Those that like Harley-Davidsons, the Packers, cheese curds, brats and Brodies surely love Wisconsin. America’s Dairyland is famed for a number of culinary delights as well as its kindhearted Midwesterners rallying around a shared love of football, food and, most importantly, family. For J&D Tube Benders, a third-generation family-run manufacturing shop in Schofield, Wis., being a tight-knit, community-focused business is its greatest strength.
The First Startup
It wasn’t intended to be anything more than a part time job, or so they thought. Co-workers Jack Gauger Jr. and Dane Felch were moonlighting in the after-hours of their regular shift at Drott Mfg., turning out part after part in a small makeshift shop.
It was 1968 and the two had cobbled together the necessary equipment, which included a bender and a saw, to produce port tubes for hydraulic cylinders. They had even contracted a customer, their very own employer, Drott Mfg., which had recently eliminated a workcell in its facility for making port tubes.
Not knowing exactly what would come of their newfound startup, J&D Tube Benders, Gauger and Felch seized the opportunity anyway. And as it turned out, they had a serious knack for manufacturing and supplying quality tubing and parts.
Word quickly spread, and by 1981, the company had grown to more than 7,000 sq. ft. of factory space. Business was booming and additional employees were hired to handle the seemingly compounding workloads.
In 1992, Dane Felch’s son, Tom, and daughter-in-law, Janet, purchased Gauger’s interest in the company, turning the business into a full-fledged Felch family affair. Today, Tom is co-owner and president. His wife, Janet, is co-owner and vice president of administration. Their son, Jon Felch, is vice president of operations.
The company proficiently manufactures hydraulic tube lines, and capabilities include tube bending, welding, brazing, end forming, cutting, machining, laser cutting and more. They supply companies across the nation with tubes and tube assemblies, including Gradall Excavators, Warner & Swasey, John Deere, Caterpillar and the U.S. Armed Forces.
A Competitive Edge
J&D Tube Benders has come a long way in its almost 50 years of operation. In 2007, the company was honored and listed as one of “America’s fastest growing private companies” by Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000. Their growth from 2004 to 2007 was a staggering 140 percent.
J&D Tube Benders won the nationally recognized Tube and Pipe Business of the Year award in 2011. The company has also been featured on The Fabricator’s Fab 40 list and took home the Small Business of the Year Award from the Wausau Region Chamber of Commerce.
Felch explains how the company remains successful by keeping as many processes in-house as possible. In particular, he explains how a focus on optimizing cold saw cutoff stations has had an impact on the company’s productivity and, ultimately, its profitability.
J&D Tube Benders used to cut parts on its cold saws like most manufacturing shops do – measuring and marking material, cutting the longest pieces first and working down to shorter lengths.
But Felch knew there had to be a more efficient method to achieve the same, or far better, results.
“We purchased our first TigerStop automated positioner maybe 10 to 12 years ago,” Felch says. “We put one on a cold saw to streamline it as much as possible. At the time, we were very interested in the waste reduction capabilities. We put the TigerStop on one of our most expensive product line cells.
“The saw wasn’t high volume in comparison to other cells in our shop,” he continues, “but it was cutting a lot of expensive random length pieces. The cut list could vary from 10 in. to 12 in. to 11.5 in., you name it. What the operations team saw immediately was that the TigerStop took all of the thinking away from the operator.”
Using a TigerStop automated positioner meant that operators no longer had to spend time measuring and marking material as accurately as possible, spend time calculating which parts to cut first from a job list or risk miscutting expensive material.
Tubing materials, including carbon, copper, aluminum and stainless steel, are by no means inexpensive. Felch explains that the stainless steel his company uses can be $6 to $8
per ft. Any number of mistakes and inaccuracies can be costly, especially when multiplied over two shifts per day.
“After utilizing TigerStop’s Dynamic Optimization,” Felch says, “we fell in love with it. The optimizer helped with waste reduction. Its ability to quickly think and optimize material was a time saver, so we put in our second TigerStop a year later.
“After using the TigerStops, we noted that our drop racks were much smaller,” he continues. “We were getting so much better usage from our stock. Within three to five months after we installed the TigerStops, they were basically paying for themselves through the time savings and material savings. We have the TigerStops on all of our cold saws right now. That’s how valuable they are. We have four full TigerStops and three SawGears.”
SawGear is TigerStop’s highly portable automated saw fence, which eliminates the need to set and adjust manual fences for length positioning and complex miter/angle cutting. Operators using this product increase their accuracy and productivity.
J&D Tube Benders also takes advantage of TigerStop’s Advanced Interconnect Kits (AIKs). The patented AIKs allow for a fully automatic cold saw operation and consist of a safety relay box, I/O panel, safety line, mounting plate, foot switch and safety cable chain.
“The saw that we run our high-production product on has a TigerStop with an AIK,” Felch says. “We calculated that using the same operator and making the same high-volume product, the saw’s productivity was increased by some 40 percent. That’s why we have TigerStops on every single one of our cold saws.”
Looks can be deceiving, though, Felch explains.
“When you look at a TigerStop, well, they don’t look like much,” he says. “But once you get them going, it’s incredible to see. We are going to cut 100,000 tube assemblies this month alone, and the TigerStops make that possible.”
Not only are the TigerStops beneficial for productivity gains and significant reduction in drops, they are particularly helpful for combating the skilled labor shortage so prevalent in manufacturing.
“Using a TigerStop is simple,” Felch notes. “You type in a length and the machine does the work for you. It helps with new hires, as well. Within a couple of hours, a brand-new operator is able to run our TigerStops.”
Quality In Family
In addition to the TigerStops, J&D Tube Benders has invested in two robotic arms for the shop floor, a 3-axis tube laser capable of cutting up to 6 in.
and a CNC tube bender. Investing in quality equipment makes it possible for all 130-plus employees to produce quality products in J&D Tube Benders’ 124,000-sq.-ft. facility day in and day out.
Today, the company is nearing third-generation ownership.
“There’s nothing more rewarding than working with your family,” Felch explains. “Not only do I work with my family, my co-workers and employees are like family. The very first employee my grandfather hired retired two years ago. The second and third employees hired retired shortly after. Each year we have a recognition dinner for our employees in the 25 Year Club.”
For many employees, J&D Tube Benders is their first and last job, Felch notes. “This makes them so invaluable to our organization. Their skills are unmatched. Their kids start to work here, as do their friends. We are very fortunate to have such strong family ties. That’s our greatest strength.”