How much metal can a welder weld if a welder has no metal to weld?
That was the question Joel Bennett and MaryKaye Cashman, customer relations officer and company CEO and chairman, respectively, faced at Cashman Equipment during the recent economic downturn.
But instead of laying off good employees or cutting their hours, they found something for them to do - weld unique pieces of art and furniture for the company's new headquarters, which was under construction in Henderson. And so, Weld Shop Designs was born.
According to Bennett, the company's facility is dedicated to water and resource conservation, energy efficiency and minimizing the impact on the surrounding environment. It was built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold standards, and it just did not make sense to purchase and import art to Nevada when they could use old parts from pieces of Caterpillar equipment they repaired and keep them from going to the landfill or being melted down for scrap metal.
Not only are the pieces sustainable because they are made of recycled machine parts, Bennett said they are durable and can last a lifetime.
Today, there are more than 15 outdoor sculptures in addition to the furniture and accent pieces placed throughout the building.
"No matter who comes through our doors, they all understand these are made of parts," Bennett said.
Kate Gallagher, Cashman's marketing communicator, said they get visitors from everywhere, especially other Caterpillar dealers, who come to see how the building was constructed. Cashman's facility is the first LEED Gold dealership in the Caterpillar family.
Cashman employs more than 700 people in six locations and is marking its 81st anniversary Sunday.
Now that business has picked up, the welders work on the pieces in their spare time or while waiting for a specific part to come in.
Gallagher said the time it takes to create a piece depends on the design, how complicated it is and how busy the weld shop is. A flower pot they made recently to sit outside Cashman's office took just a few days. A larger table could take three or more weeks, she added.
In addition to creating accents for the company's headquarters, the sustainable, welded furniture business sells home and office pieces to its customers, other Caterpillar distributors and the public.
Bennett said he comes up with a basic design based on the parts he has available and the customer's wishes. From there, the welders' creativity takes over.
"I find the parts, give them the dimensions and they do what they do," he said.
The design crew includes welders Tim Moriarty, Shon Parks and Mark Bail, each with his own style. Bennett said they compete with each other to come up with the most interesting and creative designs.
Together, the welders have more than 45 years of experience.
Bennett is justifiably proud of their work.
"This is the smoothest and coolest lazy Susan you'll ever see. It can spin for five minutes," he said of a glass-topped table made from bearings.
Prices for the design shop's pieces vary. A bench featuring old bearings was recently priced at $7,530. Bennett said that's a fair price, especially considering the two side bearings alone sell for $15,000 in the company's parts department.
Each piece created by Weld Shops Designs is handmade and one-of-a-kind, partly because of the nature of the materials.
"I don't know what parts I'll find," Bennett said, noting that he literally dives in the company's trash bins to find parts for their creations.
The parts he collects for the furniture and accents are pieces that could no longer be used in working Caterpillar equipment such as bull dozers, motor graders and haul trucks. These pieces include gears, bearings, sprockets, pistons, rocker arms and scraper blades.
The first piece they created was Remann and his dog Bolt. Remann is a 6 foot tall robot made from about 125 parts, complete with a red, beating Cat logo that serves as his heart.
Gallagher said they received a request from the human resources department to create a mascot for Cashman Equipment's display at Opportunity Village's annual Magical Forest. And though he now has a permanent home in the lobby of Cashman's office in Henderson, Remann returns each year to the holiday celebration.