Willie Erb’s family has a passion for metal shop work. His wife, Linda, and their two children, Liane and Tom, started Lebanon, Pa.-based E&E Metal Fab Inc. in 2003. They took that
family vibe and extended it to their employees, making it a big part of the company culture. If they had any struggles in the early years of the business, Adam Janney, E&E Metal’s design engineer, describes them as “good struggles” that allowed them to learn and quickly outgrow their first shop. Along the way, they also earned multiple awards, including being named Pennsylvania business of the year.
“Through great customer service, quality products delivered on time and a constant pursuit to treat the employees like family, E&E has grown into a flourishing business,” Janney says.
The byproduct of early success is that the family was able to make investments in their employees and equipment, which was important given E&E opened its doors with one saw, two torches and a Hypertherm hand plasma cutter.
“The capabilities were very limited and the process was labor intensive,” Janney says of the technology they used nearly 20 years ago. “As customer demands – and profits – rose, E&E continuously purchased equipment to increase efficiency, which helped grow the business.”
E&E’s customer base is mainly comprised of central Pennsylvania manufacturers, but the company has fabricated products that are now being used all over the world. Janney says the company’s customers are extremely loyal and range from wastewater treatment specialists to the railroad industry. E&E has produced architectural work for customers as well as artistry pieces and has even done work that goes into therapy equipment used by professional sports organizations.
Janney says E&E began seeing an uptick in diverse customers between 2015 and 2018 – many of them needing beveled cuts, which required technology above and beyond what the company had. One component for precision cutting included waterjet technology, which was implemented in 2019, but Janney says the family also had their eye on more advanced plasma cutting technology.
“As a custom job shop,” Janney says, “we focus on investing in equipment that is versatile. As we attracted new customers, we needed a cutting table to keep up with the demand, and the Hypertherm XPR300 plasma cutting system combined with our newly acquired waterjet allowed us to tackle almost any precision cutting project.”
Janney recognized that plasma, or at least the plasma cutting technology of the past, didn’t have the best reputation, particularly on stainless steel. He describes the interior profile cut quality as being “sub par.” Fortunately, however, the advancements seen in the technology behind the XPR300 are a far departure from the plasma of yesteryear.
“Our newer customers are often pleasantly surprised with the quality of our plasma cut edge,” he says. “Additionally, we’ve been able to gain a lot of work that was previously cut with laser or waterjet.”
Hypertherm bills the XPR300 as the “most significant advance in mechanized plasma cutting technology, ever.” Furthermore, the company says it redefines what plasma can do through the expansion of its capabilities, such as the X-Definition technology, which delivers edge angularity that rivals lasers. It’s through the X-Definition technology that shops like E&E achieve a cut quality up to ISO 9013 Range 2 on thinner materials and Range 3 on thicker metals.
E&E fabricates large pump cover plates for its wastewater clients where the plates have many holes that need to be tapped. Before bringing in the XPR300, the company relied on waterjet
for managing these large plates and reducing machining time.
The XPR300 includes True Hole technology, which offers better hole quality than what has previously been possible using plasma. True Hole technology is automatically applied by the nesting software or CNC software to thicknesses up to 1 in. in diameter and holds coverage ranges from hole diameter to thickness ratios from 2:1 and as low as 1:1.
Janney says utilizing True Hole technology along with the bevel head allows E&E to not have to sacrifice time for quality products, especially in dealing with carbon steel. More often than not, the fabricated parts are ready right off the table with no secondary work required.
Due to the fact that hole quality is delivered automatically and without operator intervention, and because it virtually eliminates hole taper, the gap between laser and plasma technology has finally been narrowed.
“Our XPR300, with its True Hole technology combined with the FlexArm tapping arm gives us the ability to plasma cut the entire plate with precise through holes and then tap the holes using the FlexArm with ease,” Janney says. “This cuts our entire process down by hours for each cover plate.”
When asked why his company chose the XPR300, Janney talks about key problem areas that he refers to as “the trilemma” related to speed, quality and cost.
“Are you declining work because your cutting processes are too slow?” he asks. “Are your fabrication processes delayed because of the need to clean, grind or bevel parts?
“What E&E found in the XPR300 is that it does a pretty great job of solving the cutting trilemma of speed, quality and cost of metals,” he says, adding that when making the switch from older machines to something as modern as the XPR300, there is plenty more programming involved, which must be considered during the training leading up to implementation.
“We receive a lot of beveling opportunities,” he says, “and with the XPR300, which has a robotic beveling head, we can save massive labor hours and that can be passed on to the customer. It has definitely made E&E more competitive.”