Duramax Hyamp Long torch improving production at Hokes Bluff Welding & Fabrication

By Ann Thompson
Posted on 09/09/2019 in SPARK the blog, Plasma cutting

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, the charming town of Hokes Bluff, in Northeastern Alabama, offers residents and visitors countless scenic views, fresh waterways, and pleasant weather. The town overlooks the Coosa River, its “bluff” first serving as a watch post for Native American tribes. Hokes Bluff gained its name in the 1850s with the arrival of Daniel Hokes Jr. and the opening of a trading post and blacksmith shop.

Today, instead of forging iron or steel, the area’s metal needs are met by Hokes Bluff Welding & Fab, the town’s largest employer with 40 employees. Barry Alan Cherry, one of the owners, recalls getting this advice just before he and his family bought the business in 1992, “Son, it’s a crappy job, but someone has to do it. Better yet, someone must pay someone to do it! That’s how we built our business, doing these kinds of jobs; the ones that people turn away; the hard, the dirty, and the nasty.”

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Nearly 30 years later, those words from the then owners of Hokes Bluff Welding & Fab still stick in Cherry’s head. Some things are different. His dad and original business partner is no longer a physical presence at the company having passed away in 1996. Instead Cherry works with a new partner, longtime friend Doug Thomas. In addition, a third generation of the Cherry family, twin sons Billy and Rusty, are also there.

Cherry is certainly no stranger to welding and fabrication having worked in the business for many years before becoming an owner. Thomas, a co-owner since 1999, also knows what it takes. As he explains, “I’ve worked from the bottom to the top and I’ve learned the challenges first-hand. I started as a welder and fitter back in 1977; next I was promoted to lead welder, then supervisor, plant manager, and now I’m an owner. That journey took over 40 years! I know and understand what needs to be done and why decisions are made at all these levels. I understand why a welder thinks like he does because I have been one.”

That philosophy seems to work. Under their management, Cherry and Thomas’ business has doubled in size over the past two decades. Like any job shop, the jobs that come through the doors in Hokes Bluff vary from small parts to large beams and pieces for heavy construction equipment, trailers, tanks, and furnaces. Work is plentiful. Word of mouth from happy customers combined with good highway access means the business attracts work from up and down the US-278 and I-59 corridors.  

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The business is loyal to Hypertherm, purchasing its first Hypertherm system—an automated MAX100—nearly 25 years ago, and adding several more systems to keep up with business growth in the ensuing years. Today, Hokes Bluff relies on a HyPerformance HPR260XD to cut mild steel up to ¾ of an inch in thickness. A Sensor THC, EDGE Pro Ti CNC, and ProNest software complete the package. This combination of Hypertherm products gives the Hokes Bluff team access to SureCut technology including True Hole.

“The HPR is an outstanding system,” states Cherry, “We recently cut Inconel 625 (a nickel-based alloy known for outstanding strength) using the HPR’s stainless steel parameters. The cut was great.”

Cherry and Thomas were able to save money when upgrading to the HyPerformance system by choosing to retrofit it onto a C&G Systems table they already had. In addition, Hokes Bluff Welding and Fab uses two Powermax105 air plasma systems.

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One of the Powermax systems powers a cutting table giving Hokes Bluff a second, albeit smaller, automated option, while the second Powermax is used for handheld applications. Though Hokes Bluff only has two Powermax systems, its employees use three torches.

The first is a traditional machine torch found on their automated system, while the remaining two torches are found on the handheld Powermax. Using the quick disconnect torch feature found on all newer Powermax systems, the team is able to quickly alternate between a traditional hand torch and Hypertherm’s patented four-foot Duramax Hyamp Long torch.

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Cherry says, “The long torch has made everything faster and easier for us. It’s just amazing!” His team uses the torch to cut up skeletons on the large table. It now takes less time to clear the table. “It has maximized production, so we have little to no downtime. Our operator loves it because he can just keep moving.”

That operator happens to be Cherry’s son and Thomas’ nephew, Billy. As the younger Cherry goes about his work, he marvels at the consumables that go into the torch. He’s particularly impressed by the life he’s getting. Because cut quality isn’t a top priority when scrapping skeletons, he uses the consumables past their prime.

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“I find that the consumables last much longer than what you say they do. I went on your website to check and we are getting between 70 to 80 percent longer life. I only change my consumables once every week and a half to two weeks. That includes the electrode and nozzle.”

Also impressive, he says, is the ability to drag cut. Cherry simply places the long torch at the edge of the skeleton and drags it along the material. He calls the drag cutting a great back saver since he doesn’t have to hold the torch up off the workpiece.

The younger Cherry and his twin brother have worked at Hokes Bluff Welding and Fab for a couple of years now, but there isn’t any favoritism going on here. Concerned about the legacy of Hokes Bluff Welding and Fab and wanting to prepare the twins for life, the elder Cherry and Thomas told the boys they’d have to work somewhere else for at least five years before they’d even consider hiring them.

As the elder Cherry explains, “We’ve seen so many children drive their family’s business into the ground, and we wanted them to be successful. Doug and I never gave them any special treatment and they had to apply to Hokes Bluff Welding & Fab like anyone else. However, I do demand more of them because they are my sons.”

After five years, the twins did apply for a job at Hokes Bluff Welding & Fab. “I told the boys when they came to work for us that this is an opportunity to earn the respect of the men and women that they work next to. That is something they must earn. We cannot make people respect them,” Thomas says.

From blacksmithing to the most modern of fabrication technology, the team in Hokes Bluff is putting the right pieces in place. The elder Cherry and Thomas have no idea if the boys will want to take over the business someday but nonetheless want to ensure they are prepared for whatever comes their way.

For more information on the Duramax Hyamp Long torch or other Hypertherm products, contact us