that was founded as a metal processing plant has evolved into the metal roofing/solar technology market. Its core business has been producing coils of steel that can be turned into customized metal roof systems for industrial and commercial applications.

Not only are metal roofs becoming more popular, so is solar technology. Sheffield incorporates solar technology by laminating thin film solar panels onto standing seam-metal roofing. The product is on the cutting edge of building technology — the highly reflective coating on the roofs reduces the surface temperature, offering energy efficiency. But it’s also aesthetically pleasing, durabile and sustainabile.

Sheffield Metals serves 300-400 regular contractors every month all over the country, providing the steel coils (in 40 different colors), customized engineering and drawings for each project. It also delivers technical support and all warranties appropriate to the end user. “We give them the materials and know how, and the contractors actually build custom roofs on site,” explains Jason Watts, vice president of business development.

As a smaller company — about 30 employees locally plus executives — Sheffield Metals focuses on a friendly, family-oriented environment, says Watts. That approach extends to the customers, making Sheffield Metals known in the industry for its uncommon customer service. “We want to make sure everyone we deal with — whether it’s a contractor or an end user — is completely comfortable and satisfied with their project. And we will see them through project completion and all the way through warranty servicing to make sure that happens,” he stresses.

It’s a business model that has helped the company grow — often from word-of-mouth recommendations. Today Sheffield Metals enjoys a successful $25 million in annual sales, with branches in Acworth, Georgia, Mansfield, Texas, and Denver, Colorado, and clients all across the nation. Even in an economy that is increasingly uncertain, growth and profit is expected in the coming years.

Sheffield Metals centers its business on three main products: COOLR©, TOPR™, SOLR™. COOLR is its main family of sustainable, energy-efficient roofs — which are essentially pre-painted steel panels. They’re sustainable because they last more than 35 years with minimal maintenance, are made of recycled content and are recyclable. They’re energy efficient because they are highly reflective and meet EPA Energy Star Products performance criteria.

Reflectivity is important. Traditional roofing materials that absorb instead of reflect heat raise temperatures just above and inside of the structure. This increases the need for air conditioning and raises utility costs. But reflective metal roofing reverses that condition, sending heat away from the structure and making it easier to keep it cool.

For even better energy efficiency, Sheffield Metals offers SOLR roofing systems that include a thin film of solar laminates that are fused to the roof to produce solar electricity for the attached structure. The laminates work a lot like traditional solar cells — using the sun’s rays to generate electricity — but they are more durable because they stand up to high winds and are lightweight. They’re so strong you can even walk on the roof without damaging the laminate.

Then, for structures with old, outdated metal roofs that need to be brought up to current building codes and benefit from new technology, there is TOPR. This is a retrofitted metal roof that perches right on top of the old roof, bringing stability, durability, safety and green technology without having to take apart and dispose of the old roofing system.

Lorain County might not seem like the stereotypical place to make something as high-tech as a solar energy product. That nod might go to Arizona or other sun-drenched states. But Watts assures that even places with overcast skies can benefit from solar power.

“We have more than enough sunny skies to make it work,” says Watts, explaining that thin film technology allows for a type of solar cell to be integrated into the metal roof that has triple junction capabilities — which means it absorbs three different light waves, important for places with a large number of overcast, cloudy days. “This way, we can use filtered light — not just direct light — to generate power.” He says that even with snow on the roof, power can be generated: “Snow is opaque as long as it’s clean.”

When studies are done to find out how much electricity is being generated by this technology, cloudy days are factored in to any data collected. “When we do an analysis, we subtract about 40 snow days that we don’t even plan on making power,” says Watts. Even with that, studies are turning up some very impressive results.

For instance, in January of this year, Sheffield Metals facilitated the installation of a photovoltaic roofing system on the 66,000-square-foot, two-story fitness center at Peterson Field House at Mount Union College. Now the building — which houses about 25 exercise machines, 16 televisions and other appliances — generates electricity. Think of it this way: a roof system with this capability could power seven homes for more than a year.

Data like this could be the harbinger that helps Sheffield Metals break into the residential building market. The company just has to wait for homebuyers to catch on to the idea of investing in a pricier roof that lasts much longer than a traditional shingle roof. They also need to get over the misconception that metal roofs are loud, says Watts, referring to the sound of high winds and rain hitting the surface. Since today’s roofs are so well insulated, noise is not a problem.

If you drive around a housing development, you’ll see that builders usually build roofs for an upfront cost of about $4,000 for a typical 2,000-square-foot house, says Watts. A metal roof for the same house would run $10,000-$14,000 (another $18,000-$35,000 to include solar technology). “Think of it as a lifetime roof that can last more than 50 years and comes with a 35-year paint warranty and 25-year coating warranty,” he says. “Plus it’s energy efficient, even without the solar panel upgrade, which means it pays you back on your electric bills.”

However, government incentives can make the roofs a little more affordable. In Ohio, for example, for the rest of year, the state has a grant program for residential solar projects, offering up to $25,000 to install a solar roof.

This kind of backing could be just the thing to nudge metal roofing into the residential mainstream, in turn sending a company like Sheffield Metals into the national spotlight.