A most excellent fabricator

Pride, passion, and perseverancethese p's help separate BEGNEAUD Manufacturing Inc. from the rest of the pod

The FABRICATOR April 2004
April 6, 2004
By: Dan Davis

A South Louisiana fabricator believes success in his fabricating endeavors involves a pride in workmanship, a passion in the craft, and perseverance in being the best. After 11 building expansions, Don Begneaud can say he has found a winning business philosophy.

One recent afternoon Don Begneaud was on the phone with his contractor trying to drive home a point.

"I don't want to drill shafts. I don't want to hear that we have to drill shafts," he said.

It was an indication to the visiting reporter that, despite his friendly demeanor, Begneaud means business. BEGNEAUD Manufacturing Inc., the company founded and run by the man behind the desk, is in the midst of another expansion. Having done this more than 10 times since 1978, when the company was first incorporated in Lafayette, La., Begneaud is confident in his knowledge of raising roofs, knocking out walls, and building new ones. The debate is whether there is a need to drill shafts in the new 22,000-square-foot building across the street to support the new automated laser cutting equipment and accompanying storage and retrieval tower system.

"It's not that I don't mind hearing that," he said after hanging up the phone, "but I thought we were past [this point]. If it's later proved that we need to drill shafts, we'll do it. But right now I don't want to do it."

It sounds like a "my way or the highway" mentality, but it's not. Begneaud believes in having experienced people make decisions and execute those decisions sooner rather than later. Mistakes are accepted just as long as the lessons are learned and those lessons lead to better results down the road.

His approach to business, and life for that matter, has served Begneaud well over the last 26 years. From a welding services company that first operated out of the back of a truck, BEGNEAUD has evolved into a precision sheet metal job shop, employing nearly 52 people and serving customers in the oil and gas, food processing, architecture, aviation, communications, and medical industries. Also during this time Begneaud has been actively involved in his community, pursued educational endeavors related to fabricating, and fostered closer relationships with his employees.

BEGNEAUD Manufacturing relies on vacuum grips to move sheet metal at many of its laser cutting stations, but the company plans to incorporate more automated material handling in future equipment upgrades.

As part of his life outside his company, Begneaud has served on the board of the Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International® (FMA), the publisher of The FABRICATOR®, since 2001. This is how FMA board members and staff got a first-hand lesson about business the Begneaud way.

"Don Begneaud is the metal fabrication industry's representative of the American dream. Through his self-described passion for metal and his desire to overcome obstacles, he has grown a very successful and diverse business in Cajun country," said George Eberl, president of Eberl Iron Works Inc. and former chairman of the FMA board.

To recognize Begneaud's contributions to the industry, FMA awarded him and his company its Award of Excellence at a ceremony that coincided with FABTECH® International in Chicago last November.

Not a History Lesson

BEGNEAUD Manufacturing serves a variety of customers in several industries, but the company still fabricates a lot of products, such as these electrical enclosures, for oil and gas customers.

This story is not meant to be a historical piece. In fact, The FABRICATOR®did that in February 2001 (see "Company philosophy is based on a novel idea: common sense," page 56). This story is meant to showcase one person's approach to his livelihood and his commitment to the metal fabricating trade—traits that easily stand out to those who meet Begneaud and members of his team.

Actually, Begneaud makes it pretty easy to understand where his beliefs about life and business come from. He's spelled it out in presentations with key business partners.

But the presentation is only the beginning. When Begneaud tells a story, it's rarely heard the same way it was originally told. Begneaud is not afraid to veer off course, introduce a new face, or provide a thorough explanation when a question is raised.

Fortunately, the self-diagnosed sufferer of attention deficit disorder has boiled it down to p's and q's. Begneaud points to pride, passion, and perseverance as the three legs that support BEGNEAUD Manufacturing and all its quality efforts.

Matter of Pride

Begneaud said the pride that permeates his work comes from his mother. She was fiercely proud of her French-Acadian heritage and passed that along to her children.

Begneaud's pride, however, extends beyond his genetic makeup. It extends to all he does. When your name is on the front door of a business, that's a lot to be concerned about.

Most of all, it's pride in the way his company delivers quality fabrications.

