With Over 80 Years of Success, Shickel Corp. Continues to Excel in Custom Metal Products With the Addition of a New Mazak Fiber Laser
To be the most trusted name in design, fabrication and installation of custom metal products. That is the vision of Shickel Corporation based out of Bridgewater, Virginia. With over 80 years of quality and service, Shickel Corp. excels in metal project coordination, design, fabrication, polishing, coating, logistics, and installations.
But at the beginning, in 1938, the company started out offering services for sharpening of tools, hammering circular mill saw and general repairs for farmers. The company only grew from there. Fast forward to 2008. By then, about half of the company’s business was product design, fabrication, and installation of stainless-steel conveyors and platforms and machinery repair. The other half of the business was structural, architectural, and ornamental metals for large construction projects.
After the economic downturn, more general contractors and construction firms sought out Shickel Corp. The company’s background in stainless-steel construction and finishing would benefit the metal fabricator as these new projects required a shop that could tackle large and complicated designs with specialty metals and unique finishes. This type of fabricating now represents about 80 percent of the company’s business. “We like it weird. We don’t like to do the same stuff over and over again. We want to do the projects that nobody else wants to do,” said Mark Shickel, president of Shickel Corp. “Our team embraces that.”
In 2015 Shickel Corp. relied primarily on plasma cutting and a waterjet for most of their cutting needs. But then discovered that a laser is what they needed. The company started out with the purchase of a 2.5kW CO2 laser cutting machine but just a few year later upgraded to an OPTIPLEX 4020 FIBER 8kW laser-cutting machine with a dual pallet shuttle table.
It was not that the CO2 laser was ready to retire, but the purchase was more about expanding capabilities. Shickel explained, “The biggest thing was that we were limited to 0.250-inch on stainless and we are processing a lot of stainless. We wanted to cut 0.375-inch all day, every day. That was really pushing the limits of our CO2 machine and the edge quality was lacking.”
Ben Meyerhoeffer, operations project manager at Shickel Corp., also stated, “One of the things we pride ourselves on is the ability to do almost anything with metal. Our CO2 laser was restricting us on commonly requested material. We saw the need for cutting on thicker material besides stainless. It was the perfect time to expand.”
With Shickel Corp.’s previous experience in lasers, they knew they wanted another one. “Our work tends to be higher end and the HD plasma couldn’t get us the accuracy of crisp corners and sharp edges that a laser could,” said Shickel.
But originally, their searched started as a 4kW fiber laser and quickly changed. Meyerhoeffer said, “We started out looking for a 4kW but after evaluating, we realized we could get an 8kW within our price range.”
The main criteria Shickel Corp. was looking for was increased range. “We wanted the machine to handle the wide range of material we cut,” said Meyerhoeffer. He continued, “We are abnormal because we want to be able to cut everything and cut all of it well.”
But there was another criterion that was a bit unique. Shickel explained, “We wanted to see how small of a hole we could put into 1-inch plate. The previous rule was that you couldn’t cut a hole smaller than the thickness of the material. We wanted to test that. By having the holes laser cut it reduces the time in other processes. Instead of drilling, we can take that part to get tapped.”
By evaluating this way, they also wanted to see piercing capability and truly see the complete range of the machine. When it came down to it, they loved the capabilities of the OPTIPLEX FIBER. Shickel said, “Everything we threw at it, it could handle, from aluminum to brass. The machine exceeded our expectation.”
Shickel was also investigating the opportunity of utilizing high-pressure air and Mazak is a leader in that technology. “No one else was really talking about it or supporting it,” said Meyerhoeffer. High pressure systems are now available with 400 to 500 psi which is equal to most people’s nitrogen pressure from a bulk tank. The initial investment to get a compressor is what is most expensive. But once you purchase the system, you are producing your own gas instead of renting, leasing and paying for gas every month.
Since purchasing, installing and incorporating the new laser into their fabrication operations Shickel Corp. has seen many improvements. With an improved range of cutting thicknesses and materials along with higher throughput, the new high-power fiber laser has pulled its weight.
Shickel added that company engineers did one study on a job that took eight hours on the old CO2 laser cutting machine, but only 90 minutes on the new fiber laser. “We can do so much more with this as well,” Shickel said. “We can cut 1-inch steel or aluminum. We have the capability to cut copper and brass which would have had to be processed on the waterjet.”
The machine’s speed allows it to create parts with lots of tiny holes in a matter of minutes. It also produces an edge quality on sheet metal of various thicknesses that doesn’t need post process touch up in many instances. Shickel said a recent job that required cutting about 200 stainless steel sheets for a conveyor application in a nearby poultry plant came right off the laser and was ready for assembly. No burrs were present, so no edge finishing was required.
With the new OPTIPLEX FIBER laser having 6-feet by 12-feet pallet and the automated dual pallet shuttle table Shickel Corp. is seeing the benefits. Meyerhoeffer mentioned loading sheets of material was eating up time and by having the shuttle table they are able to spend more time cutting.
But the automated shuttle table was not the only benefit of the new laser’s table. Meyerhoeffer stated, “We added some sheet capabilities by going with the 6’ by 12’ bed. It opened our material shopping and that has saved us. We also are able to nest on different size sheets to get the most out of each sheet.”
Shickel Corp. has been able to expand their capabilities with the new laser. This flexibility means that Shickel does not need to outsource they can do most of it inhouse. “We are now able to control our own destiny,” said Shickel.
Currently Shickel has ordered an automation system that will be installed on their OPTIPLEX FIBER laser-cutting machine. Due to the shop’s space constraints, they decided on Mazak’s CSF automation system. Meyerhoeffer explained why, “Orientation played into every decision we made. We needed to have a side load so the machine and the automation would fit in our limited space. Going from a laser without a shuttle table to one with a shuttle table feels like a five-year jump. Once we get the automation it is going to feel like another five-year jump for us.”
With more than 80 years of success, Shickel continues to grow and adapt. With continued enhancements to their fabrication equipment, they are sure to remain successful for many years to come.
Article published in the March issue of The FABRICATOR Magazine.