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Metal Fabricating
Friday | 19 September, 2008 | 9:26 am

Path to success

Orbit Weston Fabricating finds its niche specializing in quick turnaround

By Lisa Rummler

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Orbit Weston Fabricating finds its niche specializing in quick turnaround

When Alan Marz was studying business management at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, he didn't think he would ever own a fabricating shop.

Fast-forward about two decades, though, and that's exactly what he's doing. As the owner of Orbit Weston Fabricating, Northlake, Ill., Marz runs a staff of five and oversees projects for about 10 regular customers and between 10 and 20 not-so-regular customers.

Friendly, neighborhood fab shop
Orbit Weston Fabricating has a few out-of-state customers, but it primarily serves the Chicagoland area. The company is run out of two buildings: a 5,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility and a 4,000-sq.-ft. facility that houses the office and is used mainly for shipping, receiving, packing and storage.

"We're a small metal job shop, doing custom fabrications with stainless steel, aluminum and carbon steel," says Marz. "It's all specialty work--we don't produce a product. It's all to customers' specifications. We do mostly welding, bending, shearing and a little bit of plasma cutting."

Marz didn't found Orbit Weston Fabricating, though. That feat belongs to a German engineer who came to the United States after World War II, who named his company Weston Fabricating.

"The original owner, Otto Weston, came over after the war and started making machine guards in, basically, a rundown house," says Marz. "My dad and I bought it in the mid-1970s after Otto was ready to retire."

Marz's father worked as an industrial distributor, selling tape, brooms, drills and similar equipment. He crossed paths with Weston when the latter was in his late 70s, when they both sold to the same company.

Marz had worked for his father intermittently over many years, and after he finished school, he says it made sense for him to work full-time at the company--he needed a job, and his father needed the help. Marz also says Weston taught him a lot about the business.

"I had no experience, no knowledge, no inclination to do anything like this," he says. "I got involved at the company, Otto showed me everything, and that's where it went from there."

Streamlining focus
For a while, with Marz and his father in charge, the company was actually two companies: the metal fabricating business and the "Orbit side," or industrial equipment distribution. Eventually, they combined the names and the books, creating Orbit Weston Fabricating.

The company does almost no industrial distribution today, but it continues to produce machine guards, the product that started it all for Weston about 60 years ago. Marz says Orbit Weston Fabricating used to specialize in machine guards; coupling guards, fan guards and belt guards made up about 60 percent to 70 percent of the production.

Today, it's more like 30 percent, with more focus on baskets for heat treating and dipping. Additionally, Orbit Weston Fabricating produces a lot of specialty carts for companies that want to move a product on an assembly line. About half the products Orbit Weston Fabricating produces go onto a machine a company will sell, and the other half are produced for companies that actually use them at their own facility.

"We also do a lot of stuff with the maintenance guys in the area," says Marz. "We'll make a catwalk for them or benches or doors--things that the maintenance department will be assembling in their plant, but they don't want to make the whole thing."

With the overall manufacturing sector dwindling in the United States, as well as the Chicagoland area, Marz says fabricating shops that want to succeed must find their niche. For Obit Weston Fabricating, that's quick turnaround.

"One thing we do well for our customers is turn things around fast," he says. "We don't always need to do that, but if someone comes in and says, 'Boy, I've got a machine down, and I need a door tomorrow,' we can do that."

With this can-do attitude and commitment to quick turnaround, the company founded after World War II by a German engineer continues to thrive and will likely continue to do so. And that's not necessarily something you can learn in business management classes. FFJ

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Last modified on Thursday | 12 June, 2014 | 10:17 am

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