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Sheet-metal artistry for hire.

Sheet-metal artistry for hire

In Europe, 25 percent of sheet-metal fabrication work is contracted out versus only 5 percent here, says Salvagnini America Inc, who finds job shops there much more receptive to automation and precision fabrication than here. Yet, we easily found examples of fab shops here investing in the latest equipment, CNC controls, and qualified to throw around the word "precision."

Maybe, the problem here is a false perception that sheet-metal parts must be made in-house, that nobody in your neighborhood is qualified to make them for you. Take a look around--some small-shop entrepreneurs have moved fab-shop technology up a notch, proving that the payback's there for a big step up in process efficiency and precision. These are the leaders paving the way for the next generation of US job shops--and reaping the benefits.

Locked in on lock boxes

Leonhard May is an excellent example. He started out as a North Royalton, OH, tool & die shop in 1973, later built special machinery, and moved into sheet metal fabrication in 1981 (when a lot of T&D business dried up), primarily because he couldn't get the sheet-metal parts he needed fast enough. He now has three separate companies under one roof, employing a total of 80 people: May Tool & Die, Keltch Sheet Metal Enterprises, and Gastronom (making ovens for restaurants). He's now the largest user of stainless sheet in the Greater Cleveland area.

His biggest customer is Federal Express, for whom we produces a completely manufactured product, stainless-steel lock boxes in various in-door and out-door designs, in lots of up to 1200 boxes. "Federal is always in a hurry," explains May. "They call up and want a prototype in four weeks when they're just starting a rough layout. We have to complete the layout, build the unit from scratch, finish it, and ship it in four weeks."

May got this business by saying "No problem," when other job shops were saying "Impossible!" What's your competitive edge? "It's always the same three things," replies May, "quality, followed in importance by delivery, and then price. Our goal is to serve the customer--he is definitely king here. They call us in with a problem and tight deadline, and they know that they can count on us to live up to our commitment."

He has no problem getting business, and can tackle just about any size part that can be handled manually. He's had some trouble integrating parts poorly made by others into his products. "When we point this out in a nice way to the purchasing agent who low-bid this unit, they usually get very offended, but an engineer would know better--that it doesn't pay to take the cheapest bid. He would want to evaluate a vendor's capabilities, and visit their facilities."

Philosophy lessons

Here are some key points in May's business philosophy: . A clean shop sells itself: "Quality starts with cleanliness. Some people think I'm crazy, but I buy brooms, dustpans, sweeping compound, and $1000 vacuum cleaners because I feel cleanliness is the key to this industry." . Junk makes junk: "If you buy junk machinery, you will make junk. So everything I buy is new, unless it is something that has no effect on end-product quality." . Don't compete with garage shops: "I bought a 300-ton press so I could be where the big boys are, not competing with those garage-shop guys who are only in business to make fishing money." . Commit to your labor force: "I'm employing quite a few people, and we have excellent facilities, excellent benefits, profit sharing, etc. I'm committed to excellence--in my shop, my people, and my products." . Finish what you start: "Few buyers want to use one shop for shearing, punching, and bending, and another for welding, grinding, and finishing. If a customer gets a complete product from someone else, he will expect that from you." . Go a notch beyond: May is unafraid to bid jobs based on buying major new equipment to fulfill them. "If we get the order and purchase that new machine, the word will go out that we have this new capacity and more work will follow. Sure, this is risky but that's how we move in new directions and stay ahead of the rest." . Pay cash for everything: When he first went into sheet-metal work, May had some difficulty getting financing. Not anymore, he now pays cash for everything, although he will ask (and usually get) short-term financing from the machine builder (25 percent on delivery, balance within the year).

Acronym era?

To Roy Wade, executive vice president, manufacturing, Magni-Power Co, Wooster, OH, the big changes in the last five years are spelled out in acronyms: JIT, SPC, and MRP, and host of challenging new federal and state regulations that take up a lot of time.

