Laser Technology

Full blown

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The FiberMak’s Pro-Cutter cutting head processes each part with repeatability.

A different approach helps shop to leverage equipment technology and achieve unfettered growth

January 2017 - In the 1989 movie “Field of Dreams,” as Kevin Costner’s character, Ray Kinsella, considers turning his cornfield into a baseball diamond, he utters the famous line, “Build it and he will come.” For Bryan McGourthy, this is where art seems to have imitated life. 

“I probably have a different approach,” says McGourthy, who established Grafton, Wisconsin-based JB Friction & Fab Corp. in 2009. “I try to evaluate the market and identify what it is lacking. Then I buy the equipment and quote jobs I can run on it. I work on the premise ‘build it and they will come’—and they have.”

FFJ 0117 laser image1

Built to cut thin to thick material, the Ermaksan FiberMak GEN 3 4020 4000 kW fiber laser produces a mix of high-volume, small parts for JB Friction.

Since its startup, JB Friction has enjoyed annual sales growth of up to 30 percent. McGourthy says that growth was driven largely by employing Ermaksan lasers, punch presses and press brakes sourced through Milwaukee-based Ermak distributor Mac-Tech. “We’re a full-fledged metal fabrication shop,” McGourthy says. “We do everything short of paint.”

Although he didn’t anticipate the volume of work he now juggles when he started the business as a four-man shop with one laser-cutting machine, “I was trying to sell time on that laser, but customers kept asking me if I could bend sheet metal once it was cut.” These types of demands led McGourthy to purchase JB Friction’s first Ermaksan machine in 2009, a 10-ft., 132-ton press brake. 

Stepping stones

Customers also began asking McGourthy if he could cut larger sheet. More questions followed about whether or not JB Friction could process aluminum and stainless. To handle the inquiries, McGourthy bought an Ermaksan CO2 laser in 2010.  “Then I bought a second CO2,” he says. “I’ve been putting a piece of new equipment on the floor every year.”

Like its processing prowess, JB Friction’s part production capabilities have also expanded. OEMs supply approximately 70 percent of JB Friction’s workload these days with overflow from metalworking shops making up the rest. 

When some new niche markets caught his attention last year, McGourthy found himself outbid. “We were quoting against other job shops that had fiber lasers and our pricing wasn’t competitive,” he says. “That put fiber on our wish list.”

FFJ 0117 laser image2

As it contours and pierces parts, JB Friction has increased piercing speed and, in some cases, eliminated secondary punch operations.

JB Friction sold the CO2 purchased in 2010 and invested in a new Ermaksan FiberMak GEN 3 4020 4000 kW fiber laser in August 2016. The job shop also bought an Ermaksan hydraulic turret press and a 24-ft. hydraulic press brake. The fiber laser is housed at JB Friction’s Grafton facility, which manufactures a mix of high-volume small parts. The punch and bend work cell has been dedicated to large parts processing at the job shop’s Jackson, Wisconsin, factory.

“We fabricate a lot of parts for the refrigeration and agriculture markets,” McGourthy notes, “so we’re running carbon steel, stainless and aluminum. We don’t receive many requests for heavy gauge material so we felt the 4000 kW unit best suited our needs. The difference is night and day compared to the CO2.”

Time flies

JB Friction is now winning back business it previously lost out on and McGourthy says the company has improved its cost margin. “Cut times are faster and piercing times are considerably faster.”

While the FiberMak can cut material up to 1 in. thick, the accuracy of its piercing capabilities and its speed have become staples for JB Friction.  

“The FiberMak’s rigid construction allows it to work continuously, yet provides long life,” says Joe Ryan, vice president for Mac-Tech Inc. “The machine’s Pro-Cutter cutting head ensures each component can be manufactured with repeatability at a high standard of quality.”

The Ermaksan FiberMak GEN 3 LM 4020 4000 kW has been engineered with advanced technology that includes a Precitec Pro-Cutter cutting head, a Beckhoff CNC controller, linear magnetic high-speed drives, an IPG resonator and chiller and Heidenhain linear scales. “The machine was designed to support thin to thick material cutting at a wavelength range of approximately 1 µm,” Ryan adds. “This combination of technologies that are industry standards gives JB Friction the ability to provide fabricators with a wider range of flexibility and reliability.”

FFJ 0117 laser image3

JB Friction owner Bryan McGourthy, left, and Joe Ryan of Mac-Tech forged a relationship on quality equipment and service.

At the Grafton facility, a variety of small parts, like brackets, flats and front grill components, call for perforations. “People tend to get wrapped up in cut rates,” notes McGourthy. “We do a lot of interior contours and perforations and we’ve seen a big increase in pierce time, as much as 20 percent over a CO2,” McGourthy says. “If there aren’t a ton of perforations on a part, we can perform the entire process on the laser and eliminate a secondary punch operation.”

FiberMak’s 6.5 ft. by 13.5 ft. cutting table accommodates commonly ordered sheet sizes. Minimal maintenance and low electricity consumption is also attractive. “Ermaksan uses linear motors instead of the ballscrew configuration you find in most other fiber lasers,” McGourthy says.

“The Ermaksan linear motor drives offer huge advantages over traditional ballscrew and rack-and-pinion systems,” Ryan explains. “In addition to higher running speeds, acceleration/deceleration is faster, and the operator has better positional accuracy and repeatability. Maintenance is low because there are no mechanical wear points or other potential sources for failure that are typically found in other mechanical drive systems.”

For its size, McGourthy acknowledges that the company has purchased a lot of Ermaksan equipment since it opened. “Eighty percent of our major equipment purchases have been Ermaksan,” he says. “At first pricing was the primary factor because it was what I could afford. Now it’s a value buy. I’ve built a relationship with the Ryans at Mac-Tech and they stand by the products. The bottom line is how good the Ermaksan equipment really is.”

McGourthy has structured JB Friction to be highly competitive. The company carries zero debt and has the capacity and equipment to grow. 

“When we first started, we had one laser,” McGourthy says. “People dropped steel off and we cut it. Today, we have a comprehensive metalworking and fabrication shop that can laser cut, punch, bend, weld and perform a variety of value-added services. It’s been a good run.” FFJ



Company Profiles





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



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



Mazak Optonics Corp.


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




TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. SigmaTEK Systems LLC
Steelmax Tools LLC


Trilogy Machinery Inc. Striker Systems


MTS Sensors



Bradbury Group


Mate Precision Tooling AIDA-America Corp.
Burghardt + Schmidt Group EMH Crane Rolleri USA Nidec Press & Automation
Butech Bliss Fehr Warehouse Solutions Inc.



Red Bud Industries UFP Industrial AMADA AMERICA, INC. Alliance Steel


Automec Inc.



Advanced Gauging Technologies MC Machinery Systems Inc. BLM Group
Mayfran International


SafanDarley HGG Profiling Equipment Inc.


Cincinnati Inc.


Prudential Stainless & Alloys
ATI Industrial Automation LVD Strippit Hougen Manufacturing


Lissmac Corp. Scotchman Industries Inc.


Barton International
Osborn Trilogy Machinery Inc. Behringer Saws Inc. Jet Edge Waterjet Systems
SuperMax Tools


Cosen Saws Omax Corp.
Timesavers FAGOR Arrasate USA Inc. DoALL Sawing



MetalForming Inc. HE&M Saw American Weldquip
Beckwood Press Co.


Savage Saws Strong Hand Tools
Triform Titan Tool Supply Inc.


T. J. Snow Company

TPMG2022 Brands