Equipment to start Welding and Fabrication Shop.
A quick introduction:
I am a small machine shop owner that is looking to expand capabilities. Currently, I have the normal assortment of machining capabilities, such as manual milling and engine lathes, VMC's, CNC Lathe, Wire EDM, ect. A fairly well rounded shop, but nothing extraordinary.
Having this equipment in the shop, I didn't want to do much fabrication work. I maintain a fairly clean environment, and didn't want the fumes, grinding grit, ect in the shop around the machines.
I currently occupy 2/3 of a good size building, and now have the opportunity to occupy the other third at a reasonable cost. Real reasonable...about 3000 sq feet for $400 a month, fully insulated, heated well, ect. I told myself if it came available, it would be the perfect opportunity to expand into the fab/welding area, as it has a dividing wall to my shop area, ventilation, big overhead door and what not.
Competition in my area have both Machining and welding/fabrication, and I feel it is a hindrance on my business only offering the machining. SOOOO now is the time and place to venture.
Not wanting to go overboard buying equipment, tools, ect. I need to make some smart decisions. I know right off the bat I can't compete with the bigger shops doing large work. I want to start off on the right foot, get some small orders for average size work (not building ships here) and slowly invest in more equipment as the jobs warrant or profits say I can.
Cut to the chase. I need some guidance here on just starting out as far as what I need to just make a go at it. Obviously welders, benches, clamps, ect. But what would you list as say the "Top 10" purchases I should be looking at just starting out? Sizes too..say for a press brake, shear, ect. Whats minimal sizes you would get for run of the mill sheet metal work in a fabrication shop. Looking at used stuff of course. What I am kinda looking for is what I can do without, and what I would probably need when starting this up.
Hope you all can give me a little guidance, and look forward to your words of wisdom.
My comment is what line of work do you currently do? Most of the welding i see being done for machine shops is tig work joining parts together. Fabrication equipment requirements all depend on weather you making trailers or space rockets!
What I am doing now consists of mainly small parts machining, for various industries.
Originally Posted by adama
If I were to try to pinpoint what is going on as far as fabrication in the area:
1. Small framework, say like angle iron and square tubing in the 1"x1" to 6"x6" size. Could have table tops mounted on some (plate, jig plate, ect.)
2. Special conveyors from small packaging to large custom units with formed rollers for steel industry.
3. Sheet metal products - aluminum, stainless and steel up to 10 gauge is common. Safety covers, Panels, Chutes, ect.
4. Building fabrication - railings and staircases for commercial buildings and industrial complexes.
I would put it at more of building trailers than space shuttles, LOL. At least to start
Where I feel like I am now is the chicken or the egg deal. Need customers (or at least what they are needing) before buying equipment, yet need equipment to get customers.
To start a proper fab shop i would suggest the following:
4-1/2" and 7" grinders, they are your best friends
a midsized tig/stick welder, somewhere in the 300A range
a mig welder WITH a pulse option, this is a must now a days when doing stainless work. This will require tri-mix gas, but it is well worth it. Plus you can still do standard short arc welding. I used to weld with a miller 350p and that thing was awesome.
This is a start...because this is so new to me. I mean I did fab and welding, but never really "thought" about all the equipment I used. What I am trying to do is start listing things...prioritize of what I need vs. what I want. I know a lot of my machine shop tools will work both directions, but ultimately I will have to cover both areas with their own tools (hammers, tape measures, just the littlest of things).
Originally Posted by plastikdreams
It will be a work in progress, over a couple or few months before I really am ready to jump into it hard.
Yeah all the basics, but im either a 4.5" grinder or a 9" grinder. 7" just never seams as common over here as what they are over there based on opinions i have read here.
Your almost defiantly going to want a oxy fuel cutting torch. There's a lot to be said for going oxy propane from the start than acetylene though (cheaper). If your going to be doing enough thin stuff - stainless then a Plasma is darn essential too.
Bending and laser profile cutting at least over here can be subbed out at very little cost. Rollers both plate and ring + tube bending are nice to have for a lot of jobs, but again is very cost effective to sub out in the start.
Welding is very much a case of what your going to do. Both Tig and Mig are pretty much essential fab equipment over here. Stick is mainly used outdoors or on-site.
A good horizontal mitring band saw and a good stock rack makes life a lot easier too. Can make a fair bit of money selling small cut bits and oftern it leads on to bigger jobs. Its a very good approach for getting your name out there.
Don't forget the management and design side that this will all require too. Running a 100 off widgets on a cnc lathe is easy with a supplied print. Making a stair case often starts out on-site measuring up then design, quote, fabricate. Thats a lot more efort before anything productive even happens!
as above but the first thing to make using these would be some good heavy tresles (spelling?) two 2 metre long, 150mm wide channel sections with some legs welded to them would suffice after that get a couple of different sized plates about 10mm thick, the smallest one should be in the region of 800 X 800 the other would depend on what you can easily move.
