Michael Hedlund started work at Co-Lin in 1977
as a 15-year-old summer employee. The owner of
the shop lived next door to his parents and asked
Michael if he wanted a summer job at the grand pay
scale of $3 an hour. He’s been there ever since.
Stephen Hedlund, Michael’s son, started work at
Co-Lin in 2006 as a 14-year-old summer employee.
His initial tasks were to clean the machines and
sweep the floors for a robust $10 per hour. Stephen
worked at the shop in subsequent summers, graduating to actually running some of the fabricating
machines, but later went on to college and gained
valuable industry experience at another nearby fabricator.
The Hedlunds reunited this summer as Co-Lin’s
new owners (see Figure 1). They knew the metal
fabricating business, but they also knew that their
new metal fabricating business had to change.
The Dad’s On-the-Job Education
Michael went from being a summer worker to a full-time employee during his senior year in high school
in 1980. That year he attended classes until noon
and then went to work at Co-Lin. When he graduated, he asked if he could work there full-time.
“It was a job, and I was glad I had one,” Michael
said. “I liked doing it because I was doing something
different every day. I learned a lot fast.”
As with any metal fabricating operation, Michael
has seen plenty of projects come through the door.
Custom fixtures for large aerospace parts manufac-
turers, industrial cabinets of all shapes and sizes
(see Figure 2), custom machinery for specialty
manufacturing applications, and gas tanks for clas-
sic cars are just a few examples of the work Co-Lin
did in the past and continues to do today.
“For as long as I’ve been here, there is something
new that happens every day that makes you go,
‘Man, I didn’t think of that!’ he said. “After 35 years,
you’d think you know everything.”
Co-Lin never advertised during Michael’s years
there. Nearby OEMs and machine shops knew of the
fabricator’s reputation, and business continually
showed up at the front door. At least, that was the
case until the Great Recession.
At that time Michael said he started seeing the
work slow a bit, and for the jobs the shop did get,
the job routers displayed the old familiar customers. New work was not materializing at the pace it
was prior to 2009.
Michael continued to work at his craft, but he
knew that the company’s future was questionable.
Would it be able to survive doing what it had always
A job shop
A son returns to a metal fabricating shop
and joins forces with his dad
to relaunch the business
By Dan Davis, Editor-in-Chief
How important is the fax machine to your metal fabricating business? What may sound like a silly question for a company in 2015 isn’t that strange to some people. Just ask Michael and Stephen Hedlund. Having worked there, they
were very familiar with Co-Lin Metals Fabricating, and that fax line was a lifeline for the
business—until this summer.
How did the business work for the past several years? The original owner either talked
to the customer face-to-face or over the phone, collect the details of the job, and take
the information home to work on the quote. When it was finally done, the quote was
either sent by fax or personally delivered, in some instances. It could take as long as a
week before the customer got the quote back.
Yet Co-Lin Metals Fabricating Inc., Rockford, Ill., still had work to keep it busy, even
while others were relying on lightning-quick electronic communications, powerful
computing devices, and state-of-the-art fabricating technology. In a shop that might
have looked like it was trapped in the 1980s, skilled craftsmen produced industrial fabrications that local manufacturers needed. Co-Lin’s reputation for quality work helped
the company survive years of outdated business practices. The Hedlunds witnessed
Michael Hedlund (left) went to work for Co-Lin Metals
Fabricating in June 1980. On another June day in 2015,
Hedlund went to work not as an employee, but as co-owner with his son Stephen (right).