By Mark Shortt
Complex parts often require multiple manufacturing processes before they’re completed. For product manufacturers, it can be quite a challenge to manage the quality, cost, and logistics of all the different processes needed to produce a finished part or assembly. One company that addresses this challenge is Sharpe Products, a pipe and tube bending specialist that began operating in the Milwaukee area in 1990 as Sharpe Fabrication, Inc., a fabricator of architectural hand rails.
Today, Sharpe Products provides custom pipe and tube bending, laser tube cutting, and custom fabrication services that meet the unique bending, laser cutting, and fabrication needs of OEMs in a timely, cost-effective manner, said Sharpe Products Marketing Manager Susan Rinehart in an emailed response. The company serves customers in a number of different industries, from medical to heavy equipment. Included among them are the automotive, aerospace, marine, construction, and food and beverage industries, as well as furniture and fixtures, agricultural, architecture, and recreation.
“We provide custom pipe and tube bends and laser cutting for OEM and product manufacturers, and can bend pipe or tube from ¼-inch O.D. to a full 6-inch O.D.,” said Rinehart.
Besides bending pipes and tubes up to 6 inches in outside diameter, the company’s bending machinery and equipment is capable of providing multi-radius stacking and rolling; right and left bending in one process; and multi-radius bends without additional tooling. Variable and tight radius bends, parts requiring tight and large radii, and symmetrical bends are also possible, Rinehart said.
What types of applications require tube bending and laser cutting?
Quite a few, according to Rinehart, who noted that needs exist for these processes in the production of medical and industrial carts, handles, arm rests, suspended fixtures, railings, and furniture frames. Makers of automotive parts (including exhaust systems to interior seat structures), artistic installations, and equipment for the brewing and culinary industries also seek these capabilities, she added.
Rinehart said that Sharpe Products has invested heavily to expand its capacity, technology and machinery, allowing the company to offer customers more of what they need in one shop.
“With Sharpe, OEMs can have pipes and tubes laser cut, then put directly through the bending process, then through any needed fabricating services (including end-forming) and shipped out,” she said, noting the savings in time and cost versus having different shops cut, bend and finish them. “Sharpe has a short lead time and a goal to provide most new products within a week or two of the submitted order.”
Rinehart also noted that with its lean, CNC, all-electric bending machines, Sharpe’s products are extremely accurate. With Sharpe’s process streamlined to combine bending and laser cutting, the company also offers custom fabrication services like welding, polishing, punching and drilling, further saving customers time with their one-stop job shop approach.
One project for the medical industry highlighted Sharpe’s ability to offer multiple processes—laser cutting, bending, and CNC milling—in one location to save time and cost for its customer. It involved a part that had several interconnecting pieces, Rinehart said. Each part needed to be bent and required holes on either side of the bend, as well as on the bend. To speed production, Sharpe used its lasers for the majority of the cutting, and then bent the parts. The company then used its CNC mill to add holes that would have otherwise been deformed in the bending process.
A major challenge of the job was to create parts with a high degree of accuracy for the large number of holes of different sizes and shapes, Rinehart said. Sharpe also had to ensure that none of them were deformed, and that they fit precisely in the final assembly.
“Our CAD and scanning capabilities ensured repeatability and accuracy for each part,” she said. “This part showcases Sharpe’s full suite of abilities in working hand-in-hand seamlessly with each other, rather than finding individual processes across multiple companies,” she said.
To further increase its capabilities and improve production speed, Sharpe recently purchased a fiber-optic robotic-fed 5-axis laser cutting system that is slated to begin production soon at the company’s 71,000-square-foot facility in New Berlin, Wisconsin, where it employs 40 full-time team members. The 2,500-watt Jenoptik robotic 3D laser cutting system is said to be an extremely precise system that will enable the company to process complex, 3D metal components at high speeds. The Jenoptik-Votan® BIM laser cutting system is said to precisely follow the contour and ensure maximum accessibility to the workpiece. It is described by its manufacturer as a dynamic system that “can be perfectly tailored to the component.”
The robotic 3D laser complements Sharpe’s high-capacity multi-bend CNC benders and two fiber-optic tube lasers.
One of the shining stars of Sharpe’s technology portfolio is a powerful, state-of-the-art 3,000-watt BLM fiber-optic tube laser that is said to offer unique cutting capabilities and increased production speed versus traditional CO2 tube lasers. Its added power not only allows Sharpe to handle thicker stainless steel and aluminum material (up to ⅜-inch) for ornamental jobs, but also gives the company the ability to cut highly reflective metals, such as copper, brass, bronze and galvanized pipe. Laser tube cutting offers significantly improved speed and efficiency, as well as the ability to produce high-quality parts with holes, slots, and part marks, Rinehart said.
Sharpe Products (www.sharpeproducts.com) also offers a wide variety of pipe and tube end-forming capabilities, as well as an inventory of over 600 bending dies to help product manufacturers save significantly on tooling costs and time with a faster turnaround, Rinehart said.