As a welder by trade I use these for almost every job I do big or small, I rarely work off the bench (in fact my bench is more of a place to put things I am not currently using clamps, rules, cup of coffee etc.)
If you are going to be doing heavy fabs then a rollable lifting gantry might help too.
A Hossfeld bender would be near the top of my list.
I would suggest being prepared to use a suitable tool for any process, instead of forcing the wrong tool to do the work.
When it comes to cutting sheet, shapes, bar stock, etc. you will be tempted to take the cutting torch and "clean up the edge with a grinder", and spend a lot of time at it, instead of having someone else shear it, saw it, or renting the tool, etc.
Say you need to bevel an edge on plate. You could try the torch, a grinder, etc, but you most likely would be ahead by renting (or buying) a plate beveler.
Perhaps a beveler isn't the best example, but be prepared to study the options for any process/detail.
Not cheap, but it's the correct tool, allows you to get done, and move on to another detail.
Every guy in his garage has a stick welder and a grinder, and they would be competition, so I find you have to do stuff they cant do, to get the work.
I have been fabricating for 30 years, and, obviously, I started out with very little.
But to me, the essentials would be-
AC/DC tig welding- you gotta be able to tig aluminum, stainless, and mild steel.
Plasma Cutting- Best would be a 4x4 mini cutting table like a Plasma Cam, or better, but at a minimum, a plasma cutter with a hand torch will allow you to use simple guides and jigs to cut all metals.
Mig Welder- a Millermatic 250 or the equivalent.
A horizontal bandsaw, hopefully something like an Ellis that can do miter cutting.
An Ironworker- being able to punch 1 1/2" holes in 1/2" plate, quickly and easily, immediately sets you apart from those guys in their garages. An ironworker will punch holes about ten times as fast as drilling, will shear round and flat and angle to length, and shear small pieces of plate. But 90% of its use will be punching holes. In fabricating, holes do not need to be that accurate, either in size or in location- within a 16 of an inch is plenty good enough, and an ironworker is the tool for the job.
Then, you get into bending.
I use my Hossfeld every day- there is a learning curve, but once you learn it, you can knock out all kinds of parts very quickly.
I also use my 3 roll section bender a fair amount, and its another one of those tools that really gets the jobs others cant do. Mine will bend 2" pipe, or 2" square tube, or 2"x 2" angle- and that covers a really big majority of small fab jobs.
Next up would be a plate roll- even a 4' wide machine that will do 1/4" is amazingly handy.
A brake would be great too. A small press brake, or a big Chicago finger brake. I find that I can do an amazing amount with my 12gage x 4' chicago.
Those are the tools I use the most. Inevitably, you accumulate more, and some basic machine shop support tools get used a lot too- drill press, belt/disc sander, bench grinder, and so on.
I know a few fabricators who do exactly what you are wanting to do. One guy has been in business about 30 years, and one other guy a long time too. Another guy is 2nd generation fabrication fwiw...here's what I see in their shops:
Originally Posted by MuscleCarNut
1) 10' shear capable of 1/4" mild steel plate minimum
2) 10' Press brake with lots of dies...1/4" steel minimum
3) At least (1) 5'x5' welding platen and stand, with tooling
4) Welders that Ries mentioned above
5) Heavy Duty 5' box and pan brake rated at @10ga
6) Stock rack with roller bench and cutoff saw
7) Oxy Acet rig
8) Ironworker would be nice that Ries mentioned...or heavy duty punch/notch setup
9)Sheet rack to stack heavy gage sheet and plate, over head crane system to move large sheet and plate to shear...or forklift and room to move sheet and plate that way
10)Plasma table puts you way ahead of your competitors if no-one local has one...the ability to nest parts and burn plate and heavy gage sheet is so nice to have...and you can burn parts for local small shops too
11) Hossfeld or American Bender with tooling
12) Something to bend heavy wall pipe and tube with a ball mandrel system puts you in the game for miles of commercial / light industrial / institutional fairly simple railing work...or a tube bender like Ries mentions
13) A big 5' or larger powered roll former to roll and curve heavy gage sheet/plate/stock
fwiw here's a link to the equipment list of one of the guys who does my plasma burning for me...I think he's doing a lot of the stuff you want to do...
Good Luck, hope you can make a go of it. ;~)
Last edited by John Madarasz; 07-08-2011 at 10:10 AM.
Reason: add a few extras
Brake- select the thickest ga you will be using, find the tonnage per foot times length of bed, add 25% and you will be in the ballpark.
Do not make the mistake of buying too small (tonnage) of a brake, you will regret it quickly.
Don't forget tooling, easy to spend big bucks especially with Wila(good stuff though) Basic planer tooling for a couple of sizes will be a least $2500+(10 ft brake)
Shear-again choose your thickest ga add 25%
Punches- tonnage rules, how big a hole you need?
Notcher- expensive little buggers
Spot welder - great to own, kva rules here. Need lots of amps for the larger girls.
What you have to decide is what you are going to do.
Small "clean" fab parts under 2 ft square, or hash it out with everyone else chopping, grinding up dirty steel all day.
