Laser cutter increases business

Avilla, IN—Joe Cochran, plant manager for Wick-Fab, a custom welding and fabrication shop that recently relocated here from smaller quarters in South Milford, says the company's business picked up this past summer to the point where expansion made sense, even in an economy just beginning to show signs of revival.

The relatively new 32,000-square-foot facility, formerly owned by a plastics company, is located about 20 miles northwest of Fort Wayne, and as such places Wick-Fab more centrally located to its customers. This building is 30 percent larger than the old plant and it is equipped with an overhead crane, which is indispensable now that the company is laser cutting thicker plates of aluminum, stainless steel, and mild steel.

Founded 10 years ago as welding support for a family-owned machine tool business, Wick-Fab, named after company owner John Wicker, began to move into sheet metal fabrication with the addition of a press brake and shear. Early last year the company decided to add metal cutting capability and looked at both plasma and laser equipment to fill its needs.

The decision to buy a laser cutter was dictated primarily by the demands of the company's own in-house work producing metal shipment racks, catwalks, mezzanines, robot work cells, and conveyor systems. These products required quality edges to be produced to tight tolerances and to process an acceptable part. Outside customers had these same demands, so the company purchased a Mitsubishi 3kW laser cutter with a 5-ft × 10-ft cutting surface. Asked why the big table, Cochran says they decided to go for as much capacity as possible while not breaking the bank.

Like many other shops ILS has interviewed, Wick-Fab found that the addition of laser cutting capability drew new customers causing them to add a shift just for laser cutting. About 50 percent of the laser cutting work now results from outsourced work from local customers. Now running two shifts with 21 people, the company is currently enjoying a spurt in sales that developed back in the late summer of 2003.

With the CNC laser system they can draw up parts using AutoCAD or download customer files for rapid turnaround cutting. They will add a CNC press brake soon to bend the laser-cut pieces to form whatever parts customers need.

Wick-Fab is another success story, in a growing number that ILS has reported, where laser cutting has not only proved economically viable for in-house products but has expanded a subcontracting business in an otherwise tight local economy.—DAB

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