Honor and influence

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

Marty Rice and Nelson Dockery at the christening of the USS Gerald R. Ford Aircraft Carrier.

Today is my dad’s birthday. If he were alive, he would be 89 years old. Sadly, he passed away at the young age of 48. He served in World War II honorably, enlisting when he was 17. Well, he lied about his age to go into the military, but for an honorable reason. He lived his life honorably, and as a band director, he taught many young people who still remember and revere him. How do I know? Because many have reached out to me over the years to share stories about how he influenced them. He took a personal interest in each child he taught and strived to help them achieve their potential. In some cases, he was the major positive influence in their lives.

In my years covering metal fabricating, I’ve seen others who remind me of my dad in how they relate to and care for the young people they teach and mentor. Welding instructor Marty Rice is one of them. Read the rest of this entry »

Day 3 of FABTECH

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

Day 3 of FABTECH® 2013, and my mind is filled with all things fabricating. At a booth visit earlier today, an exhibitor asked what my colleagues and I are seeing that’s new and unique. Where to begin. Read the rest of this entry »

A reporter’s notebook from FABTECH

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
By: Tim Heston

FABTECH® is on. It’s big---well on track to be the largest to date. Before Thursday’s close, it’s anticipated that more than 35,000 will walk the halls of McCormick Place. It’s flashy. Solid-state lasers are cutting thin, but also thick stock. I saw a 1-micron laser slice through 1 inch plate like nobody’s business, and leave a clean edge.

In stamping, I saw new laser blanking technology--a coil-fed system with three laser heads working in concert. In forming, I saw a press brake control that accepts voice commands. In welding, I saw a robot programmed not with a teach pendant, and not with offline programming, but with a welder grabbing the arm and guiding it across points of the weld.
Read the rest of this entry »

A bright spot in an otherwise dark day

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

Early on the morning of November 17, with severe storms forecast in Chicago, my husband turned to me and said, “It’s your call.” Translation: You decide whether we are going to participate in RUN4MFG, a 5k run/walk sponsored by FABTECH® hosts the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, Intl.® (FMA), the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the American Welding Society (AWS), the Precision Metalforming Association (PMA), and the Chemical Coaters Association International (CCAI). The race was to start at 9 a.m., and the storms were forecast to hit the area by 10. My call? Let’s do it. Read the rest of this entry »

What is your business?

Thursday, November 14th, 2013
By: Dan Davis

Gerald Davis, The FABRICATOR’s Precision Matters columnist, writes an interesting capper to his yearlong series on estimating in the publication's December issue. In it, he discusses optimization of the quoting process so that it matches the true focus of the metal fabricating business. The estimates that are being sent out have to reflect the type of work that the shop is good at or wants to pursue. If a shop wants to win low-volume, high-margin work like prototyping services, it needs to include the correct pricing and delivery information that is likely to match the customer’s desires.

It reminded me of a question that gets bandied about sometimes when I visit metal fabricating companies: What is the company’s business?

It sounds stupid, but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in other activities that take attention away from the focus on the customer. That’s not where a metal fabricator wants to be.

During the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association’s SoftwareFAB Workshop & Tours in late October, participants had the opportunity to visit Chirch Global Manufacturing, Cary, Ill. Chirch recently made the move to the Epicor Express cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) software package. (The “cloud” means that the metal fabricator does not host the ERP software on its own servers, but rather accesses it through an Internet connection to Epicor servers.)

Anthony Chirchirillo, the company’s CEO, described the move as a smart one for his company. Using the software, Chirch doesn’t have to worry about attracting and retaining hard-to-find information technology (IT) talent. It doesn’t need to keep track of software releases, as Epicor updates the ERP program automatically as part of the contractual relationship. It doesn’t have to set aside as many funds for hardware investment and maintenance because it doesn’t have a room full of servers.

“We didn’t want to be in the IT business,” Chirchirillo said.

On a recent visit to nexAir, a Memphis, Tenn., welding gas supplier and equipment distributor, I was touring its newly renovated downtown facility, which now has a 4,500-square-foot equipment demonstration room, and the conversation turned to shipping of components, tools, and equipment from its warehouse. Patrick Galphin, the company’s director of marketing, pointed out shipments all with the appropriate labeling, lined up on the floor and ready for UPS pickup, and referenced a time when nexAir trucks used to drive around with less-than-full loads, wasting gas and time. Why spend the time and effort to figure out a more efficient delivery means when they could turn over responsibility to one of the world’s largest logistics specialists, which happened to have multiple vans and planes ready at the nearby airport?

