Made in Milwaukee: Pipe benders supply builders nationally

Sharpe Products


2550 S. 170th St., New Berlin

Industry: Pipe and tube product bending

Number of employees: 25

Sharpe Products was started out of a Delafield garage in 1990 to fabricate railings for the construction industry. Now, the company has a New Berlin factory where it bends a wide range of pipe and tube products that are distributed internationally.

Sharpe, located at 2550 S. 170th St. in New Berlin, has $5 million in annual sales. Its 25 employees use bending machinery to fill orders for both railings and custom projects for original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in industries such as the medical, automotive and furniture industries.

The pipes and tubes that Sharpe bends are used for products like medical cart handles, automotive exhausts, handlebars and shopping carts, said Dave Nogalski, estimator and account executive at Sharpe. It can work with pipe and tube with an outside diameter of between one-quarter of an inch to 6 inches.

“If it has a bend on it, we can bend it,” said Heather Schultz, creative director.

Sharpe first orders the pipes and tube material according to customer’s specifications, then creates a finished product through cutting, welding, bending and polishing the piece for custom projects. It also keeps common parts in stock, filling about one-quarter of its 50,000-square-foot shop.

A piece of tube inspection equipment uses 16 high resolution cameras to evaluate projects in production, that can send any corrections needed for the part back to the bending machine for quality control.

Recently, the company invested $2 million to update its pipe and tube bending equipment from hydraulic to all-electric, Nogalski said. The all-electric CNC equipment allows for quicker, more precise work, and is greener with no hydraulic fluid byproduct.

Sharpe also organized jobs into cells of related tools to increase efficiency.

“Because everything’s in a cell you’re making the part complete and putting everything in a shipping box,” Nogalski said.

In addition to the pipe and tube that Sharpe bends and welds, it manufactures and stocks handrail fittings such as rings, brackets, caps and other handrail components.

The company’s orders were down 15 percent in 2009 as the construction industry slowed down during the Great Recession, but it did not have to lay off any employees. Orders have been rebounding this year and president Paul Krickeberg said he hopes the increase this year exceeds the 2009 decline.

“Our goal is always to continually grow not only the company but our capabilities,” Krickeberg said. “One of the ways we see doing this is adding more value-added services by adding pre-bend and post-bend tube laser capabilities. (This) would allow us to replace the current procedures for hole-punching, notching, and slotting making these processes more cost-effective and time-efficient, which in-turn will make Sharpe even more competitive in the tube bending industry.”

Sharpe’s clients are located across the U.S. and in Mexico and Canada, but few are Wisconsin-based companies. The company hopes to change that by marketing to local businesses more aggressively. An open house will be held at the factory on Sept. 14, Schultz said.

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