Magni-Power has about 80 people in their Wooster, OH, Magni-Fab division, plus a similar-sized plant in Texas. Nearly half of their business here is making parts for two large customer--3000 part numbers, some exclusively and some second--sourced by other vendors.

"By buying more sophisticated equipment," says Wade, "we've been able to grow with a stable workforce, reducing the labor content in our products. Sales are ten times what they were 10 years ago with only a four-fold growth in employment."

Although Magni-Power sometimes finds itself bidding against as many as 15 companies, Wade doesn't often decline to quote. "You owe that customer the courtesy of a competitive bid. Particularly if he's a good customer, and there aren't many 'bad customers.' You might be low bidder or high--you don't know--and it's not always the low price that gets the job anymore. That's another reason for all the new procedures: the SPCs, the MRPs, all the quality control, corrective-action programs, etc. These are extra costs, but they help you get additional business. Traceability is important."

What would you not quote on? "We obviously don't quote on very large quantities, and are limited to the tolerances (and accumulation of tolerances) we know we can hold. Our paint system cannot do Class A auto-exterior finishes, but can do Class B and C underbody work. Weightwise, we limit ourselves to parts two men can handle. And we have some size limits, based on our washer and spray-booth openings. We can form 14-ft parts, for example, but we can't paint parts over 10-ft long."

In their arsenal of fabricating equipment, Magni-Power's Wooster plant has several CNC hydraulic press brakes that can hold +/-0.005" tolerances, a 125-ton stamping line with coil feeder, a 175-ton CNC press, a robotic welder, a special drilling-tapping machine, and two large Strippit turret punch presses, one with a laser that does a lot of 3/8" plate work. They are considering a new paint system, possibly electrostatic or powder coating, a high-solids type finish that would improve finishes and reduce pollution abatement problems.

JIT flexibility

Just-in-time is moving beyond the auto industry, Wade notes. "Everyone is getting into it. We are shipping weekly, semiweekly, monthly, etc. One problem is that with an 8-week delivery for the whole order, for example, people will want some quantity of parts much sooner than that, and they are constantly changing schedules as we go along, but we have to be able to respond."

Wade insists that distance is no problem for JIT, and even has customers on the West Coast who get in a bind and require parts shipped by air. "They call us this morning and want those parts out of here this afternoon, so we must keep parts in stock and play guessing games on what they will require next. That's the life of a job shop."

As a result, they have had to add warehousing space and keep updated computerized histories of this inventory and make projections. "There's no mind-reading software that can predict it any better than we can. If you decide to make 100 parts, you'll be 2 short or 98 long. The computer is helping us get a little better at this, but we have to be flexible. This is one of the things you're being graded on--on-time delivery, JIT."

The small shop

Neal Tyburk is president of Greenfield Fabricating Inc, Canton, OH. After working for a local fabricator who rebuffed him when he tried to buy into that company, he and his wife started their own company in 1977 with a $10,000 initial investment and three basic machines: a pressbrake, stylus turret punch, and shear. Twelve years later, he's doing well, but still in the category of small fabricating shop, with a total of 14 employees (counting himself and his wife) in a 6000-sq-ft new building they own. "Our forte is light-gage, precision fabrication, with precision defined as +/-0.005 inches," he explains. "We bought our first Strippit NC turret 15-ton punch press in '79, and a bigger CNC turret machine from Strippit in '83. It has a 1500-W laser, and 30-metric ton punch. although the laser can cut 1/4 inches or 3/8 inches, we try to stay with 3/16 inches or lighter material, and leave thicker contour cuts for others to flame cut."

Greenfield does no painting in house because only a small portion of its parts requires it. Unlike others with one big customer, Tyburk has worked hard to spread his customer base over many industries.

New directions

For a new technology edge, Tyburk is considering adding wire EDM and abrasive waterjet to be able to contour cut a wider variety of materials, such as glass. He has been toying with a move into CAD. "The goal would be to be able to enter the order on the computer, use CAD-generated blueprints and NC programs, track the processing, and compute job costing and billing information. This would enable us to know better where we are efficient, identify potential cost savings, and maintain a competitive edge."