“We weren’t interested in getting into the transportation business,” Galphin said.

Of course, metal fabricators can have a homegrown IT infrastructure and a fleet of its own delivery trucks and still run a successful business. But in today’s economic environment, where companies have to do more with less, it makes sense to take a new look at all aspects of a business operation. Even lean organizations have to satisfy customers’ demands or face lean times on the revenue side of things.

So let’s revisit the question: What is a metal fabricator’s business?

It’s the customer satisfaction business, and that occurs only when the customer is paying for the time and effort put into its fabricated metal parts. That customer is not that interested in supporting other aspects of the metal fabricator’s business.

The greatest show in fabricating

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

The holiday season is fast approaching, and what better way for fabricators to kick it off than by holding their own extravaganza celebrating metal manufacturing and its technology. FABTECH® truly is an extravaganza—a spectacular array of the latest equipment and software for producing metal products and running shops, accompanied by a cacophony of sounds only fabricators can fully appreciate.

OK. Enough with the hyperbole. Suffice it to say, I am looking forward to attending FABTECH 2013, Nov. 18-21 in Chicago, where I will see and hear machinery in action; catch up with old friends in fabricating and meet new people who have joined the industry; listen to discussions about the state of fabricating and the economy; learn about new products; and sit in on educational events. And I will do my job. Read the rest of this entry »

The future of the laser in metal fabrication

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013
By: Tim Heston

This time next week I’ll be walking the floor at McCormick Place, seeing what’s new, what’s unusual, and perhaps a little about what the future holds in metal fabrication.

Even after years covering FABTECH®, I feel like a kid at a candy store. Sometimes I think about what the industry will look like for my kid, decades from now. There are all sorts of pie-in-the-sky concepts out there. Will additive manufacturing make component fabrication and (especially) machining obsolete? Will smart nano-technologies allow for parts to “grow” themselves?  Will I live out Star Trek, and tell a machine, “tea, Earl Grey, hot”--in a cool British accent, though I’ll have a French name--so it can conjure up a cup out of thin air? (Apologies to the non-Trekkies out there.)

Several technologies may not be so far-fetched, and a few of them will be on display at FABTECH. One I’m watching is laser blanking. The concept has been around for years. It has graced the pages of both The FABRICATOR and STAMPING Journal. Coil-fed laser blanking finally has hit the market in a significant way, and it’s probably here to stay—but will it remain a niche, or will it grow into something bigger?

Read the rest of this entry »


Wednesday, November 6th, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

As promised, here are some positive comments from “Welding Wire” readers about their experiences dealing with today’s young workers.

First up is Dan, who works for a Michigan-based company that touts its “benchmark craftsmanship by certified welders.” Dan said, “I like to work with the younger work force. Most of them are great kids and highly motivated. I volunteer my time to help judge the Skills USA welding competition held each year here in Michigan with high school kids. I have found many good workers (at the competition). Read the rest of this entry »

Can get some satisfaction

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
By: Dan Davis

Leading a tour of Southern Metalcraft Inc., Lithonia, Ga., as part of The FABRICATOR’s Technology Summit in early October, shop management jokingly referred to an employee with 23 years of experience as a “rookie.” When the second worker ever hired by the almost 40-year-old company still shows up on a semiregular basis for work, that wisecrack is more truth than joke.

That scenario is playing out all across metal fabricating facilities in North America. Older workers know the manufacturing processes and understand the company culture of a job shop, and management is increasingly reluctant to let go of them. Company owners and managers seemingly are turned off by the job seekers that show up on their doorsteps, so if they can keep good workers around—even into their later years—they are happy. Senior Editor Tim Heston covered such a company in 2012. Read the rest of this entry »

Those who do well really shine

Thursday, October 31st, 2013
By: Vicki Bell

The October “Welding Wire” e-newsletter asked readers to share their observations about today’s workforce, specifically, younger workers. You can always count on “Welder Wire” workers to respond and to do so with candor and conviction. Based on their responses, there are some issues with some young workers, but also reason for hope that things are not as dire as they may seem. Isn’t that the way it’s been for most generations? Here’s what some had to say: Read the rest of this entry »