Like many small shops, Stainless Works began its
component manufacturing using the resources it
had available, which at first wasn’t much. But by the
early 2000s its growth really stepped into high gear.
The shop hired an engineering team and built a process for quick product development. This quick response was the keystone to Stainless Works’ early
success; the automotive component aftermarket rewards those who are first to market with a product.
Using touch probes and other tools to establish datum points, and using that information to establish
the tube bending program, the team builds a prototype as quickly as it can.
Stainless Works developed relationships with lo-
cal car dealers. As Greg Fuller, now sales engineer,
explained, “Our engineers and R&D personnel de-
sign an exhaust system that provides the best air
flow and best sound. That’s what everybody’s look-
ing for: sound and performance.”
“The exhaust system is made out of 304 stainless
steel, so it’s going to last for 100 years,” Kohler said.
“The car will be long gone before the exhaust sys-
tem wears out.”
The company moved early into welding automa-
tion. A decade ago it purchased a welding cell with
two articulating robot arms, one with a gas metal
arc welding (GMAW) gun and one with a wire-fed gas
tungsten arc welding (GTAW) torch.
“We were an early adopter in our area for automated GTAW,” Kohler recalled, adding that GTAW
was a good fit for a few of the shop’s higher-run
stainless product lines. The thinking was that making the same weld all day, even with GTAW, wouldn’t
take full advantage of the company’s welding talent,
which now focuses mostly on lower-volume work.
To cut its own flanges for the exhaust components, the company purchased its first laser cutting
system in the early 2000s, followed by a second system in 2006. It then replaced its first laser with an
automated material handling tower in 2013. When
the shop wasn’t cutting flanges for its own product
lines, it cut flat laser parts for other local companies.
Of course, the flat laser cutting market got crowded
in a hurry. With nearly every fabricator in the area
owning a laser, flat laser cutting by itself was becoming a commodity. So in 2005 it upgraded its
bending capability with a new TRUMPF press brake
that, combined with its existing welding capability,
allowed the manufacture of complete sheet metal
“The owner [Ron Fuller] at the time had the fore-
sight not to put all of his eggs in one basket, with the
Stainless Works brand,” Kohler said. “After all, with
trends in emissions, is aftermarket exhaust manu-
facturing going to be viable in 20 years? On the other
hand, there’s always going to be a need for custom
This led to what became MetalFab Group, a sub-
sidiary officially formed in 2013. Today the custom
fabrication operation processes everything from
small pieces to large sheet and tubular assemblies,
including fabrications made of food-grade material.
Launching MetalFab Group helped overcome two
fundamental challenges. First, selling custom fabri-
cation under the Stainless Works brand made peo-
ple assume that the company specialized only in
stainless steel, which wasn’t the case. It’s the reason
MetalFab Group’s website prominently lists a range
of materials the company works with, from carbon
steel to titanium.
The second challenge was commoditization. Answer a request for quote and do nothing else, and
it can become just about the price. For this reason,
MetalFab Group has instituted an “exploration”
step, spelled out in detail on the company’s website
and other marketing material. It all boils down to
four steps: exploration, quoting, ordering, and production.
“During exploration, we want to look at the job in
depth,” Kohler said.
Sales engineers ask questions about specified
tolerances (or lack thereof), and generally discuss
how they can save customers money while maintaining or improving quality. It’s a common practice
among fabricators these days, though documenting it in marketing material helps set the fabricator
apart, especially for prospects unfamiliar with sheet
Internal documentation detailing exploration,
quoting, and estimating (and every other shop process, for that matter) helped the company attain ISO
9001 certification in January of this year. The company originally worked toward ISO certification for
the MetalFab Group subsidiary, considering many
original equipment manufacturers in the market require it. But because processes were documented
on both the custom fabrication side and the automotive aftermarket side, Stainless Works attained
ISO certification as well—and as of this writing, it
remains one of the few aftermarket stainless steel
exhaust manufacturers to do so.
The organization had the growing pains many
small companies experience. Early on the shop’s
handful of employees wore multiple hats and just
did what it took to get a job done. The shop had a lot
of holdovers from its hot rod days.
Now, instead of working off hand-drawn prints,
workers refer to standardized work instructions
and blueprints. The company now has an engineer-
A large sheet is staged for bending at the press brake. MetalFab Group is increasingly getting into large assemblies.
The company’s laser cutting system is shared between Stainless Works and MetalFab Group. Note the space constraints. The company is moving into a new facility later this year.