The company is predominantly a sheet metal fabricator, but some jobs have forced it to outsource some machining work to meet end-customer requirements. Begneaud recently purchased a Gildemeister lathe to help him keep some of that work in-house. "The true core competency of this place is welding. Welding got me into sheet metal, and the combination has led me into machining," Don Begneaud said.

Phil Stutes of Fugro Chance Inc., an offshore positioning and survey company, said in a recent issue of The Innovator, BEGNEAUD Manufacturing's newsletter, that he appreciates when Begneaud's metal fabricating experts come back to his company with improvements on their original designs. For example, BEGNEAUD produces a tripod for Fugro Chance that supports a rotating scanning sonar device that takes ultrasonic pictures of the ocean floor. The tripod is fabricated using aluminum sheet metal, aluminum pipe, and aluminum round bar, which is saw-cut, to form the tripod legs. BEGNEAUD encouraged the use of its TRUMPF lasers to cut the sheet metal and aluminum pipe because, when it comes time for assembly, the consistently cut parts always fit.

In another example, BEGNEAUD redesigned ICEE® machines, which dispense a slushy, sugary treat, for ICEE Distributors Inc. Company designers recommended using traditional sheet metal technology to form a skeletal structure after seeing that the old interior frames were constructed of saw-cut angle iron that was welded together. The ICEE machines' inner casings now are constructed from sheet metal that has been laser-cut, punched, and formed on a press brake. Begneaud said the results are a uniform product every time.

Begneaud believes the ability to look at a product and find a better and usually more efficient way to fabricate it is a result of cross-training. If a draftsman has experience with a press brake, he said, that person is more likely to create plans that can be executed easily on the shop floor.

"[Training] is necessary for us to go from a great company to a greater company," he said.

Donna Robicheaux, the company's head of training, said the key to making the cross-training more effective is downplaying the traditional classroom approach to learning and emphasizing hands-on experience. Robicheaux should know; she spent her first three weeks at the company working on the shop floor.

The cross-training applies to everyone. Even Begneaud's assistant, Dawn Comeaux, has spent time working with punch machines, press brakes, and finishing equipment. In addition to her duties with marketing and administration, she also works the TRUMPF VectorMark® laser etching machine.

As part of his belief in serving the needs of the metal fabricating industry, Don Begneaud and his company hosted a Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, lean manufacturing conference in December 2003.

The cross-training is also necessary because BEGNEAUD continually invests in new equipment with cutting-edge capabilities. In 1990 Begneaud purchased his first CNC machine, a TRUMPF Minimatic 100 punch press, and from there he's made a habit of investing in the TRUMPF brand. He said he was the first fabricator in North America to own the V50 press brake, the VectorMark, Qualifier 2500 measuring device, and TC 6000L punch and laser combination machine. In all, the company employs four press brakes, three punch presses, one laser etching machine, one laser welding device, and five laser cutting machines, including a tube cutter, for its fabricating endeavors. Begneaud intended to get his newest prizes, a TRUMPF TLF 5000 laser cutter and a STOPA automated material storage and retrieval tower, up and running in early 2004.

Fruit of His Passion

Begneaud's passion for his work, he said, comes from his father. If no passion exists for work, no chance exists for happiness, according to Begneaud.

Early on Begneaud discovered his passion for learning how to do things other than the typically deemed correct way. He said his teachers constantly harangued him for spending time looking for alternate ways to solve math problems rather than memorizing the way dictated in the textbook.

That inquisitive nature gradually led him to tinkering in his spare time. In his office, Begneaud has a picture of himself, members of his family, and a windmill model that he fabricated out of an old pineapple can, a used tripod, and old wires.

"I didn't think, 'What is it that I want to do?' Begneaud said. "I just did what I always enjoyed doing.

"And I didn't do this because I wanted to make money," he added.

Begneaud is firm in this belief. He's not in the business to create money-making opportunities. He wants to create value.

Begneaud believes that the raw material that is delivered to his shop has a core value and the company's employees improve upon that. Through fabrication using high-tech equipment operated by a skilled work force, the company turns a piece of sheet metal into an end product that is highly valued by the customer, who is then ready to pay for that transformation.