If you have repair skills then you open yourself up to used equipment.
I have found some great deals that did require some major rebuilding, however the machine(s) are now like new or better and give daily service with no downtime.
My thought, get the space, swing the 400 for now, find work, buy equipment.
I'd add a medium size iron worker to the list.
I have a 50 ton Edwards and a set of round punches.
Surely you have a welder and torch?
I don't see how a machine shop can function without them, at least for
A Good heavy and FLAT fab table. An Acorn table with hardware if you can find one. A cast iron table with T-slots salvaged from a large mill also works good. It's hard to stress the importance of a good fab table that you can clamp and jig to.
Also,a good assortment of clamps. C-clamps, Vise-Grip clamps, bar clamps, etc. You can never have to many clamps.
You said, you don't want to go overboard, whats overboard to you? $10k....$100k?
I am with Ries for the most part...but you must know the other shops in the area, find out what they don't have and or could use the services of, then start with that machine/capabilities.
Do you really want to get into doing railings and commercial building stuff? Then you need a portable rig...if thats the case, you would probably be better off setting up a truck.
Personally, if I was in the situation you describe, I would just get a Miller 350p puls mig with a feed gun to run aluminum wire, a Dynasty 200DX, a plasma cutter rated to cut 5/8".
Thats what I would (and I have) started with, research on the Miller website and forums, also visit weldingweb.com great stuff there too.
After that, I can really see the use of a CNC plasma table in my shop soon.
You also can never go wrong with a good portable welder, the Bobcat is a great start, maybe around $5k with leads...but that puts you into the repair world also, plus gives you a backup generator should you need it.
As you know, most things can be done with skill and minimal tools, its just how long it will take you, and whether or not you get paid enough to do it.
You can work with a torch and hammer or you can get a 60ton iron worker...again whats your budget...personally, I still run the torch...then again, I am still broke too!
From a different perspective:
How much fab work are you turning down right now?
What is your estimated margin on the work you are turning down?
Is it enough to pay for a $2000 Ellis saw let alone a used $10k shear?
Do you have the physical room for a 10' shear + and 8' sheet of steel?
Do you have the manpower with the skill set to go onsite and layout the custom stairway, design it, bid it, build it, finish / paint it, all at an acceptable margin?
If you are the one with that skill set, who is going to run the machine shop while you are gone?
You mentioned competition in the area. Are they all busy and at capacity? Are any of them interested in selling, partnering, moving, collaberating? (There always is....)
Are any of them making money?
Put a dollar value on 3 possible investment options per the great suggestions being made here; say $5000, $20k, $100k. Make paper doll cut outs and put them in the space you have to see if it would flow and how much room you really have. Then ask some more questions: What would that amount of money do to add value to your current operation? Who has current customers at, (we are guessing) a margin? Would you upgrade a machine or programs? Add a secondary process to add value for your customers? Polishing, anodizing, engraving?
You made a great point in your opening post. " I run a clean shop" Fab shops are dirty and it takes effort to keep them clean. Another great comment was "Anyone with a grinder in their garage is my competition." Post that one on your wall, it is very true because they usually do fab work on the side after their day job has paid for all their overhead.
If you feel adding a fab shop is in your best interest after this, go for it. My top picks for equipment?
1. Strong and flat work table with vises and lots of clamps.
2. Miter band saw with movable head.
3. Tig machine.
and if you really have to spend some money....
4. 50 ton iron worker.
Anything that is larger than what can be done with this can be purchased from your steel supplier sheared, cut, plasma cut, bent, rolled, etc. But then you will need the forklift, overhead crane, big welder, sand blast, paint booth.....
Good Luck and keep us posted!
If a person is going to spend a fair amount for a bandsaw, get a tilt frame saw like a Marvel, DoAll, or HEM. Much more useful for cutting plate, making brackets, notching, as well as miters. Having a table that you can clamp to as well as having a vise gives many options for custom cuts. Very useful for the machine shop as well. It would be very hard for me to go back to a horizontal saw, unless I needed an automatic for production.
What fab work you're turning down is of way less consequence than what fab work you -could- go after.
If you have garage shops with grinders and welders, they probably don't have brakes or shears......so you could supply them with those capabilities.
The right size brake and shear, bought 'right' will hold their value for years.
You could recoup most or all of your investment if you decide FAB is not for you.
You need both, and will use both on a daily basis. I welded a broken air hoist control arm last night using TIG and nickel 99 filler rod, running around 25-50 amps - cannot tell it was ever broken. Also welded a small lifting frame yesterday using the MIG at something over 200 amps (material was 1/2" thick mild steel plate, with edges bevel prepped for single pass).
Both Tig and Mig are pretty much essential fab equipment over here.
TIG would have taken forever on the lifting frame, and MIG is difficult to control on small parts, especially small cast iron repairs. Both of mine are used regularly, and not offering both is a disadvantage.
Another thing to consider is farming some jobs out and adding a percentage to the cost, I know a guy who does that quite successfully.