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Fabricator's POV

Eyes on the prize

By Lauren Duensing

Job shop credits its success to making decisions with the future in mind

January 2020 - Jim and Marian Lauer own Weaver Precision Fabricating & Finishing in Akron, Ohio, and they are partners both in business and in life. Marian handles the HR, ISO and OSHA aspects of the business, and Jim concentrates on sales and company growth. They purchased Weaver in 1998, and have since seen automation penetrate the industry, good employees become more scarce, and learned to adjust to changing customer requirements.

Q: How has the industry changed since you acquired Weaver?

Jim Lauer: Technology has brought huge changes to the industry. First off, email was a pretty big deal—as simple as it sounds. Email enabled us to grow our business much more quickly, both locally and out of state, where we previously couldn’t get that kind of coverage. We became much more efficient at selling.

Machine technology has made a quantum leap forward. We started with a 10-ft. shear and a 1973 Wiedematic turret press. We grew into three turrets before we bought our first laser. That laser changed our business forever. Today, with our new Amada Dr. Abe software package, if we get a good 3D model from a customer, it will filter right through the programming package and automatically program it in the [press] brake and in the laser.

Another change is that customers want their parts finished and assembled. When we first bought the company, we didn’t powder coat anything, and now, it’s the exact opposite. We probably coat 99 percent of the steel that goes out, as well as perform functions like prepackaging of parts and assembly.

We still do what we have always done: We cut steel. We bend steel. We weld it. We grind it. We powder coat it. And we ship it. It’s just the ways we program it and the ways we cut and bend it are much more sophisticated, which has enabled us to get a lot more product out the door and compete with the rest of the world.

Q: How does your company find skilled workers?

Jim Lauer: Technology and automation have helped ease the burden of finding trained and skilled labor. The misnomer about automation is that it eliminates jobs, but it actually creates jobs. If you buy a fully automated laser, like ours, you must hire a full complement of workers to support that operation. You need to load and unload the trays, separate the parts, and have an operator or two to keep the machine running 24 hours a day. The flow from the laser creates much more work downstream, so we had to buy more press brakes and upgrade our welding department to keep up. This, of course, meant more brake operators and welders and grinders. Automation has enabled us to get a lot more parts out the door and, in turn, be profitable and hire more people.

Marian Lauer: A lot of people think you don’t necessarily need a skilled person running automated equipment. In actuality, you do. The operator needs to make sure the products are correct. It’s not ‘just a guy’; it’s somebody who knows what they are doing.

Q: Name some skills new employees must have or be willing to learn.

Jim Lauer: Problem solving.

Marian Lauer: When we interview, we’re not necessarily looking for somebody who already has the skills because, as a job shop, we don’t do just one or two things. Often, we can’t find press brake operators who understand the nuances of running a press brake. So we’re looking for a person who has an aptitude to learn it, and we do a lot of in-house training, especially for that position.

Jim Lauer: Younger employees can pick up the programming in a minute—it’s like running a video game. But you also need to understand how the steel works, how it bends, how to solve problems when they come up. We have started to tap into some of the local colleges and have found that engineering students are a great resource. They are up-to-date on the latest technology, and they can do things quickly and efficiently.

Marian Lauer: Just because it works on paper doesn’t mean that you can fabricate it that way. We sometimes get drawings with so much engineering in them that it ends up creating a super expensive, elaborate part—when it really just needs to fit, form and function. By working here, these young people can see how a part is being formed and what kinds of real-world obstacles it might face.

Q: What benefits do you see working as a team?

Jim Lauer: We have a rule: We can’t talk about it after 5 o’clock. It’s really helpful having a partner who you can trust completely and an owner always on the premises.

Marian Lauer: You don’t panic that a decision is going to be made without an owner’s viewpoint. It is nice to know the other person is totally vested. We have different skill sets. I end up doing a lot of the detail work—HR and processes—and Jim handles the sales and the big-picture ideas. We make a good team.

Q: Describe your most memorable moments.

Jim Lauer: Signing the contract to buy our first laser. I think we paid about $650,000 for it, which was almost as much as the company was generating in revenue. The scariest decisions are usually the most memorable, and that one was a big jump forward. Buying our second laser was also a big deal because what we paid for that laser was more than what we paid for the entire company 15 years prior.

Marian Lauer: When we started due diligence on the lasers, we realized that if we got an automated tower, the height limits of the building meant we would need to purchase a new building. That was another leap of faith where we said, “OK, the numbers don’t add up right now but can we possibly do this and grow enough to make it work?”

Jim Lauer: I think we put $2.5 million into the company that year—the laser, the tower, a new press brake and the building. That was a big year for us.

Another memorable moment was one of our first Christmas parties. We were probably up to about 20 employees at the time. We had a bowling party, and there were 40 or 50 people there. I was taken aback at how real it became. As an owner, you realize how important your everyday decisions are for all those families.

Finally, we made the Super Bowl two years ago. Fanuc Robotics is one of our largest customers, and there was a Super Bowl commercial that featured one of the robots we made parts for. We couldn’t believe it. I always get a kick out of seeing parts that we’ve made or have helped design somewhere out in the world.

Q:What must fabricators do to stay competitive?

Jim Lauer: Listen to your customers. We learn so much from our customers, and we run our business based on our customers’ needs.

Marian Lauer: We look 18 months in advance and ask ourselves what we are going to need to be successful. If we want to grow a certain amount, are we going to need more room? Are we going to need another laser? You start doing your due diligence, and through [that process], you look at other companies to learn what obstacles they have and how they are running their business. You can learn a lot from others.

Jim Lauer: It’s about getting to that next level, and you never know what that’s going to look like until you are standing there.  FFJ

Sources

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IRONWORKERS

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SERVICE CENTERS

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

LASER TECHNOLOGY

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

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Mazak Optonics Corp.

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

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SigmaTEK Systems LLC

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TRUMPF Inc. Davi Inc. Striker Systems
Steelmax Tools LLC

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Trilogy Machinery Inc.

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MTS Sensors

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AIDA-America Corp.
Bradbury Group

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Mate Precision Tooling

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

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Red Bud Industries

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AMADA AMERICA, INC. BLM Group
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CONVEYOR SYSTEMS

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MC Machinery Systems Inc.

WATERJET

Mayfran International Cincinnati Inc. SafanDarley Barton International

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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

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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

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HE&M Saw

 

Beckwood Press Co. Titan Tool Supply Inc. Savage Saws

 

Triform

 

 

 


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