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Shining a Light on Mold Repair and Refurbishing


At Absolute Laser Welding Solutions, work keeps coming

By Bill Koenig
Senior Editor

Out front at Absolute Laser Welding Solutions (Sterling Heights, MI), there was a sign advertising for two welding positions. It was easy to see why the sign was up. Inside, the 40 × 80' (12 × 24-m) shop was busy. A large oven, capable of generating heat up to 1200°F (650°C) was operating. A mold was being assembled. Welding was taking place at different workstations.

Absolute Laser Welding Solutions, or ALWS, has been in business since early 2013 and its workload keeps expanding. As the name implies, ALWS emphasizes laser welding.

With laser welding only small areas of the workpiece are affected by heat. Laser welding can be used to weld carbon steels, sThree small letters, each about 3/16” (5 mm), were filled in using Absolute Laser Welding Solutions equipment.tainless steel, aluminum and titanium. Higher quality welds result from laser welding because of the precise, intense heat. Lasers are used when tight tolerances and thin materials are involved.

Applications for laser welding have been expanding. The process is increasingly used in the automotive and medical industries for refurbishing and repairing molds.

Nate Wipp, one of the co-owners of ALWS, said laser welding “doesn’t change the micro structure of the steel.” Heat is minimized with “no distortion whatsoever.”

“We’ve doubled our sales each year,” Wipp added. “We have no sales team, however.”

“We had one customer who saw our web site,” David Gall, the other co-owner said. Most of ALWS’ business comes from word of mouth.

Modest Quarters

ALWS’ building is very basic: an office with a receptionist up front and the workshop in the back.

“We used to have a big waiting room,” Gall said. But the shop needed more production space. So the size of the waiting room was reduced. “We made it as small as we could.” The shop has about 20 employees and its equipment also includes two micro TIG (tungsten inert gas) welding stations and four conventional TIG welding stations.

ALWS’ biggest business is repairing molds because of wear and tear or adjusting molds because of changes in product designs. The company’s customers include suppliers in the automotive, aerospace and medical sectors. The same week the co-owners were interviewed, “We shipped out an aerospace tool after 64 hours of welding,” Wipp said.

“Anything that’s plastic on a car, we get the molds,” Wipp said. Other examples: molds for automaker logos that are affixed to the front of vehicles (“All manufacturer logos have been in here,” Wipp said) and molds used to manufacture Nerf footballs.

Gall and Wipp were both welders, with Gall having experience in the fabricating side and Wipp in the tool and die side.

“It’s something I had wanted,” Wipp said about starting a business of his own. “We both had been welders all of our adult lives.”

Gall worked as a contractor for the US military, which included spending two years in Afghanistan working on military vehicles. It was during that period that Gall was able to save money toward starting his own business. “You don’t have much tAn employee of Absolute Laser Welding Solutions performs repair work on a mold.o spend your money on [over there],” he said.

After starting ALWS, the two initially worked out of a building owned by a friend. Later in 2013, ALWS moved to its current space, which is in an industrial area in a suburb about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of downtown Detroit. It’s an area that includes small manufacturers, such as ALWS, as well as larger operations, such as a Ford Motor Co. axle factory and a Fiat Chrysler vehicle-assembly plant.

ALWS bought its first machine a month after opening its doors. Since then, it has purchased one machine about every six months.

Gall declined to specify the brands of equipment ALWS has bought.

“One of the reasons we are doing so well is our competitors and customers are buying machines that are inferior to ours and they can not compete with what we have,” Gall said. “If we let the cat out of the bag it could hurt our sales.”

Second Shift

ALWS has grown to the point that it now operates a second shift. The company’s four drivers are on the road all day, bringing work in and shipping repaired and refurbished molds and parts out. Customers are located across Michigan, in nearby states such as Ohio and Indiana, as well as states further out, such as South Carolina. ALWS has a tracking system to monitor shipments. Its production facility has an 8-ton (7.2-t) crane for loading and unloading the large tooling. ALWS also offers expedited services on a “case-by-case basis” for customers requiring a “special turnaround,” according to the company’s web site.

The company conducts four types of welding: laser welding, micro TIG welding, TIG welding and MIG (metal inert gas) welding.

Laser welding uses a wire “as small as a human hair” and is done under a microscope, according to ALWS’s web site. It’s the most precise type of welding offered by the company.
Employees of Absolute Laser Welding Solutions man three welding stations at its Sterling Heights, MI, shop.
The other welding services are for applications that don’t require the same level of precision.

Micro TIG is for “welds requiring moderate buildup with high precision,” according to the company web site. “It is quicker and less expensive than laser welding.”

TIG is used “for applying material for larger engineering changes and damaged areas that are too extensive for laser welding to be cost effective or time efficient.” MIG is a lower cost type of welding “used on less critical welds,” according to the web site.

ALWS’ furnace, which was mentioned earlier, is 72 × 72 × 72" (180 × 180 × 180 cm). It holds up to 25,000 lb (11,340 kg). The furnace is used for stress-relieving parts after they have been machined or subjected to large weld applications as well as being used for pre- and post-heating for large tools for TIG and MIG welding.



Hands On

The co-owners are hands on. They’re on the shop floor, wearing the same work clothes as their employees. Gall said business is so good he has ordered a fourth laser machine.

The ALWS owners know the stakes for their customers in getting molds, dies and other parts refurbished in a timely manner. “If we don’t get it fixed, it can stop the assembly line,” Gall said.

Like other manufacturers, the ALWS co-owners also grapple with finding skilled workers.

“They don’t teach this in the schools,” Wipp said. “There is no school in metro Detroit that teaches laser welding.”

As a result, the owners do their own training.

“We can teach these guys the way I like it,” Wipp said.

ALWS may need new quarters sooner than later. “We’re looking to expand in a year-and-a-half, two years,” Wipp said.

The company owners also aren’t resting. “We’re not afraid of competition but we know it’s coming,” Wipp said.


This article was first published in the January 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Click here for PDF.

Published Date : 1/1/2016

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