Sharpe uses this BLM LS-5, 4 kW, flat sheet laser-cutting machine for pipe and tube bending projects that require additional welded-on parts, and to support the company’s architectural handrail fittings group. Photo courtesy of Sharpe Products.

NEW BERLIN, Wis.—Sharpe Products, a custom fabricator located about 15 minutes outside of Milwaukee, has long embraced technology to help its customers achieve their goals. The ISO 9001:2015 certified company is currently navigating its 30th year in business as a provider of custom tube and pipe bending, end-forming, and fiber-optic laser cutting services to customers in numerous industry sectors.

“One of our strengths is due to the investments we’ve made in machine technology over the years, helping us to stay ahead of market demand and better anticipate the needs of our customers,” said Paul Krickeberg, president and CEO of Sharpe Products, in an emailed response. “We continuously look for investments to modernize and add capacity to our production and general operations.”

In 2018, Sharpe added a BLM LS-5, 4 kW flat sheet laser cutting machine to support its architectural handrail fittings group. The machine is also used for pipe and tube bending projects that require additional welded-on parts, such as plates or tabs, which are sometimes requested by customers. In 2019, the company expanded its machine technology lineup by adding a Schwarze-Robitec CNC 160 bending machine. The multi-radius, all-electric bender brings increased capacity for pipe and tube bending up to 6-inch /160mm O.D. in a variety of metals, including mild steel, stainless steel, aluminum, brass, copper, and titanium.

Sharpe’s formed pipe and tube is used by medical and healthcare customers to construct beds for patients. Other uses in this sector include handles and frames for mobile supply carts and disinfectant equipment, as well as institutional seating found in clinics and hospitals. The company has also fabricated parts for ultrasound equipment.

“We enjoy partnering with our customers to develop their parts, offering a range of manufacturing techniques to achieve successful results,” Krickeberg said. “We can create a prototype of a preliminary drawing to determine production feasibility. In tandem with this, we share technical details about machine capabilities and services to help customers as they design, or if they are in the early part of the development stage.”

Sharpe Products employs 40 people at its two Milwaukee-area facilities, totaling 71,000 square feet, about an hour-and-a-half north of Chicago. The company has been ISO 9001:2015 certified since 2010.

Krickeberg said Sharpe uses its machine technology, such as CNC bending machines, to simulate part designs before committing to a final drawing, so its team can determine the most efficient manufacturing process before physically bending the parts. The combination of its bending machines and fiber-optic tube lasers enables Sharpe to increase the efficiency factor for creating finished parts that require complex bends, holes, or copes.

A close-up view of the BLM LS-5 laser cutter in action. Photo courtesy of Sharpe Products.

“For bent parts with holes or cut features on or very near bends, we alternate between a robotic, Jenoptik Votan BIM laser cutting cell or our Haas CNC mill to add these features after parts are bent,” he said. “Using press and ram forming equipment, we can add joining features on tubing, such as copes, beads, flares, expansions, and reductions.”

Sharpe’s machine technology enables the firm to meet “the highest possible standard for tube bending,” Krickeberg said, adding that +/- 1 degree on bend angles is still considered the industry standard tolerance.

“Our standard is +/- 0.5 degrees. Tighter tolerances to 0.2 degrees can be accomplished with laser spring back technology, if the application requires it,” he said.

In its fabrication department and toolroom, Sharpe builds the assembly and check fixtures needed to accurately inspect parts and join welded assemblies. Finishes are applied if needed. “All of this requires significant training and technical expertise, as well as a commitment to quality,” Krickeberg noted.

The company also reported in February that it purchased a second TubeInspect system as part of its ongoing focus on quality control. The new system is described as a larger, 16-camera model that provides added capability to inspect larger parts more efficiently.

“We purchased this equipment to provide greater consistency in our quality procedures between plants,” said Sharpe Products Plant Manager Randy Krickeberg, in a statement. “We’ve used an AICON TubeInspect S system for over 12 years and, based on our research, it has proven to be the best and most efficient way to measure a bent tube. With the speed of the equipment, 100 percent inspection with reporting is achievable when required, which is ideal for prototypes to production.”

The equipment uses digital, high-definition cameras to visually measure the geometry and sizing of a bent tube. It also verifies angles and tolerances based on the specifications in the digital file, generating a multi-dimensional image of the bent part. Adjustments, if needed, are then transmitted to the CNC bending machine, resulting in shorter throughput to achieve a dimensionally accurate part. Overall, the equipment is said to offer real-time diagnostics and monitoring during inspection, allowing for faster decision-making and greater visibility to quality parameters from start to finish.

Sharpe Products has produced parts for a wide spectrum of customers over the past 30 years. Besides making parts for medical and architectural applications, the company has fabricated components for use in the aviation/aerospace, automotive, agricultural equipment, food and beverage, marine, and recreation industries.

“This longevity would not be possible without the ongoing support of our customers, who have entrusted us with their business over three decades,” said CEO Paul Krickeberg. “We truly enjoy the process of helping customers achieve their goals, whether designing a product or finding a solution to manufacturing.”

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