Sheet metal doesn’t care what time it is. In the middle of most nights, workers at Schebler Co. are welding away the hours as much of the Quad-Cities sleeps.
The Bettendorf-based company is recognized for its residential and commercial heating and air-conditioning services, but one of the greatest demands on the Schebler workforce comes from the industrial-chimneys division. The demand for specially fabricated chimneys and ventilation systems is so great, Schebler puts people to work on all three shifts.
“We couldn’t serve our customers if we didn’t run three shifts,” said Jim Anderson, president and CEO of Schebler.
At the start of a recent overnight shift, 17-year employee Jason Heinz began the way he does most nights: He unfolded the schematics for a chimney-system design.
“It’s really one big puzzle,” he said, studying the collection of drawings. “We’re making the puzzle for them to put together. We mold and cut the pieces to the correct length and design that meets all of the contractor’s specifications.”
On the schematic in front of him, it was plain to see that the chimney stack made a Y shape. The left side angled at 10 degrees, and the right side angled at 23 degrees.
Heinz has to have faith the drawings are absolutely correct.
“We count on the guys who we’re building the stack for to measure it right,” he said. “We trust that the guys out in the field know what they’re doing.”
Stacks get their starts as pieces of sheet metal. The sheets are cut to the desired length, then rolled, welded and cut again to meet the specifications from the schematics.
Just about everyone on Schebler’s production floor carries a tape measure. Any time a piece of metal is cut or formed by a machine, a worker measures it for accuracy. Some pieces are shipped across the country, so they cannot be easily corrected.
There are numerous machines to help in the production, and the team of union sheet metal workers from Local 91 programs the machines for accuracy.
The first one used is to cut each piece of flat sheet metal to the proper length and breadth. Next, the sheet is rolled and welded at the seams.
“You weld the seam together to make it a pipe,” said Rick Leenerts, who was using compressed argon in his seam welder. “You want to make sure there’s not a gap; otherwise the gasses will blow a hole in it. Then it moves on down the line.”
In the event there are many sheets to roll and seam weld, Schebler workers use a rolling and welding machine made by Wiel that is known, of course, as “the Wiel.”
Sam Gordon, who has worked for Schebler for 4½ years, explained how it works, saying he first programs specifications into the Wiel. He then observes the progress and accuracy by using the four video cameras inside the equipment, which capture each part of production.
“There are so many things that can happen,” he said. “You’ve got to make sure it’s rolled right, welded right and making it through there.”
In a recent run of the machine, Gordon detected a problem. Recent maintenance created an issue with incomplete welds, so Gordon tweaked the program. The pieces with incomplete welds had to be corrected by hand.
Other pieces under Gordon’s charge required a half-inch flange on each end. He used a small welder to prepare those pieces, then placed them in the machine that bends the flanges into shape. He measured each piece, declaring, “Perfect,” before being satisfied.
When the pieces made at Schebler arrive at their destinations, “they have a print, and it has all the parts labeled A, B, C, D on the print, and they put it together according to that,” Heinz said. “We send out instructions with every job so they know how to put it in. We give them all the tools they need to fit it together.”
Schebler, which will mark 120 years in business this fall, also has innovated products to help with job-site reassembly to save customers time and money.