Sargent Metal Fabricators: Bringing Innovation to Fabrication

Metal fabrication plays a vital role in manufacturing industries by producing components and parts for various products. From defense to aerospace, electronics to appliances, metal fabrication is integral to the production of countless goods.

Given the pivotal role metal fabrication plays in diverse industries, it is no wonder that businesses like Sargent Metal Fabricators (SMF) in Anderson, South Carolina are crucial players in the manufacturing landscape. Founded in 1975 and nearing its 50-year milestone next year, this family-owned business stands as a testament to the evolution and resilience inherent in the industry. Recently, SMF opened its doors to attendees of the OpExChange, offering a firsthand look into their operations during an immersive plant tour.

Mark Williamson, Vice President of Engineering and Sales welcomed the OpExChange visitors with an exciting message, “Prepare to be dazzled!” Mark has been with the company for a little over a year and has seen some amazing technological changes even in this brief time.

CEO, Tim Hayden, provided the group with a history of the company. SMF originally started as a sheet metal fabrication company, producing duct work for HVAC systems. His stepfather, Donnie Sargent started the company in 1975 and it has been growing ever since. Tim began working at the plant when he was fourteen years old under the tutelage of both his stepfather and grandfather, J.D. Sargent. Tim explained that this family-owned business has maintained their family values through the past five decades as they consider all of their employees as part of the Sargent family.

Before beginning the plant tour, Tim stated that for today, the OpExChange visitors are also “part of the Sargent family.” He pointed out as a family, they always pray together. He underscored the company’s tradition of prayer by offering a heartfelt invocation for God’s blessings upon the visitors and their respective companies.

Sargent Metal History

When Donnie Sargent began this business, it initially began as a sheet-metal operation, creating HVAC ductwork, machinery guards, and millwright type work, primarily serving the textile industry. By the mid-1980s, the focus shifted towards manufacturing fire trucks and armored vehicles. Their business model further transitioned into CNC fabrication in the early 1990s. Their success prompted a move to a larger facility, laying the groundwork for future expansion. It was at this point that Sargent Metal had a game-changing move as they transitioned to automated CNC fabrication. This was a defining milestone in SMF’s trajectory, as Tim and his team experienced how incorporating automation not only improved safety, quality, and productivity but it also made them more relevant than most of their competitors. From this point forward, automation and technology became a key component to their strategic model.

Ever since Donnie started this business, a common denominator for their company has been valuing hard work, coupled with a commitment to family values. As this business has grown, their extended family has grown with it. Tim stated that “We are still one big family. We have each other’s backs. We care for one another. Our people are our family. We are here to love on them, care for them, and help them get through whatever is going on – to make them a better employee, a better husband, a better wife, a better parent.”

Tim stated that as they move forward, they are committed to investing in their people, in technology that differentiates them from their competition, and in their customers.

Recent growth has included doubling their facility size to 160,000 square feet, adding several pieces of state-of-the-art equipment, and incorporating sophisticated software solutions that streamline and optimize their operations and lead time.

Tim announced that they are approaching their 50-year anniversary next year, and “We are just getting started!”

The Automation Journey – “We have arrived.”

Andy Bonnett, the Application Manager at Sargent Metal, guided the group through the company’s automation journey, underscoring their deep-rooted commitment to automation. He began by stating, “We are a highly motivated, automated company. Automation is in our DNA.” Their transformative path began roughly twenty years ago with the acquisition of the Trumpf Trumatic 500 CNC punching machine. This state-of-the-art machine, equipped with automatic loading and unloading features, significantly streamlined operations for machine operators, leading to enhanced productivity. Everyone worked hard on this and was tremendously proud of this technological improvement. Andy noted, “We felt we had arrived” on their automation journey.

Fast forward a few years to 2005. SMF developed a partnership with Trumpf, who is the leading machine tool supplier worldwide. Together, they pioneered robotic bending technology in the United States at their plant, making SMF the first site in the United States to adopt a Trumpf robotic bending cell. Andy again noted, “We felt we had arrived.”

