By Dan Davis, Editor-in-Chief
For being only 46, Jim Sjoberg talks like some- one who has seen just about everything in metal fabricating. That’s not hard to believe,
however, considering that he started receiving a
paycheck when he was 12.
“I helped put in the yard when they built the shop,”
he said, referring to horticultural handiwork at the
old “new” building, which was erected in 1982.
Today Sjoberg Tool & Manufacturing Corp. operates in a 112,000-square-foot facility in Hartland,
Wis., which it has called home for over a third of its
40 years of existence. The company, founded by Sjoberg’s dad, a tool- and diemaker, has welcomed the
third generation of Sjobergs into the family business.
With the next generation of Sjobergs now learning
the metal fabricating ropes, they are getting a firsthand look at what fabricating technology means for
the shop’s success.
“My family has always invested in new equipment, not mansions and cars,” Sjoberg said. “I don’t
drive a jalopy, but I don’t have a $200,000 car either.
We’ve always had state-of-the-art equipment and
that is why we’ve thrived.
“I doubt other privately held companies would be
happy with our model. That’s pretty typical in the
industry. They don’t want to spend the capital. They
want to keep the profit margin huge,” he added. “A
family business is willing to do it for less [of a profit
Keeping up With Customers
Even as a youngster Sjoberg could see why technology was so important to the business: The manufacturing focus could change pretty rapidly.
Sjoberg Tool & Manufacturing began as a tool
and die shop, but in the mid-1980s it jumped into
high-volume part production. One of the company’s
sales representatives won a very substantial metal
forming contract, and Sjoberg Tool was suddenly in
the stamping business.
Some other significant contracts soon pulled the
company into the metal fabricating arena as well.
This led to the purchase of its first turret punch
press in the late 1980s and its first laser cutting machine in 1992.
The punch press and laser were kept busy, but
stamping still dominated the manufacturing mix in
the early 1990s. No one thought twice about invest-
ing in tooling for production; it was the way it was
done in the past, and no one was questioning the
wisdom of it—yet.
That started to change by 1994, according to Sjoberg, when the fabricator built its current manufacturing facility. It was going to fill the shop floor with
laser cutting capability and fewer stamping presses.
The days of 100,000-part orders per month were
drawing to a close.
The era of low-volume, high-mix manufacturing
had yet to emerge fully. The punch presses and laser
cutting machines were still used to pump out hundreds to thousands of the same part.
Sjoberg said the transition to expectations for
just-in-time delivery in the 2000s changed that.
Manufacturing customers wanted just the parts that
were needed, so they didn’t have to go to the trouble of storing and tracking excess inventory.
The six- to seven-week lead time for orders has
gone the way of the duplicator punch press. Most
of the work now falls into a three- to five-day turnaround time, if it doesn’t require paint. (Sjoberg
does not provide finishing services at its facility, but
a truck from its powder coating service supplier is
kept at the shop. The truck is filled and sent to the
custom coater as many as five times per week.)
Even long-term customers that have worked with
Sjoberg Tool long enough to accommodate a four-week lead time typically slip in hot jobs with their
regularly occurring orders.
“Delivery is not a given,” Sjoberg said.
That’s where the fabricator can stand out. Sjoberg said the company maintains an on-time delivery rate of about 99 percent. (The average on-time
Sjoberg Tool’s new Mazak Optiplex 3015 4-k W fiber
laser cuts sheet metal at such a rapid pace that it is
changing the way that the shop floor approaches
certain fabrication jobs.
Two of Sjoberg Tool’s Mazak 4-k W CO2 laser cutting machines are connected to a material storage and retrieval
system that allows for the 6-year-old machines to remain efficient part producers, particularly for 10-gauge or
thicker mild steel.
Keeping pace with technology
Wisconsin job shop has relied on cutting-edge equipment
to stay on top of increased customer demands