But he isn't impressed with the job-shop CAD systems he's seen. "We need a system that all our employees can handle, not just one or two specialists. Even our secretary can go out and edit an NC program on the Strippit laser turret press and make parts. We want the depth to handle people shortages or sudden expansions in work volume. In some cases, when key people left, our performance actually improved because this forced others who were leaning on them to realize what they can do on their own."

His philosophy

Here are some insights into his business philosophy: . Cost cutting corps: Tyburk relies on all employees to contribute cost-saving fabrication suggestions. "We talk these ideas over, and where there's potential there, we call the customer, who is usually receptive to money-saving ideas." . No stock: "The material you see on our shop floor won't be there by the end of the week. We have a great relationship with steel service centers, ordering most materials for next day delivery." . Quick turnaround: "Some job shops might think a two or three day delivery time as unrealistic, but we will do everything we can to turn things around quicker, if that's necessary. In some cases, we can run parts tonight and deliver them tomorrow if the material is available." . Getting new business: "Word of mouth is 90 percent. When purchasing agents change jobs, we gain new inroads." . Show-place work place: He agrees that the appearance of your shop is a strong selling point. "It shows that you're dealing with a quality operation." . High tech pays: "The laser has been very beneficial for us. We would not be where we are today without it. Although it's getting to be relatively commonplace, we have five years of experience that most others do not." . Fab industry versus gridlock: "There's a misconception in this country that the contract fab industry is limited in what it can do. The bigger companies with their bureaucracies have so protected themselves that we can't get in to tell them what we really can do for them. The smaller transplant factories are much more receptive to us." . Goals: His goal is to have the best equipped shop in Northeastern Phio. "Whatever it takes. I'm very proud of our quality and our production teams, and want to continue growing slowly, maintaining an efficient, quality operation."

PHOTO : Fab-shop high tech. The CNC turret punch press and its companion, the CNC press brake (or at least an NC backgage) are the key elements in the new wave of precision, flexibility, and speed transforming the fabrication job shop into a serious competitor to in-house production of sheetmetal parts.

PHOTO : Locked up. Although the basic design is by a Federal Express designer, Leonhard May's team must translate that into stainless, build prototypes, offer suggestions on such things as adding a hidden shock absorber to soften door closing, and then build and finish as many as 40 of these a week, complete except for installing a billing computer and telephone.

PHOTO : Polished prototypes. Because Mike Watts, model-shop foreman, didn't want to move to the West Coast when his company was bought by a big conglomerate, he bought the model-shop equipment, hired his friends, and went into the same business on a contract basis--making prototype parts. His subsequent success with Astro Model Development Corp, Eastlake, OH, has been primarily due to people skills: a fine group of young versatile craftsmen (his son included) who can transform your print (or concept) into a sculptured piece of sheet metal. Later on, it may be a casting, roll-formed part, or whatever. But for now, it's a complex amalgam of skillfully formed, welded, and polished elements that can be used to prove your design before production begins.

PHOTO : The automated job shop? The Salvagnini S4/P4 flexible fabricating system--a highly automated combination of a CNC turret punch/shear and a CNC forming machine--can produce complex parts like this one in 60 sec.

Fine, but does that make sense for a job shop? Salvagnini thinks so. They've sold a lot of these in Europe. One contract-fabrication shop there that had conventional technology and 120 people six years ago, now has six of these systems and only 26 people, yet is doing five times as much work. To prove this degree of automation also works here, they have one such FFS at their Hamilton, OH, headquarters doing contract work.

PHOTO : Laser cheese. Ideal task for the laser is carefully carving out 200 13/16" holes in this 1/4" plate, leaving only a 1/16" wall between holes. Magni-Fab did these heat-exchanger supports in batches of 50 to 0.005" tolerances at rates of 22 min/part.
COPYRIGHT 1989 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:Sprow, Eugene E.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Apr 1, 1989
Previous Article:Longer life for HHS tools.
Next Article:CAD-CAM - flying high.

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