Sharpe Products recently acquired a 5-axis fiber optic laser cutting system that offers dual-access part loading
By Mark Shortt
Sharpe Products is a Wisconsin-based manufacturer that provides custom pipe and tube bending, laser cutting, and metal fabrication services to customers in numerous industry sectors, from agricultural to recreation. One of the company’s greatest strengths, according to Sharpe Products President Paul Krickeberg, is an asset that serves it well in any sector—its ability to offer short lead times.
“Our ability to offer short lead times can be attributed to the high level of machine technology used in our production facilities, as well as a streamlined, quality-focused manufacturing process,” Krickeberg said in an emailed response. “We also have a large selection of tooling available, which offers greater flexibility to control lead times, versus waiting for tooling to be created.”
If a customer’s project requires special tooling, Sharpe can manufacture specialized dies in its in-house tool and die facility. There, the company has more than 600 bend dies, providing the flexibility to create numerous types of radii, Krickeberg said. But if a certain type of tooling is needed, Sharpe can produce it on the premises, saving time and costs for the customer.
Sharpe Products has produced a wide range of parts for companies throughout the United States and Canada over the past 30 years. Examples include parts and assemblies that go into tractors, balers, combines, plows, and sprayers for the agricultural industry; and parts that are used in aircraft access stairs, gangways, interior seating, and ground support platforms for the aviation and aerospace industry.
The company has also produced custom pipe and tube for roll cages, heat exchangers, exhaust manifolds, and seat assemblies for the automotive and transportation sector; bent pipe used in craft brewing equipment; and custom-formed pipe and tube used to construct patient beds for the medical and healthcare industry. Other industries supported by Sharpe Products include food and beverage; furniture and fixtures; and marine.
Sharpe Products supports these industries with custom tube and pipe bending, using CNC machine technology; end-forming; fiber-optic laser cutting; and metal fabrication services. It complements its custom bending and forming business by making OEM parts for the architectural, commercial, and industrial building market.
“We have a full line of quality, American-made architectural handrail fittings,” Krickeberg said. “This includes pipe and tube elbows, assorted connectors, wall returns, railing ends, flanges, and caps and disks. It also includes wall brackets and components, as well as square fittings.”
Sharpe Products employs approximately 40 people at its two facilities, totaling 71,000 square feet, about 15 minutes outside of Milwaukee in New Berlin, Wisconsin. The company has been ISO 9001:2015 certified since 2010, Krickeberg said.
The company’s in-house engineering team reviews each project, using 3D modeling to analyze and simulate parts prior to production. It also provides technical guidance to customers, including recommendations for design modifications that can facilitate efficient manufacturing of the customer’s part.
“We use our machine technology, such as CNC bending machines, to simulate a part design before we commit to a final drawing,” Krickeberg said. “So, we can determine the most efficient manufacturing process before we physically bend the parts. Blending the technology of our bending machines with our fiber-optic tube lasers, we can increase the efficiency for creating finished parts that require complex bends, holes, or copes.”
For bent parts with holes or cut features on or very near bends, Sharpe uses its 5-axis 3kW fiber optic laser with robotic part manipulation, and its Jenoptik Votan BIM laser, along with a Haas CNC mill, to add these features after parts are bent. The company also uses press and ram forming equipment to add joining features—such as copes, beads, flares, expansions, and reductions—on tubing. All of this requires significant training and technical expertise, as well as a strong commitment to quality, Krickeberg said.
“With our machine technology, we are able to meet the highest possible standard for tube bending,” Krickeberg said, noting that the industry standard tolerance on bend angles is still considered to be +/- 1 degree. “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.”
Krickeberg said that Sharpe continuously looks for ways to add production capacity and improve its general operations to fulfill—and anticipate—the current and future needs of its customers. An example is its acquisition of the 5-axis, 3kW fiber optic laser, a BLM Group LT-FREE laser cutting system built for complex, three-dimensional part profiles. Sharpe Products acquired the system, which offers robotic part manipulation and dual-access part loading capabilities, in October 2020.
“While this new equipment has the capacity of a standard 5-axis laser, the dual work area allows for loading and unloading during the cutting process, increasing beam-on time and efficiency,” Krickeberg said in a company release. “Moreover, the integrated robot can eliminate the need to manually transfer parts from fixture to fixture, increasing quality and throughput.
“With our current capacity, we are able to laser cut holes, or features, in tubes prior to the bending process. There are instances where, because of tolerances required or the location of the cutouts on the tube, parts require additional, more costly, post-bending operations, such as machining or punching. This technology can reduce or eliminate these types of additional steps and cut the cost of consumable tooling. Additionally, it offers more flexibility to better serve the needs of our customers,” Krickeberg said.