At the beginning of the year, Brian Cooper was promoted to president of Elco Enterprises (a.k.a., Wire Wizard Welding Products). To kick off this new era for Wire Wizard, Welding Productivity spoke with Cooper about the company’s rich history and his plans going forward.
Wire Wizard has been solving welding challenges with its innovative welding products for 37 years. Edward Cooper, a Marine who served in Vietnam, spent a career as a welding educator, inventor and finally entrepreneur, founding Elco Enterprises in 1985. The company started with its main headquarters in Jackson, Mich., and today has a multi-building campus with many additions. The Wire Wizard product line is recognized for weld wire delivery products, high-performance torch products, weld cell support equipment and weld cell optimization technology.
Cooper, who is the son of founder Edward, has been with the company since 2006, most recently as executive vice president. As president, he will continue to oversee day-to-day operations and will lead in implementing strategic concepts, achieving targeted goals and ensuring the company maintains its legacy as an American-made and family-owned organization.
How did your journey at Wire Wizard begin?
Cooper: I started off forging my own path out of college, but eventually came back to join the company 17 years ago. My father and I had a meeting of the minds on how that would work and his vision for the future, and I believe we are both grateful that we did. I started in shipping/receiving and assembly and eventually worked my way through the organization, learning – in many cases re-learning – more and more about our products and how to lead people as a servant leader.
My father has a steadfast work ethic and is a strong believer that you have to work hard for what you get. In fact, you’re expected to outperform everyone else. Working in outside sales for a decade really helped me get to know the real-world application side of welding. I liked the hands-on problem solving, building relationships and helping customers. In more recent years, I’ve become heavily operations focused, which includes the manufacturing, finances, what products to bring to market, staffing and running the overall business.
One of my strongest focuses is our company culture. Creating and enabling an environment in which our people know they are valued and empowered to make a difference is my favorite part of the job. We have an incredible team, and we would not be where we are today without their endeavors.
Can you tell us about your father and the launch of Wire Wizard?
Cooper: My father was a welding educator for 22 years at a vocational school where he taught semi-automatic welding and then later robotic welding. He is an inventor at heart and has been his whole life. Along the way, he developed his first product, which was a de-reeling arm for the wood reels made by a large national wire manufacturer. He did that on the side for many years out of our home while he continued teaching until one day when he decided to go after it full time. He took a year sabbatical just to work on the business and never looked back.
Today, he is enjoying being able to take a step back. Like most entrepreneurs and inventors, he truly enjoys work and regularly collaborates with our R&D team on new products while also focusing on a few new family business ventures we have in the works.
To what do you attribute the company’s long-term success?
Cooper: No. 1 is that we solve problems, especially problems to which a lot of people aren’t paying attention. The wire delivery side of things has often been the forgotten part of the welding process. Today, however, we focus on more than just MIG welding wire delivery.
We have close to 90 patents globally, many of which have revolutionized wire delivery, but we also spend a large amount of energy educating people on our extensive product portfolio like semi-auto torches, welding consumables, robotic nozzle cleaning stations, anti-spatter and our Weld Central weld cell optimization system. One of the principles we typically follow is not getting into a segment unless it’s a proprietary patentable concept.
Another large part of our success is the partnership we established between our sales team out in the field and a dedicated, global distribution network. North America is our top market, but we have an extensive network of master distributorships located all around the world. We believe strongly in being an American-made organization that can deliver to customers on time despite the significant supply chain delays the whole world is experiencing right now. Being able to deliver high-quality, premium products quickly from here in the United States is a badge we wear proudly.
What are your plans for running the company?
Cooper: My approach is simple: Honor the past while propelling the company into the future. My father spent his time building an incredible foundation of products, so even though we’ll always be developing new products and proprietary solutions, we have one heck of an arsenal already available. We want to make sure the whole world knows about all the things we already do that can solve their toughest welding challenges.
Everything we do is focused on outperforming the competition. Our products cover a wide array of applications, and while there are a lot of people that do a small portion of the things we do, there is nobody that does everything that we do. We’re very multi-faceted, so when we get called into an account, we typically end up solving problems for other issues that the customer didn’t expect to address during our visit or didn’t know we offered a solution for.
Does Industry 4.0 fit into those plans? What about data acquisition?
Cooper: Yes, very much so. Data acquisition is something we’ve been working on for many years, and we have had various product iterations in a similar space over the past 15 years. Our Weld Central system actually started as a tool for our sales team to use in the field to show real results with actual irrefutable data. We’re always willing to show how we outperform, and Weld Central is a good tool for that. We install Weld Central on your current system to track results as you operate today, then we can come and install our products to show all the ways we can optimize your weld cell and improve your overall production performance.
With Industry 4.0, the big focus is on overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Every piece of equipment is built with a certain percentage of time that it is intended to work, but, over time, equipment degrades. Our goal in determining weld cell OEE is to show in advance what is going on with each weld of an entire weld line. We want customers to use this insight for predictive maintenance instead of preventative maintenance, while monitoring each process variable with the ability to store the weld signature long-term.
We’re able to monitor everything from voltage and amperage to wire feed speed, gas flow and even motor current of the wire feeder, all with independent sensors that don’t care what brand of equipment you use. If it touches the wire, Wire Wizard has a solution.
What are some obstacles facing the welding industry?
Cooper: Welding is an old industry with new technology constantly emerging, but in the end, two pieces of metal will always need to be bonded. In my opinion, the biggest issue facing our industry is a lack of skilled labor. Today, you need to be able to do, at minimum, as much production as you were accomplishing previously, but with less people. So there needs to be a big focus on reaching young people that aren’t really sure about their career path and educate them.
Much of what we do is focused on robotic welding, but there will always be a large portion of the industry that will require a skilled welder with a torch in their hand.
Also, supply chain issues that we’ve had since the start of Covid are driving a new trend that is focused on a nationalistic supply chain. Companies are sourcing supplies closer to home even if it’s more expensive because they know they can get them. They can’t control everything like raw materials, but companies will benefit from having localized supply chains. We’ve gained a lot of business from companies that had to wait eight months for something we can turn around in eight weeks or that we may even have in stock and ready to ship.
What do you want readers to know about Wire Wizard?
Cooper: We are manufactured with quality American craftsmanship. One of the things we’re most proud of is being family-owned and American-made. We believe wholeheartedly in the quality and craftsmanship that comes out of the United States. We aim to build jobs here at home that support families in the community.
As for the shift at the top of the organization, not much has changed. My father and I have different skills but identical passion, and we share a love of big goals. I am energized to harness all we have built over the years to continue the company’s growth path and honor my father’s hard-earned legacy.
Wire Wizard Welding Products