In this case, money is rarely exchanged anymore, according to Begneaud. Another form of "value exchange," usually in the form of a company check or credit card payment, takes place, he said.

"I measure success by the amount of value created when overcoming obstacles rather than in dollars and cents," Begneaud said.

He also likes helping people, and he loves metal fabricating. Through his company, he touches the lives of many people—employees, customers, and sometimes people he may never meet face-to-face—and he continues his love affair.

Follow this thinking: He corrects an employee who's driving a forklift and helps her rebalance the payload so the forklift doesn't tip over. Begneaud enjoys helping this employee improve her forklift skills and probably averts a big mess down the road. The employee appreciates Begneaud's informal approach to constructive criticism and becomes less likely to tip over the forklift. In the end, it can be argued that this approach results in time and cost savings.

Begneaud extends his passion for metalworking beyond his four walls. Once again, it's not about the money.

If a group comes to him for a donation, he's likely to think of a way that his company's metal fabricating skills can help out. For example, the company created a metal tree with attachable metal leaves for the organizer of a German festival. When festival organizers lined up a corporate sponsor, the sponsor was honored with a leaf bearing its laser-etched name on the tree. The company also created information kiosks for other Lafayette-area festivals and giant logos bearing the moniker Ragin' Cajuns for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

He also gives back to the metal fabricating industry. He routinely hosts a meeting for TRUMPF equipment users and recently welcomed nearly 30 metal fabricators to his company for a lean manufacturing workshop co-sponsored with FMA. In both instances, the meetings take place in a building next door to the original structure, where BEGNEAUD employees share Wednesday breakfasts before companywide meetings and Friday company luncheons before wrapping up their week's work.

Begneaud is passionate in his belief that his way to run a business—even if it's not the way taught in M.B.A. school—works best for him.

"M.B.A. school will teach you the most profitable way to do things. M.B.A. schools teach you how to determine where you need to go and help you build a road map," he said. "I know I want to explore. I enjoy it.

"Let's go."

Perseverance Pays

Begneaud isn't going anywhere soon. He's good at sticking around.In 1982 the oil patch that had served so many people so well on the Gulf Coast for so many years went bust. BEGNEAUD, which had plenty of oilfield customers, was caught in the downturn with everyone else. Begneaud said he had customers who had no income coming in and as a result couldn't pay him.

Instead of filing for bankruptcy, Begneaud sold his car and sailboat, rented his house, moved into the shop, and negotiated a loan from his father at a 15 percent interest rate. In the 2002 edition of his newsletter, Begneaud called his business tribulations in the early 1980s his first serious brush with "the potential perils of entrepreneurship."

Of course, the perils didn't end there. During the most recent economic slowdown, Begneaud followed through with his intent to purchase a TRUMPF Tubematic laser tube and pipe system and to construct a two-story welding facility next door to the original facility.

Through it all, he said he remains committed to metal fabricating and the people who assist him in serving the customer base. The bottom line is second in line in determining priorities.

"It's a good blueprint for success," said Dennis Nybo, a manufacturers representative with Hegman Machine Tools and FMA chairman of the board. "You have to believe in what you're doing and love what you're doing. You can definitely succeed in any business if you approach it with that kind of mindset."

Determined, inquisitive, and open-minded—it's a mindset that has proven successful for Begneaud and his company's employees and customers. The FMA recognized the winning combination, and ultimately Begneaud's general contractor will do the same.

BEGNEAUD Manufacturing Inc., 306 E. Amedee Drive, Lafayette, LA 70583, www.begno.com
Eberl Iron Works Inc., 128 Sycamore St., Buffalo, NY 14204-1492, www.eberliron.com
Fabricators & Manufacturers Association, International, 833 Featherstone Road, Rockford, IL 61107-6302, www.fmanet.org
Fugro Chance Inc., 200 Dulles Drive, Lafayette, LA 70506, www.fugrochance.comHegman Machine Tools, 10925 Girard Curve, Bloomington, MN 55431
ICEE Distributors Inc., 1513 Swan Lake Road, Bossier City, LA 71111, www.iceedistributors.com
TRUMPF Inc., 111 Hyde Road, Farmington, CT 06032, www.us.trumpf.com
FMA Communications Inc.

Dan Davis

FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-227-8281

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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