Looking back at 2007

January 4, 2008
By: Dan Davis

I just got back from an extended holiday break. My mind is still in holiday mode, and my stomach is in commode modetossing around like it"s being flushed.

Being that I"m not altogether here as I start 2008, let"s look back on an exciting 2007. Here are my Top 10 favorite memories from the past year:

  • The 2007 FABTECH International & AWS Welding Show proved to be a great event for metal fabricating and forming. Attendance topped 30,000, and exhibitors were pleased with attendees who were in a buying mood. This bodes well for the future as more modern fabricating and forming equipment means shops are becoming much more efficient, which may protect them from large work force reductions during slow economic times.

  • A June visit to American Standard, Salem, Ohio, showed me that American manufacturing in the Midwest is a long way from dead. The company, operating out of a building that had housed years of manufacturing history, was embarking on a new journey with the installation of an automated line to form bathtubs. The new technology helped to keep jobs in the U.S. and keep manufacturing tradition alive in this small Ohio town.

  • Better safe than saw awry. Man, that"s got to be my favorite headline of all time. It was for a story I wrote after a June visit to Kirsan Engineering Inc., Kenosha, Wis. The company developed their own material handling solution to feed a saw after a giant billet fell and broke an employee"s foot. They didn"t need a hugely expensive system. They did it themselves. Isn"t that what fabricating is all about?

  • Speaking of doing it themselves, how many fabricators create their own laser cutting system? That"s what Stealth Manufacturing, a tube fabricator in Savage, Minn., did. The company also developed its own pneumatic punching equipment and a productivity scoreboard to help keep track of employee efficiency. My April visit proved to me that the U.S. manufacturing base is not short of ingenuity.

  • Who says you can"t have summer fun in Albany, N.Y.? I visited Arcadia Waterjet , and the team there couldn"t have been more enthusiastic about the company or serving customers. Watching the company"s fleet of waterjet tables in action, including a 3-D table used to cut giant gears for power generation applications, was a sight to behold. Also, the trip to nearby Cooperstown, N.Y., to visit the Baseball Hall of Fame helped to make it even more enjoyable.

  • I exchange e-mails with Jim Caudle, president, J&B Specialty Tool Inc. One of the e-mails ended up becoming a feature, 6 structural steel lessons not found in books, that appeared in November 2007. Jim is basically a structural steel fabricator who wants to change the status quo he experienced in the industry over the years. He developed a beam gauge tool that helps to make correct measurements in the shop so there are fewer erector problems in the field. He"s frustrated that more people aren"t interested in his tool, but he still plugs away. I think he represents what"s good about fabricatorssmart, down-to-earth people capable of great ideas if others will listen. He"s battling cancer, and I wish him and his family the best.

  • Harco Metal Products, Tempe, Ariz., is looking for business partners. That"s what I learned on my February visit. Whereas many fabricating companies steer away from the crackpots who call and want to discuss an idea for some new metal product, Harco takes the calls. Many don"t pan out, but others do. As a result, the company now has steady work linked to some new-product development with which it was involved.

  • In April I visited Integrated Manufacturing Solutions, Shakopee, Minn. It"s a four-man shop that has two laser cutting machines hooked with automated material loading and unloading. Thanks to good job shop software and CAD/CAM, the equipment just goes and goes. Sometimes the best things come in small packages.

  • Rob Marelli and Seconn Fabrication, Waterford, Conn., understand what it takes to survive in the metal fabricating business. It"s not about monetary goals; it"s about meeting customer expectations. My visit to his shop will be covered in a story that will appear in the February 2008 issue of The FABRICATOR. The company also happens to be the 2008 recipient of the magazine"s Industry Award. It"s a shame everyone can"t spend an afternoon with the Seconn Fabrication team like I did in early December.

  • My favorite memory of 2007 was a chat I had with Tony Leto, executive vice president, sales and marketing, The Wagner Companies, Milwaukee . It occurred in August, but revolved around a holiday themeFestivus poles. For those unaware, Festivus is a faux holiday that originated in a Seinfeld episode. One of the show"s characters came up with the idea for the holiday to rebuke the commercialism associated with the holiday season. Well, Leto saw an opportunity for Wagner, a manufacturer of ornamental fixtures, handrails, and other items for architectural applications, to join in the fun. So the company started making Fesitvus polesdull, lusterless aluminum polesand selling them on the Internet. This is a company that truly understands the idea of incorporating fun into the company business.
Dan Davis

Dan Davis

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