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OEM Report: Automotive

Crafting classics

By Gretchen Salois

Skilled fabricators revitalize the iconic Cadillac

August 2012 - The General Motors-owned Cadillac has a long history in the United States. The luxury vehicle’s reputation as a well-engineered machine with aesthetic appeal has car enthusiasts seeking models no longer in production and often in disrepair. At Fen Enterprises, Wappingers Falls, N.Y., the family-owned restoration shop works exclusively on Cadillac models spanning the early 1900s to 1985.

Frank Nicodemus is one of the shop workers who fabricates the often weather-worn and struggling vehicles, restoring their original charm. The majority of vehicles that come into the shop need some type of sheet metal work, says Nicodemus.

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Nicodemus learned his fabricating skills from his father as well as “hanging around the shop” while growing up in the family business. His parents, avid Cadillac lovers, started Fen 21 years ago, and his mother, Elsa, still handcrafts the interiors of the cars that come in.

“Most of the fabricating we do is on the external panels,” Nicodemus says. “The face value of the car, its outside skin.” He says 18-gauge steel is preferable because it is priced moderately and easier to use. However, since the cars are usually made from plain steel instead of stainless, rust is often a factor and as a result, require rust repairs.
Often, Cadillac convertibles are the most extreme culprits because they are more susceptible to water leaks. “Water stays in the carpet and rots it out, so we need to do a lot of metal repairs,” he adds.

Careful characteristics
Unlike a typical auto body shop, Fen works on vehicles that never had a factory-ready mold on the assembly line. Many of the vehicles that enter Fen’s doors were not mass-produced and parts are more scarce or vary in size or dimension. “We MIG weld everything here,” Nicodemus says. “MIG welding allows us to do a heavy type of metal and it’s very flexible—you can weld it from 18 gauge to 1/16 in. or 1/2-in.-thick steel plate—a wide range.”

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Useful for auto body work, Nicodemus says it takes a skilled welder to mend metal to create a fender patch or 1/4-in. panel out of sheet steel. He says when making a fender, often a necessary task when working on a restoration, the worker takes a sheet of metal and makes it by hand. On an ordinary car, there’s a fender lip, a small edge, on the inside of the fender. “Older cars have that as well. In order to make that edge, depending on whether it’s compound or convex, you use a stretcher or shrinker to make edges to bend and shrink the metal. Ours here are hand operated; we find it more precise than foot-operated options,” he says.

While most of the tools look basic, the results are impressive. Using tools such as an English wheel, workers form metal into desired shapes. Another method is where a piece of metal is laid down and “if it’s a really round piece of metal, you have to sandbag or beat into the metal. You put the large sandbag, which is wrapped in leather, and with a rubberized round hammer, make the edge needed,” he says.

Using a shear, workers cut precise, straight edges. “The hand-held shear is smaller and cuts from a couple of inches up to a foot,” Nicodemus says. “We have a foot-operated brake shear and that will do up to 5 ft.”

The shop outsources die making to a local job shop. “If you wanted to make a part with half an indent, you would use a two-part die for the top and bottom edges,” he says, noting Fen has the parts made according to Cadillac specifications.

“We’re always trying to come up with more productive ways to do things here,” Nicodemus says. “Really, it comes down to the individual’s ability to build cars.” FFJ

Sources

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Company Profiles

AIR FILTRATION

IRONWORKERS

NESTING SOFTWARE

SERVICE CENTERS

Camfil APC - Equipment Trilogy Machinery Inc. Metamation Inc. Admiral Steel
Camfil APC - Replacement Filters

LASER TECHNOLOGY

PLASMA TECHNOLOGY

Alliance Steel
Donaldson Company Inc. AMADA AMERICA, INC. Messer Cutting Systems Inc.

SOFTWARE

BENDING/FOLDING

Mazak Optonics Corp.

PLATE

Enmark Systems Inc.
MetalForming Inc. MC Machinery Systems Inc. Peddinghaus Lantek Systems Inc.
RAS Systems LLC Murata Machinery, USA, Inc.

PLATE & ANGLE ROLLS

SigmaTEK Systems LLC

BEVELING

TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. Striker Systems
Steelmax Tools LLC

LINEAR POSITION SENSORS

Trilogy Machinery Inc.

STAMPING/PRESSES

COIL PROCESSING

MTS Sensors

PRESS BRAKE TOOLING

AIDA-America Corp.
Bradbury Group

MATERIAL HANDLING

Mate Precision Tooling

STEEL

Burghardt + Schmidt Group Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc. Rolleri USA Alliance Steel
Butech Bliss UFP Industrial

PRESS BRAKES

TUBE & PIPE

Red Bud Industries

MEASUREMENT & QUALITY CONTROL

AMADA AMERICA, INC. BLM Group
Tishken Advanced Gauging Technologies Automec Inc. Prudential Stainless & Alloys

CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

METAL FABRICATION MACHINERY

MC Machinery Systems Inc.

WATERJET

Mayfran International Cincinnati Inc. SafanDarley Barton International

DEBURRING/FINISHING

LVD Strippit

PUNCHING

Flow International Corporation
ATI Industrial Automation Scotchman Industries Inc. Hougen Manufacturing Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
Lissmac Corp. Trilogy Machinery Inc.

SAWING

WELDING

Osborn

METAL FORMING

Behringer Saws Inc. American Weldquip
SuperMax Tools FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. Cosen Saws Strong Hand Tools
Timesavers MetalForming Inc. DoALL Sawing T. J. Snow Company

HYDRAULIC PRESSES

MICROFINISHING TOOLS

HE&M Saw

 

Beckwood Press Co. Titan Tool Supply Inc. Savage Saws

 

Triform

 

 

 


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