Over the next twenty years, their journey was characterized by a series of automated enhancements, including sophisticated vertical material handling solutions facilitating equipment loading and unloading, 8KW Fiber laser cutting capable of achieving a cutting rate of 2,300 inches per minute, implementation of a fully integrated software system for offline programming, and integration of four fully robotic press brake cells.

Reflecting on each milestone, Andy noted that it felt like they “had arrived” at each juncture. He added with humility, however, they came to realize they will never really “arrive” at a final destination. With technology advancing at an unprecedented pace, SMF will continue to evolve, affirming that automation is indeed ingrained in their DNA. Andy reiterated Sargent Metal’s commitment to remaining at the forefront of automation, deviating from the stereotype of antiquated metal fabrication companies. They are going to remain the leading innovators in metal fabrication.

Andy added that what would be seen on the tour today will be even more sophisticated one year from now. Plans are in place to implement automated guided vehicles (AGVs) for improving the material handling between processes, further improving facility safety, and enhancing quality.

Andy summarized that automation has been pivotal to their company’s success. Over the last two decades, they have doubled their revenue while maintaining headcount, improved workforce operations, and maintained relevance within the market. He reiterated that their primary goal with automation is to reduce the physical workload of their workforce, making processes easier, safer, and enhancing overall work experiences.

Plant Tour – “Prepare to be Dazzled”

Mark Williamson had promised a dazzling experience for the plant tour, and the visitors were indeed impressed during the hour-long excursion. The large group was divided into four smaller cohorts for a guided exploration of their operations.

The 160,000-square-foot facility left a striking impression. It was remarkably bright and well maintained. One visitor remarked on the air-conditioned workspace, noting this must be a significant factor in employee retention, particularly during summer months. Another visitor commented on the facility’s cleanliness, stating, “This is the most immaculate metal facility I’ve ever seen.”

The tour included four stopping points for presentation – the fiber laser cutting operation, four robotic brake press rooms, the welding department, and the newly added powder coating operations.

Fiber Laser Cutting

Andy Bonnett met each tour group on the shop floor and provided a comprehensive overview of their latest laser equipment, the Trumpf 5030 8KW Fiber laser. With two of these machines on-site, they have replaced the older CO2 technology. The fiber technology has fewer moving parts, superior cut quality, lower operating costs, and operates up to five times faster than its CO2 counterpart. While the laser itself is impressive, the peripheral equipment is equally remarkable. A connected forty-six shelf tower and accompanying LiftMaster automate the loading of the laser as well as a neighboring punch press, further reducing manual handling of sheet metal. Additionally, they incorporated a mezzanine above the equipment, optimizing vertical storage space to create room on the floor for future expansion. Andy added that the 2025 plan is to incorporate a linear robot that will unload and stack parts from the laser so that they can be presented in the correct orientation for the robotic press brake cells.

Robotic Press Brake Cells

A highlight of the tour was the four Trumpf robotic bending cells. Among these, two are the Trumpf 7000 TruBend 7000 cells, designed primarily for smaller parts and renowned by Trumpf as “the world’s fastest bending cell. The remaining two are the Trumpf TruBend 5000 cells, which are utilized for larger parts. Each cell is housed in an enclosed room featuring transparent panels, providing full visibility of the operations. These futuristic cells require minimal operator intervention and are capable of “lights-out” manufacturing. A combination of robots is responsible for selecting the part to be processed, transporting it to the press brake, guiding it through the bending process, and ultimately placing it onto a conveyor for exit from the cell. Participants on the tour marveled at how the robot would use a vision system to recognize the orientation of the part so it would pick it up correctly for presentation to the press brake.

