Metal Fabrication, Friends and Family

Matt Brandt, 2018 Trade Scholar

The beginning..

During the month of August, I began my BBM journey at BBT Fabrications in Mahomet central Illinois, United States of America. Getting acquainted with Troy Gudgel and his team of highly skilled coach builders, to work on various high-end car builds, using top of the range tools to complete several projects. BBT caught my attention through their social media, taking note of their works and show winning builds; knowing I had this opportunity to travel, I decided to contact them and before I knew it, Troy became my mentor and for the next six weeks I got to experience working in their shop, learning their techniques and skills- as well as experiencing the American culture.

During the couple of days before beginning my placement, I felt intimidated, lonely. It was hard to adjust to the different time zones, weather and the taste of their food. However, as soon as my placement started, I picked up things quickly and adapted with Troy and his team easily; as they were all easy going and helpful with adapting to the American lifestyle. I didn’t feel as intimidated or as lonely, I was beginning to enjoy my time, and was ready to see what the next six weeks would bring me.

Straight into it…

One of the key challenges I experienced would have to be the conversion of the metric system to the imperial system. Especially measuring things with small tolerances to fit exact specifications.

From day one I was hands on with projects. Completing my first one, with the guidance of Troy, making templates then fabricating a floor pan section for a Lincoln continental out of mild steel. I got to experience many techniques such as, using the imperial measuring system to make wooden buck templates that were fastened to the steel and used to fabricate the floor section as well as using the pullmax machine with dyes specially made to suit the floor swages.

I was given the task of making a radiused dome with a open end by hand using very limited tooling – mainly a bag filled with shotgun shot and a bossing mallet to stretch the aluminium to create a radius the planishing it up with hammer and dolly to smooth it out then using T dolly to radius the open ends. I then got to make the same thing but using all the tooling available. I used the pullmax with shrinking dyes to start the radius then running it through the air planishing hammer with a number 6 dye to create an even radius which was all done by hammer and a lot of checking with radius gauges, using the machinery available in the shop which made the job a lot quicker and the finish a far better standard over making it by hand.

I then got the chance to design and fabricate door trims for one of their customers Willy’s coupe out of aluminium where I copied templates out of cardboard of the original trims and then transferring them to the aluminium where I laid the designs on the panels with marker and went on to make wooden buck templates and fixed them and pre-stretched it with the air planishing hammer then putting it through the pullmax then metal finished to be left in a raw aluminium finish, with this panel I got the chance to do some aluminium TIG welding which is a skill I’ve been really eager to learn.

I also got to put in some rust sections into Troy’s Chevrolet Pickup which required a lot of hand forming/shaping of mild steel in order to get a good fit of the panels. I then TIG welded and metal finished up the panels so I could then epoxy prime them. This was a good chance for me to experience welding in a lot of awkward positions which I enjoyed doing something new that was challenging, it has since made me a lot more confident with my TIG welding of steel and aluminium.

Reflections…

I got a lot of experience working with aluminium which included welding, shaping and stretching to fabricate interior panels for numerous projects one being for a car which was getting unveiled by BBT Fabrications at SEMA in Las Vegas in early November this year. I have learnt ample techniques that I would have possibly never been able to develop in Australia as the American custom car scene is a lot more advanced and popular, causing there to be a high demand for top quality shops like BBT.

I personally think I grew a lot from my experience as I have never been overseas, especially on my own. I managed to meet and become friends with lots of different people and when I went to car shows or places on my own, I was able to always meet someone I had met through BBT there.  Driving was a different experience of its own, as I was driving by my second day of my placement, eventually by the end of my placement driving on the opposite side of the road and car became natural.

This opportunity to work with BBT, fly across the world, mix with people of a different culture/background and upbringing, was 10 x better than what I could have imagined. Given that I was expecting that the shop wouldn’t have been what it was, it blew my mind with the quality and craftsmanship of the cars they had built and currently building for customers across the country. I was fortunate enough to be welcomed into the BBT family and have had the chance to go to car shows with the team as well as being a part of their personal lives, allowing me to experience what they get done as a family.

As time went on, I began to realize how I wanted to go about my career back home, moving on from smash repair to customization/coach building. I would recommend for the younger generation to put themselves forward into Worldskills, which gave me this opportunity. I have been fortunate enough to be given many potential job opportunities within Australia and also a job offer by BBT fabrications which was an amazing feeling knowing I made an awesome impression on them with my short time with them.

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