A 3-D laser transforms Kvaerner Power's future
August 9, 2005
Kvaerner Power Inc.'s Fairmont, W.V., metal fabricating operation needed new market opportunities and someone to take over plasma cutting chores after its business partner went out of business. They found a Pennsylvania job shop to help with metal cutting and eventually learned that a 3-D laser could help them bring their outsourced jobs back in-house and that the laser could lead to new business.
|Kvaerner Power's Mazak SpaceGear SG 510 MK II 3-D laser cutting system with automated load/unload has taken over the metal cutting chores that used to be the domain of two manual shears.|
When television cameras show up at a metal fabrication facility, the reporter usually is interested in talking to the shop floor employees who collectively hold a winning lottery ticket worth millions.
Nevertheless, when the cameras showed up at Kvaerner Power in Fairmont, W.V., in late May, the story was about a lottery ticket of another kind. The ticket wasn't a ticket at all, however, and the winnings wouldn't be doled out in a single, poster-sized check. The winning ticket was a new Mazak SpaceGear SG 510 MK II 3-D laser cutting system with an automated load/unload system, and the payoff was to be future efficiencies and new customers that Kvaerner wouldn't have enjoyed without the purchase.
"This thing just came in and fit perfect for us," said Chuck Kuretza, Kvaerner Power's operations manager.
Fitting automation into Kvaerner Power's fabricating operations was not a simple chore. Before the arrival of the new automation, most of the company's fabricating processes were manual. A 1/2-inch, 10-foot shear and a 1/4-in., 10-ft. shear cut the stainless steel used to create the company's line of boiler tube shields, air supply duct expansion joints, and other attachment parts for boilers primarily fueled by coal, wood, and refuse. Kvaerner Power processes about 3 million pounds of stainless steel each year to manufacture the boiler shields. The other parts—for Kvaerner's pulping division and outside customers—also were cut with the shears or outsourced to be plasma-cut.
Kvaerner Power has handled the change well, according to Kuretza, who has seen the business cycle go up and down over the years. Like the boiler shields that they make, the Kvaerner Power employees have handled the pressure well.
Kuretza went to work for Tampella Power, which manufactured a line of packaged boilers, in 1993. Tampella Power's global competitor, Kvaerner, entered the U.S. market in 1996 and took notice of Tampella Power's struggles to maintain market share in the midst of an economic downturn and to keep its two facilities in Williamsport, Pa., and Fairmont running at full capacity. On the heels of downsizing at both manufacturing locations, Kvaerner purchased both facilities and gutted the Fairmont factory to the point where it was dedicated to one product line—boiler heat shields. In 1997 Kvaerner Power moved from a 180,000-square-foot building to a 43,000-sq.-ft. building. Kuretza was onboard for all of the changes.
Over the years Kvaerner Power in Fairmont has emerged as a service center for the rest of Kvaerner Pulping. In addition to fabricating its regular line of products, Kvaerner Power acts as a tube warehouse and buys and sells parts for the Pulping Division.
Kvaerner Power's 40 employees were busy enough, but Kuretza could see the business shifting. Kvaerner's average part is only 4 pounds, and the trend for smaller and higher-precision fabrications wasn't going to end any time soon.
|Although the company is primarily cutting 2-D shapes right now, Kvaerner Power views its 3-D laser cutting system as the necessary tool to explore new applications, such as this square tube.|
A phone call in late 2004 helped to expedite the decision to invest in new cutting technology. A cross-town job shop that had handled plasma cutting for Kvaerner Power had gone out of business. Luckily, someone on staff knew of a laser cutter in Pennsylvania.
"And me the old hillbilly thinks the laser work is going to be more expensive," Kuretza said. "But I found out that the laser is less expensive than the plasma, and now my guys weren't cleaning the parts [when they came back]. So that's how we got into the laser business."
Kvaerner Power didn't officially get into operating its own laser until it recruited Larry Calvert as the new laser operations manager. Calvert was handling the laser cutting duties at Lawrence, Pa.-based Sabina Manufacturing, the company Kvaerner Power outsourced its parts to.
