Joe Jancsurak Joe Jancsurak
Associate Editor

CB Fabricating Gives Lasers an A Grade

August 1, 2018

Chris Barkdull may be a self-proclaimed turret man, but he is totally on board with lasers. And with good reason. As owner of CB Fabricating, Inc., an Anderson, IN-based sheetmetal fabricator, Barkdull says the addition of an Amada Ensis 3015 fiber-laser cutting machine, which now complements an Amada NT Laser Flex Cell CO2 laser, has sent his sales volume soaring, growing from $2.5 million last year to a projected $4 million this year. “I’ve never seen this volume of business at any shop in our area. It’s unbelievable,” says the fabricating veteran.

From ‘Heat and Beat’ to Today

A 4-yr., $4-million expansion at Anderson, IN-based CB Fabricating included these Amada NT Laser Flex Cell CO2-laser and Ensis 3015 AJ fiber-laser cutting machines.
It was 45 years ago that Barkdull gained his start in his parents’ metal-fabricating business, where, he says, “everything was laid out by hand with a template, cut with bandsaws or saber saws, and formed on a leaf brake. As Dad would say, ‘it was a heat-and-beat operation.’”

The family business sold in the mid-’90s, but the lessons learned from his dad, who previously worked as a metal fabricator for General Motors, and his mom, an interior decorator and “financial guru” who managed the company’s finances, equipped Barkdull with the skills and confidence to strike out on his own.

CB Fabricating was founded 11 years ago by Barkdull as an 11,000-sq.-ft. job shop with two employees, Barkdull and his son, Kevin. Today, three buildings account for 26,000 sq. ft. and 23 employees—“the kind that want to learn a trade, and not just collect a paycheck,” says Barkdull. Likewise, the company’s customer base and equipment inventory have expanded significantly.

Starting out building street-rod parts with an Amada turret punch press, two Chicago press brakes and a Wysong shear, CB Fabricating produces parts for a broad customer base that includes agriculture, medical, automotive and trucking. Its equipment lineup includes two Amada turrets, four Amada press brakes, two Amada laser cutters and two Dreis & Krump press brakes.

Of the latter, Barkdull quips, “I can’t seem to get away from the manual press brakes.” He quickly adds, “Beyond that, we’re a full Amada shop. As for the lasers, I don’t know what I would do without them, and that’s coming from a diehard turret guy. I’ve been around turrets for more than 30 years, and I can tell what is running on each just by the sound. But it’s the lasers that I’m thrilled to death over.”

Money Well Spent

CB Fabricating’s first laser-cutting machine came in December 2013 in the form of an Amada NT Laser Flex Cell and four years later it added the second—the Ensis 3015 AJ fiber. The equipment was part of a 4-yr., $4-million expansion that included an Amada HG 1303 press brake and new 5600-sq.-ft. and 9000-sq.-ft. buildings.

CB Fabricating fashions its own stackable 60- by 12- by 5-in. cutting tables, which make for easy transport by forklift.

“The investments we’ve made over the last few years positioned us to take advantage of the improving economy and bigger demand for metal-fabrication services,” explains Barkdull, who says that four of his top six customers also happen to be competing fabricating shops for which CB Fabricating does contract work.

“With our CO2 laser running at full capacity, adding another machine just made sense,” he says. “This newer fiber-laser cutter runs cleaner parts faster, and uses less energy and consumables. Increased production resulting from the new equipment allowed us to add eight employees since last December, and we’re looking forward to another banner year.”

The Ensis AJ 3015 AJ fiber laser runs, on average, three times faster than a CO2 laser. The newer technology uses a thin, high-energy-density beam to cut thin materials at high speed while retaining the ability to cut ferrous steel to 1-in. thick. Its variable-beam-control technology also automatically and continuously matches material thickness, providing clean, consistent cuts requiring less finish work, further improving production-turnaround times.

Strategic Cutting

Having two different cutting machines—CO2 and fiber—allows for faster throughput of light and heavy parts. “We were running one job at 236 in./min on the CO2. By switching to the fiber, we were able to run the same job at 1600 in./min. Therefore, we moved the heavy-plate jobs for automotive and trucking onto the CO2, and the thinner parts—a lot of 0.090-in. and 1⁄8-in. aluminum—to the fiber,” Barkdull says.

Another example of where the fiber excels comes in the form of 1⁄2-in.-square industrial parts. Perforated 24 by 60-in. sheets of 0.090-in. or 1⁄8-in. aluminum, with 360 squares to a sheet, run three to four times faster on the laser, with no heat buildup and excellent cut quality.

“With the turrets,” says Barkdull, “a lot of times we were shearing, but now we can load full sheets on the laser, cut, go home for the night and then come back the next day and we’re ready to brake parts out from the sheets and form. Instead of having two people running the shear, this frees up the turret for other things. The fiber is so much quicker, if someone drops off material and needs parts tomorrow, we can do that.”

Looking Ahead

While the lasers have brought a high level of automation to CB Fabricating, when it comes to moving ancillary equipment and moving parts, “we’re still a manual shop,” says Barkdull. The company fashions its own stackable 60-in.-wide by 12-in.-long by 5-in.-high laser tables, which, says Barkdull, make for easy transport by forklift.

This attention to careful planning shows when Barkdull answers a question about future expansion plans. “We’re looking at adding another building and will know more after I negotiate with another customer,” he says. “But my number one goal is to continue meeting our financial obligations. What I don’t want is to ever bite off more than I can chew.” MF

Industry-Related Terms: Ferrous, Form, LASER, Punch Press, Run, Shearing, Thickness, Turret
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms


See also: Amada North America, Inc

Technologies: Cutting


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