Laser leads the way in cutting flat and tubular parts
October 11, 2005
Paramount Fitness Corp., a manufacturer of strength training equipment, used to purchase small quantities of laser-cut parts from outside vendors. Its desire for a laser could not be justified because the quantities of parts were so low. Engineers at TRUMPF worked with Paramount to create special fixtures so that a TC L 2530 sheet metal laser could handle tubular parts. The company soon found the new laser running 10 hours per day, six days a week. In keeping with the company's strategy to reduce direct labor, it soon justified a TUBEMATIC to handle its tubular parts.
Given the spirited competition in the fitness industry these days, Los Angeles-based Paramount Fitness Corp. can't afford to get the slightest bit out of shape. A leader in the design and manufacture of commercial strength training products turned to laser technology to help keep it in tip-top condition.
Paramount got started in the strength equipment business in the mid-1950s when the company began manufacturing chrome steel benches, free weights, and accessories in a small building in downtown Los Angeles. In the early 1960s plate-loaded machines were introduced into the Paramount product line, followed by selectorized weight stacks with elliptical cams to vary resistance. Several years later Paramount was granted a patent for a variable-resistance lever arm mechanism, which eventually was incorporated into a complete line of single-station machines and several multistation machines.
That patent and the company's reputation for quality control and innovative design led to tremendous growth in the 1980s and 1990s. Today the original, small building has given way to a 165,000-square-foot office, research, and manufacturing facility.
Until the late 1990s the company required laser-cut parts in small quantities, so it relied on various sources to supply them. That changed five years ago.
"We purchased our first laser [a TRUMPF TC L 2530 flatbed laser cutting machine] in March of 2000," said Barry Brooks, director of Paramount Innovative Manufacturing (PIM), an offshoot of Paramount Fitness. "We had been buying laser-cut parts from outside sources for years, but we didn't have the volume of plate work to justify our own laser. With the help of TRUMPF, we came up with a plan to build special fixtures to hold square and rectangle tubes on the standard L 2530 pallet shuttle so we could use the sheet laser to cut plates and tubes. That concept provided us with the justification we needed to buy our first laser."
A year after the purchase of the laser cutting machine, Paramount found itself running the machine 10 hours a day, six days a week. Nonetheless, the laser machine was handling only 20 percent of the company's total volume of tube work. As part of an economic justification study Brooks undertook, a second shift was considered, though Paramount officials worried that they would have difficulty keeping it staffed. And because company philosophy called for reducing direct labor with technology whenever possible, Paramount also considered adding another laser cutting machine with a tube cutting attachment that would eliminate most manual punching, drilling, milling, sawing, and deburring operations.
Ultimately, Brooks recommended a third option to address the capacity problem: the purchase of a machine designed specifically for high-volume laser cutting of tube and pipe.
Brooks had seen such a machine, the Tubematic, when he attended the grand opening of the TRUMPF West Coast Technology Center in 1999. Although Paramount's initial laser purchase was a flat sheet laser machine, he recalled speaking with Peter Bartram, laser product manager at TRUMPF Inc., about the Tubematic.
|Using a tube laser allows Paramount to cut slots, holes, angles, and notches in tubular workpieces, eliminating up to eight manual operations.|
"The Tubematic would eliminate all sawing and deburring operations plus all the material handling required between these operations ... [it] requires only a single operation to produce finished parts," Brooks noted in his written recommendation. "[And] the machine is designed to run unattended for long periods, which would allow us to fill the raw tube magazine with material before going home."
With the results of the study in hand, Paramount President James Trisler signed off on Brooks' recommendation, and in January 2002 the company installed its first Tubematic. Originally, Paramount calculated it would pay for itself in 2.72 years. After factoring in outside contract work undertaken on that machine, the company recalculated the return on investment to be two years.
Today Paramount runs many parts on the machine, including tubes measuring up to 100 inches long. The newer laser allows Paramount to produce tubular parts with slots and holes on all sides of the tube and also to cut angles and notches on both ends of the tube—in a single operation.
"With conventional tools [such as saws, punch presses, mills, and drills] we averaged between five and eight operations to complete the same part," Brooks said. "We also have developed parts that are cut on the Tubematic with different hole and slot geometry as a straight tube and then bent on a rotary draw bender as a secondary operation. In the past this type of part would require 10 to 12 operations to complete." Using the tube laser, Paramount estimates that it realized an eight-fold productivity improvement.
In addition to productivity gains, Paramount has achieved its primary goals of reducing labor costs, enhancing flexibility and product quality, and reducing time to market on new products with the tube laser cutting machine.
"We now produce more than 100 products with approximately 2,700 different tubular parts in low volume, so flexibility is critical," Brooks said. "A typical lot size for us is 25 to 50 parts per work order, so quick changeover and setup are essential. Furthermore, the accuracy and repeatability of the laser machine have played a major role in enhancing the quality and durability of our products."
Brooks also noted that the training of operators on the second laser was a natural progression for Paramount's sheet laser operators. "Once the operator has learned the sheet laser, the transition to the Tubematic is relatively easy," he said. "Almost all of our laser operators have been trained in-house and had no prior laser experience."
Paramount is constantly challenging itself to maintain its strong market position by developing new products. The tube cutting laser machine plays an important role in this part of the business.
"In the past we invested in CAD systems to reduce the engineering development time of new products," Brooks said. "With the Tubematic, we can further reduce the time it takes to make prototype machines. In fact, within hours after the engineering department finishes a concept design, we are able to program, set up, and run new prototype parts. Once the prototype machine is approved, the time to produce production parts also is reduced drastically, because long-lead-time punch press die tooling is no longer required."
The ability to develop prototypes quickly is central to Paramount's commitment to innovation through research and development. Brooks cited the flexibility, speed of setup, and the ability to produce complex parts without hard tooling as key points behind the use of laser equipment.
"All of these factors encourage creative designs because our engineers are not limited by hard tool inventory, a set of punch dies, or trying to justify tooling costs over the life of the product," Brooks said. "Our ability to model on a computer and have finished parts the same day, if needed, definitely helps innovation."
According to Brooks, all Paramount strength training machines produced in its Los Angeles facility now are manufactured using the lasers. "About 90 percent of all of our tubular parts are processed on the Tubematic," Brooks said, "and 80 percent of our sheet metal and plate parts are laser-cut on the L 2530."
Today Paramount's products include a range of commercial single-station, plate-loaded, and selectorized weight machines (designed specifically to target a single muscle group); multistation machines designed for a variety of exercises that target all the major muscle groups; free weights; and free weight benches, racks, and accessories. More than 100 types of products can be found in health clubs, resorts, hotels, multiunit housing complexes, colleges and universities, state-of-the-art training facilities for professional sports teams, community service agencies, and hospital-based wellness centers.
Paramount's experience with using the tube laser to fabricate its own products led to the creation of Paramount Innovative Manufacturing (PIM) to do outside tubular work on a contract basis. To help handle the anticipated work load of this new venture, Paramount purchased a second Tubematic in June 2004, and the machine is now in use.
"With the successes we have achieved producing our own products, we felt there must be a demand for contract work for tubular parts," Brooks said. "So we started taking on more and more outside work. The second Tubematic will be utilized primarily for contract work through PIM," Brooks concluded.
Paramount Fitness Corp., 6450 E. Bandini Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90040, 800-721-2121, fax 323-724-2000, www.paramountfitness.com
TRUMPF Inc., 111 Hyde Road, Farmington, CT 06032, 860-255-6000, fax 860-255-6424, www.us.trumpf.com