Calvert had worked with Mazak Optonics in the past and was inclined to recommend that Kvaerner Power invest in a laser cutting device from the company. The big question was whether to invest in a 2-D or a 3-D laser cutting machine. Kvaerner Power decided to enter a new dimension.
The 4,000-W, 3-D SpaceGear arrived at the end of March. The installation of the machine with automated load/ unload feature took about two weeks, which coincided with machine training for three Kvaerner Power operators and Calvert and CAD training for a Kvaerner Power engineer and, again, Calvert. Toward the end of April, the machine was up and running.
Kuretza said the machine's impact was immediate. Multiple processes have been consolidated into one process in the SpaceGear. For example, instead of cutting a piece of stainless steel on the shear, taking it over to the punch press to put a notch in it, and walking it over to the press brake to stamp a stock number on it, the operator now just loads and starts the right program.
"Now it comes off of the laser notched, stock numbered, and cut to size. In terms of internal processes, it made sense for us to persuade upper management to consider this request," Kuretza said.
"But this will also help us to go after new markets," he added. "I think, and everybody else knows, that manufacturing as a whole in the U.S. has totally gone through a major consolidation. Everything is changing. The scope is very narrow. This laser places us right in the middle of this narrow scope—which is just-in-time manufacturing and forming."
With the newfound efficiencies, Kvaerner Power fabricators aren't spending so much time on shear duty. Kuretza said his cross-trained operators now can spend more time working machines that require a true expert's touch.
"I have an additional 16 to 24 hours per week out of that same fabricator because he's a top fabricator. He can run the shear or the tube bender," Kuretza said. "So it really has opened up a tremendous amount of scheduling for me."
The shop floor expertise still comes in handy even with the arrival of automated equipment. Kuretza said that, in the early days of laser cutting, Kvaerner Power operators quickly fine-tuned the machine to ensure the most optimal cutting performance. Their expert insight saved several hours of potential troubleshooting and rework, according to Kuretza.
|Kvaerner Power cuts mostly stainless steel for its line of boiler heat shields. The laser cutting system is adept at handling the fabrication of the small parts, which average about 4 pounds.|
The SpaceGear may also prove to be useful in cutting the costs of Kvaerner Power's parts business. Calvert identified approximately $150,000 worth of parts inventory that the company conceivably could make in-house, instead of purchasing. In addition, the company could eliminate inventory costs because the parts would be made on a just-in-time basis on the laser when the order was placed.
Meanwhile internal demand from other Kvaerner Pulping companies and OEM tube shops that Kvaerner Power has worked with in the past is dominating the SpaceGear's job schedule.
"We may have to get another laser just to develop some of these other markets that we thought we were going after," Kuretza said.
Peter Beck, Mazak's 3-D hardware and software product manager, said Kvaerner Power's success with the 3-D laser cutting machine is bound to be duplicated by other metal fabricating operations. It's just a matter of time and education."If you look back at 2-D cutting a number of years ago, it took some work to get people to understand it and see the benefits. Today everyone is familiar with it, and everyone is cutting 2-D," he said.
"I think we are going through the same education with the 3-D cutting with people who aren't as familiar with it. So we have to get the word out and show people what it can do. They can read about it, but actually seeing how the parts turn out—it makes a big difference," Beck said.
A little education can go a long way.
"I thought there was no way that laser work could compete with plasma. So we started to get quotes from those [laser] guys and now we are preparing quotes. And I see that this thing is so fast and so efficient," Kuretza said.
"We have load and unload capability. We can run 6,000 pounds. It will slice it, dice it, and stack it. You don't need an operator," he continued. "So, yes, I'm kind of blown away by this thing."
When the local television cameras showed up in May for an open house event, local politicians weren't too far behind. They were joined by prospective customers and executives from Kvaerner's home office in Europe who all realized the same thing: Kvaerner Power's Fairmont fabricating operation and its employees have bought their winning ticket.
Kvaerner Power Inc., 25 Rodeo Drive, Fairmont, WV 26554, 304-534-5690, fax 304-534-5696, www.akerkvaerner.com
Mazak Optonics Corp., 140 E. State Pkwy., Schaumburg, IL 60173, 847-252-4500, fax 847-252-4599, www.mazaklaser.com