Welding Operations

The group was guided through the welding department by Gray Moore, the welding supervisor at SMF. The plant houses fifteen welding stations – twelve manual and three robotic ones. While the goal is to automate welding processes using robotic systems, they recognize the continued importance of manual welding to accommodate specific customer requirements. Gray demonstrated their adoption of innovative technology even in their manual welding operations. They recently incorporated a hand-held laser welder, which he explained can be operated with minimal training and produces welds comparable to those created by highly skilled TIG welders.

Their newest robotic welding addition is a Trumpf TruArc Weld 1000. Robotic welding offers numerous advantages over manual methods. The consistent and repeatable motion of the robot, in combination with optimized fixtures, facilitates rapid setup and seamless transitions between multiple welds on a single part. This not only enhances efficiency but also ensures consistency and repeatability in terms of weld quality.

During the tour, Jim Beebe, Vice President of Business Development, shared a recent success story attributed to their robotic welding capabilities. By utilizing the Trumpf robotic welder, they were able to bring back business previously outsourced by a large OEM to China. Now, that same part is produced in a single welding setup on the robotic welder, proudly manufactured at Sargent Metal in Anderson, South Carolina, USA.

Powder Coating

In 2022, Sargent Metal expanded its capabilities by incorporating powder coating into its operations. The 1,200-foot powder coating system features a five-stage zirconium wash process, ensuring thorough cleaning of parts for superior metal bonding. The Nordson paint booth facilitates quick color changeovers, typically completed in around ten minutes. Operating at a speed of approximately eight feet per minute, the line employs a hanging conveyor system to transport parts. From the moment a part is placed on the hanger to its exit, the process takes approximately two hours to complete. To ensure comprehensive coverage, the system is equipped with twelve automatic spray applicators and two manual sprayers for reaching difficult-to-access areas.

The Journey Continues

Metal fabrication has been a vital component in numerous manufacturing sectors and industries for multiple decades and will remain so in the future. Sargent Metal Fabricators has demonstrated that it possesses both the automation and family values essential for success, which are both deeply ingrained in its DNA.

As Andy Bonnett aptly expressed, they will never reach a definitive endpoint. Although each milestone achieved is recognized and celebrated, technology is evolving at a breakneck pace. Sargent Metal Fabricators is committed to consistently striving to be at the forefront of these technological advancements. Andy provided some sage advice to the guests – it is important to stay relevant in this ever-changing landscape. If you have not started with automation, get started now. You cannot afford not to do so. He also recommends finding great partners with whom to work, just as they did with Trumpf.

Sargent Metal Fabricators is less than a year away from their 50th anniversary. It will be exciting to see the innovations they incorporate in the next year!

About Sargent Metal Fabricators

Sargent Metal Fabricators is a family-owned and operated metal fabrication company located in Anderson, South Carolina. Founded in 1975 by J.D. and Donnie Sargent, the company has grown to become a leading provider of precision metal fabrication services to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) across various industries. With a 160,000 square foot state-of-the-art manufacturing facility, Sargent Metal utilizes advanced equipment and technology to offer a wide range of services, including laser cutting, punching, welding, powder coating, and assembly. Committed to quality, innovation, and customer satisfaction, Sargent Metal’s skilled team of professionals works closely with clients to understand their unique requirements and deliver customized solutions that meet or exceed their expectations. By continuously investing in its people, processes, and equipment, Sargent Metal remains at the forefront of the metal fabrication industry, providing reliable and cost-effective services to its valued customers.

About OpExChange

The OpExChange, sponsored by the South Carolina Manufacturing Extension Partnership, is a peer-to-peer network of manufacturers and distributors in South Carolina known for generating success for members through benchmarking and best practice sharing. Member companies host events and share practical examples of industrial automation, lean manufacturing improvements, and leadership development. It is an invaluable resource to South Carolina companies that provides access to others who are on similar improvement journeys. If your company is interested in participating in this collaborative effort to improve both the competitiveness of your operation and South Carolina, contact Mike Demos ( More information and upcoming plant visits are available on the OpExChange website


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