Steel fabrication thoughts and insights
Brian Williams has spent his adult life working in steel fabrication and technology. Starting as a grinder/wire brush operator in college he worked as a fitter, CNC programmer, production control manager, and VP of Operations for a 4-shop industrial plate and structural fabricator. At FabTrol he has delivered training and implementation services to some of FabTrol's largest customers and designed software as FabTrol's Product Manager. Today, he continues to work in product management and serves as the General Manager of FabTrol Systems.
My first steel fabrication job paid about $4 per hour. My boss at the time told me to start buying a few tools. He said this would distinguish me from other shop employees and the impact on my pay would more than make up for the investment. If you are a fitter, welder or any other craftsmen or aspiring craftsmen working on a shop floor, I assure you that he was onto something.
It wasn't really necessary to tell me to only buy quality tools (my grandfather and uncles had covered that ground)--but he did. He said it was better to purchase one good tool as I got the money rather than fill my tool box with less expensive look-alikes. So I paid about $15 for my first adjustable wrench, used it in the harsh environment of the shop floor for years, admittedly used it as a hammer or pry bar a few times, used it in the rain a few times, always cleaned and oiled it afterwards and it is hanging in my garage right now, ready to go. Other than a few spring clamps to hold chalk-lines and the like, I never bought any of the cheaper tools and I rarely bought a tool twice. Neither did any of the other real craftsmen in the shops where I worked.
Later I participated in larger purchases for a couple of shops and we always over-bought. Compromises were often made on used vs. new and sometimes we only bought one of the machines we were after instead of both. But no owner, operations manager, shop foreman or machine operator advocated the purchase of an off-brand piece of equipment or even the purchase of something that just managed to meet our specs.
Was price a consideration in these decisions? Always. Still, we knew that eventually we'd want the tool or piece of equipment to do a little more than we'd first imagined. We knew we couldn't afford for it to fail or fall short and we surely didn't want to throw away the initial investment and start over if it did.
You don’t buy a press brake, plasma cutter, drill line or software package to save money on the price of the press brake, plasma cutter, drill line or software. If that’s your goal--the best savings are achieved by buying nothing at all. You buy them based on their ability to deliver savings and value every day.