The Not-So-New Bosses
Stephen, the company’s president, and Michael,
vice president, assumed ownership in the beginning of summer 2015. The transition has been relatively smooth because everyone already knew all
the parties involved and what was going to happen.
“They all knew we were buying it, so it’s not like
I walked in on June 5 and said, ‘Guess what?’” Michael said. “We all kind of had the practice run before it became real.
“I started to implement some things out there
even before we took over, such as the way we do
certain jobs. I wanted to do it on the other guy’s
watch to see if it would work.”
The initial caution wasn’t necessary. The seven
full-time fabricators and one part-time front-office
administrator went to work as they always did.
The Hedlunds had the 8,500-sq.-ft. shop running
smoothly, even right after the ownership transfer.
Some of the ideas Michael implemented before
the official transition paid off, he said. For example, instead of having a couple of fabricators work
on one gas tank at a time until it was completed,
Michael directed one fabricator to form the metal
parts for four or five gas tanks at a time and then
deliver them to the welder for the finishing work. At
one time Co-Lin was 10 weeks behind on gas tank
orders; with the change in work flow, however, that
backlog was eliminated by the time the Hedlunds
stepped into the building as owners.
“Everyone out there can run every machine, can
weld, and put stuff together,” Stephen said. “We can
hand most of the guys any kind of print and let them
have at it. That’s rare these days.”
The Modernization Effort
While the Hedlunds didn’t have to worry much
about the shop floor skills, the front office was another matter. Along with a printer, Stephen knew he
wanted to introduce the shop to the world of 3-D
modeling. Trying to visualize how something might
go together, sometimes without the benefit of blueprints, was eating up too much time.
Stephen said that he could spend two to three days
looking at something as simple as a test stand for a
local aerospace systems manufacturer and not totally visualize what was needed to make a complete
fabrication. What is inside a small, hard-to-access
area? How does a particular corner overlap? An older
job might involve going over as many as 120 prints.
That’s not the case now. Roughly six months into
the new adventure, all the recurring jobs are based
on 3-D models (see Figure 3). Michael doesn’t have
to wait for his old boss to take the engineering notes
and formally draw them for the shop floor to follow,
a process that could take days. Now Stephen can
call up the job, print out the layout, and walk it to
the back of the shop for quick consultation with the
fabricator assigned to the project.
The Hedlunds have made some other significant
changes as well:
• Co-Lin has all of its blanks laser-cut by the metal
fabricator Stephen interned with. It’s simply a lot
faster than the company’s old punch presses (see
Figure 4). Co-Lin can turn around parts a lot faster,
and get paid sooner, rather than having to wait for
blanks to be made in-house.
• The shop floor has a new jig-friendly table,
where fixtures can be set up quickly (see Figure 5).
This accommodates quick tack welding of large fabrications that can be moved over to a large work table for final welding. Previously the fabricators spent
several minutes trying to assemble a stick frame that
would act as a fixture. The new welding table makes
moving from one job to another quick and simple.
• The gas tank fabricators used to spend plenty of
time grinding welds to remove the heat tint around
the joint. The Hedlunds invested in a passivation
machine to remove the heat tint and help boost cor-
rosion resistance around the weld. The fabricators
are no longer grinding off the weld as they remove
the heat tint. Michael added that the customers like
the look of having the weld remain on the gas tanks.
“This is what I know,” Michael said as he looked
around the front office, “these four walls I’ve been
coming to forever. I don’t know what other people
Stephen has a good idea, however, and he likes
where the company is. Each employee is consistent-
ly working about 40 to 45 hours per week, instead
of 50 to 55 hours per week, which was the case in
the middle of summer, yet they are producing the
same amount of work. From a sales perspective,
Stephen said that Co-Lin is 20 percent ahead of his
“I got lucky. I can go out there [on the shop floor]
and do just about everything, too, which is nice. I got
lucky seeing that as a kid. Not many people learn
to TIG weld when they’re 15 or run a press brake,”
Stephen said. “And then for me to be able to go to a
bigger company and learn from somebody else how
to quote and all of that is lucky too.
“He never did any of the office stuff,” Stephen jokingly said of his dad.
“I didn’t know anything. I still don’t,” Michael re-
plied. “Just keep telling me we’re making money.”
That’s the plan. Stephen said that he wants to
invest in an ERP system to help with scheduling of
jobs and general data organization. He also one day
would like to own a laser cutting machine. In the
meantime, he’ll keep looking out for new custom-
ers and pursuing more logical job flow for the shop
In short, Co-Lin is becoming a 21st century metal
Editor-in-Chief Dan Davis can be reached at dand@
Co-Lin Metals Fabricating Inc., 5075 26th Ave., Rockford, IL 61109, 815-399-5311, www.co-linmetals.com
Stephen Hedlund had a custom welding table made so that fabricators can construct fixtures quickly and change over
to the next job in a few minutes.
Punching out blanks on Co-Lin’s older punch presses,
on which the operator has to hand-crank the punch into
position and then engage the punch with a foot pedal,
simply can’t compete with having them laser-cut by another company.