Fabricating on the fast track

November 2, 2012
By: Dan Davis

UPI Manufacturing, Eagle, Wis., began with a noble thought: How can a company help out U.S. soldiers? The most obvious answer was to start manufacturing to support the war effort. So in 2003 the Dretzka family, who ran Underground Pipeline Inc., jumped into the metal manufacturing business. Since then, it's been a fast ride as the business has expanded.

In the years 2006-2009, UPI was honored with Supplier Excellence Gold Awards from the Defense Supply Center and named Innovative Business Performer of the Year by the Defense Logistics Agency. UPI is now a multimillion dollar business with 65 employees. On Nov. 1, the company hosted an open house to mark the expansion of the building it's been in since 2007; UPI added 36,000 sq. ft., which includes three bays, to its 24,000-sq.-ft. headquarters.

The interesting thing about UPI's skyrocketing growth is that the company really wasn't heavily involved in metal fabricating. It was doing mostly machining work prior to 2010. (The company currently has three vertical machining centers, two horizontal machining centers, and a CNC lathe.) At that time it invested in its first 90,000-PSI Flow waterjet table, which happened to have two cutting beds, allowing one to be loaded while cutting takes place on the other bed. Welding  was soon added as the company was bringing in more armor plate work. Today the company has 10 AWS-certified welders capable of working with armor plate, stainless steel, mild steel, and aluminum.

Is that the extent of their fabricating today? Hardly. UPI added another 90,000-PSI Flow waterjet with 5-axis cutting capability last year and recently acquired a new laser cutting machine and precision press brake.
"That tells you what the owners are thinking about. Buy big. Buy fast," said Mick Miller, quality assurance manager.
Actually, "recently" probably doesn't properly describe the time frame involved in delivering and installing the 4.4-kW BySpeed Pro CO2 laser cutting machine and an Xpert press brake from Bystronic Inc., Elgin, Ill. Both pieces of equipment were installed in a three-week period, with the finishing touches coming a lot sooner than some people planned.

"We were going to do this before the open house, and I was like, 'Do we really want to do this?'" Miller said.

The answer was "yes," and everything was ready to go by the open house date. Several military dignitaries and a representative from Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's office attended the event. All were able to see the laser cutting machine and press brake in action.

Of course, things aren't going to slow down for UPI anytime soon. The native American- and service disabled veteran-owned small business is having an 11-shelf storage tower installed next to its new laser cutting machine so that it can run unattended if needed. The company also is in the midst of a huge military contract that requires switching out doors on Humvees coming back from the wars overseas and preparing the vehicles for domestic use; the heavy-duty armored panels are being switched out with carbon-fiber doors that have a variety of aluminum parts attached to them.

"Serving our war fighters is what got us here," said Jeff Dretzka Jr., as he showed visitors around the newly expanded area.

For the near future, it also is likely to carry the company forward as well.
Dan Davis

Dan Davis

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