Using job shop habits for a custom project

Michigan welder, machinist finds specialty jig-building a viable business option

PRACTICAL WELDING TODAY® NOVEMBER/DECEMBER 2006

November 7, 2006

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Although custom welding fixtures may be just one of Ed Sauvola's current jobs, it has become one of the main business opportunities he is pursuing while deciding which track is best for his one-man shop.

Like any good businessman, Ed Sauvola wants to take his company in a successful direction.

That's why this instructor-artist-welder-machinist was interested in the challenge of designing custom welding fixtures for a manufacturer in his area.

Sauvola (see introductory photo) has plenty of experience and ambition when it comes to getting job shop work and designing new products. Much of this experience and ingenuity came in handy for Sauvola when he got his first request for quote for a custom fixture.

Applying Job Shop Speed to a Custom Project

Sauvola knows all about last-minute job shop work, but his first major request for a custom fixture put that experience to use in a different way.

While on vacation in New Hampshire with his family, Sauvola got an unexpected phone call from Leo Niemela, part owner of Northern Tool & Engineering, Baraga, Mich., who wanted to know if Sauvola could make custom fixtures for his nephews' company, Rockit Corp., Calumet, Mich.

Rockit Corp. is known for its 12-way blade, used in earthmoving and construction equipment (see Figure 1). The wings on the blade expand with the touch of a lever. The company also is gearing up to launch a new product line of spreaders designed for use with pickup trucks. The company also manufactured a snowplow line, which it has since sold to WESTERN® Snowplows.

Initially the jigs the manufacturer wanted were for its snowplow line. At the time all fit-up was done freehand by the company's research and development staff. As demand grew for its products, the manufacturer decided it was time to find a new fixturing method that would allow workers to maintain tighter tolerances and build products more quickly.

"The accuracy of the fixtures is critical with high production," said Dan Meyers, Rockit's manufacturing manager.

Sauvola hadn't had this type of opportunity before, but Rockit needed fixtures as quickly as possible, so he had no time to waste. While still vacationing in New Hampshire, Sauvola bought some of Rockit's products to start designing a fixture that would allow the main part of the blade to be gas metal arc-welded quickly with tolerances intact.

While Rockit had its goals in mind for fixturing, so did Sauvola: He needed to design a fixture that he could manufacture in his small, home-based shop.

The Winning Design: Rods and Ribs

Considering Rockit's goals, as well as fixture manufacturability, Sauvola decided on a rod-and-rib design (see Figures 2and 3). This design allows access to all sides of a part and helps eliminate spatter, which collected in pockets of the parts when they were welded on the freehand-designed jigs.

Meyers said that Sauvola's fixture design allows them to use it with more than one part, has improved the company's manufacturing efficiency, allows full access to the welds, lets workers weld a complete component in one setup, and offers operator comfort.

"The interlocking nature guarantees part placement and helps save a lot of time," Meyers said. Currently the fixtures use manual clamps, but eventually, Sauvola said, they will be powered by hydraulic clamps once production increases.

As for manufacturability, Sauvola worked this out with his design as well—along with some help from Rockit.

The fixture is mostly laser-cut, which Rockit does, but Sauvola takes care of the machining, bolting, and welding processes required for assembly.

Meyers sees this as the kind of partnership many manufacturers and job shops strive to foster in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

"Building a relationship with other businesses is very important," he said.

Working with Sauvola to manufacture the fixtures the company needed also is in line with another Rockit strategy, according to Meyers.

'We try to keep it in-house as much as possible," he said.

Fixtures: The Right Direction to Take?

Although making custom welding fixtures is just one of Sauvola's current jobs, it's one he sees a future for. Someday he'd like to design a modular version of his fixtures.

For now Sauvola said he'll keep searching for the best opportunity for his company, whether it's his custom fixtures or a whole new idea.

"I'm just taking things as they come and trying to stay afloat," he said.

Ed Sauvola, Edvantage Inc., 20990 Worham Road, Chassell, MI 49916, 906-481-5111, edvantage@up.net



Stephanie Vaughan

Contributing Writer

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