June 16, 2014
Cupples J & J Co. Inc. has continued to invest in technology to meet existing customer demand.
Several years out from the Great Recession, Cupples J&J Co. Inc. needed capacity. The Jackson, Tenn., fabricator—No. 10 on this year’s FAB 40— had 11 CO2 lasers ranging from 3 to 6 kW, and all that just wasn’t enough.
So Jeff Cupples, vice president of engineering and estimating, began looking at fiber lasers—not the conventional place to look if you need to cut metal of medium thickness, but several factors were at play. First, solid-state laser technology has come a long way in the past few years. Second, a major customer came to the shop with a request to cut carbon steel from 0.12 to 0.25 in. thick with oxygen, but instead with a nitrogen assist gas, which would have required the shop’s CO2 lasers to slow down.
So the company purchased two 6-kW Whitney fiber lasers from MegaFab. For one application the machine nitrogen-cuts at 950 IPM in 12-ga. carbon steel. Even if the operator slows the cutting head, the operation still far surpasses previous capabilities using CO2 lasers, Cupples said. “We realized that even if we cut at 60 percent of the maximum speed, we were still cutting twice as fast as our CO2 laser.”
Cupples J&J has added serious capacity beyond cutting during the past two years. It built 20,000 square feet onto its Jackson facility; added six robotic welding systems, for a total of 16; and installed another six press brakes, giving the fabricator an even two dozen. The company also has significant machining capacity, adding a vertical turning lathe that can cut workpieces up to 53 in. diameter.
Of course, in a high-product-mix environment, all the press brakes and robotic welding cells in the world won’t help if you have excessively long setup times. That’s why the company is looking to move toward offline programming, both in robotic welding and bending, to keep that constant flow between the company’s vast cutting capacity and downstream processes.
Driving growth over the past year has been Cupples’ existing customer base, with strong demand in lawn and garden, light commercial vehicle, food processing, and steel mill markets. In recent years the company has worked to satisfy the insatiable demand from its current customer base. In 2010 the company brought in a little more than $26 million. Last year the company ended the year at $47 million.
Looking out to the rest of this year, however, Cupples said he expects growth to slow&mdahs;no double-digit-percentage growth rate. Managers expect to end the year at $48 million, just a hair over last year, though the firm may hit $50 million if a few big orders come through.
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