Racing against the clock

Contract manufacturer measures success one second at a time

The FABRICATOR December 2004
December 7, 2004

Prince Industries Inc., a contract manufacturer of CNC machined components, branched out into CNC fabricated components several years ago when it purchased two turret punch presses, a plasma machine, and a laser with manual loading and unloading. These machines were quickly overburdened with the growing workload, so the company sought a more modern laser with automated material handling.

Time is a nonrenewable resource, and to be competitive, manufacturers must use each second to their best advantage. No manufacturer knows this better than Prince Industries Inc., a contract manufacturer that supplies precision-machined and fabricated sheet metal components. The company serves many industries, including construction, agriculture, health care, aerospace, electronic, and automotive. Although its primary focus is CNC machining, the company branched out to CNC fabricating a few years ago when it invested in a high-definition plasma machine, a laser cutting system, and two turret punch presses.

These systems initially were profitable, but as the work load increased, remaining competitive became difficult. The laser machine averaged less than 40 percent actual processing time. One factor in this low percentage was the lack of an automated loading and unloading system.

"We would have to load the machines, process the parts, and unload by hand," said Jim Campbell, sales manager for Prince Industries. In addition, the systems were not fast, flexible, or accurate, and processed parts usually required time-consuming and costly hand deburring.

Another factor was maintenance time. The manufacturer of the laser recommended four hours of maintenance for every 500 hours of operation. Campbell calculated that one year of operation amounted to 24 hours of downtime. He also was familiar with the manufacturer's plight of resonator rebuilds. This common maintenance requirement for laser technology is time-consuming and costly. Campbell knew that some resonators require a clean-room rebuild.

"Come so many hours, those shops have to pull the resonator out of their machine and ship it to the manufacturer's facility." The lasers at these job shops could be down for weeks.

Prince sought a machine that, in addition to fabricating parts accurately and quickly, would require little downtime. Furthermore, Prince looked for a system with an automated loading and unloading system. Campbell knew that eliminating the manual loading and unloading would be critical to the machine's effectiveness.

"If you can reduce the number of times you touch a part, you save time and increase efficiency," Campbell said.

Prince chose Bystronic's Byspeed 3015, a 4.0-kilowatt laser processing system with the BytransCross automation system.

Racing Against Competitors Too

The laser's capabilities have changed Prince's business, both on the shop floor and out in the marketplace. The laser replaced three other machines—a plasma machine, a turret punch press, and the older laser. The new laser's capabilities have allowed the company to widen its markets. And the automation equipment—a shuttle table with the load/unload cell—allows the laser to run unattended and reach an 89 percent beam-on time.

"The automation has certainly taken us to a new level," explained Mark Paluch, vice president of sales. "Our overall market share has increased considerably since installation. The fabrication end of our business has increased 60 percent without increasing labor costs." The company says automation has led to a reduction in operating costs, which helps the shop deliver even better value to its customers.

"There is no question that this laser saves money and opens up our markets a bit more," Campbell said. "We process thicker materials than we could on the high-precision plasma machine and cut thinner materials faster than on our old laser cutting system." Campbell continued, "We are three times more accurate with this system." According to Campbell, the Byspeed has the capability to match the productivity of a turret punch press in any hole-intensive application, so parts are now simply burned in one step on the laser. Parts are more than 95 percent accurate and processed fast without the need for secondary machining.

In addition to using its laser for cutting out parts, Prince Industries has found its new laser to be suitable for making holes in parts. The new laser's capabilities have allowed the company to replace several other machines, including a turret punch press, a plasma machine, and an older laser.

The staff is smaller now. The plasma machine, punch press, and previous laser required five operators on two shifts. With the new laser, only one operator is required per shift.

The amount of maintenance required isn't as critical as it was on the previous laser, and the resonator isn't as finicky as some on the market. "Should the day come that it needs a repair or a rebuild, it can be done on our shop floor with minimal downtime," Campbell said.

In addition to the equipment, the vendor's software also caught Prince's attention. "We examined other manufacturers' software as well as aftermarket software solutions. We went with the Bysoft software as it is very easy to use. It is Windows®-based and just about anyone can walk through it," he said. He added that software is critical to seamless integration.

"Because of the software, the manufacturing process is made easy: You just import a .dxf file, punch in the number of parts that you would like to make, the different part numbers you would like to run, the material thickness, and you go."

Paluch said that the software has reduced material waste, too, because of the software's dynamic nesting capability. Prince has realized a 10 to 15 percent savings in material alone, which is significant given the rise in material costs over the past few years. Campbell said that this factor, combined with an ability to nest different parts and jobs together, has given Prince a distinct competitive advantage when quoting jobs to customers.

Prince Industries Inc., 745 N. Gary Ave., Carol Stream, IL 60188, 630-588-0088, fax 630-588-0099,

Bystronic Inc., 185 Commerce Drive, Hauppauge, NY 11788, 631-231-1212, fax 631-231-1040,

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The FABRICATOR is North America's leading magazine for the metal forming and fabricating industry. The magazine delivers the news, technical articles, and case histories that enable fabricators to do their jobs more efficiently. The FABRICATOR has served the industry since 1971.

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