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Laser Technology

Hot & cold markets

By Meghan Boyer

Bringing fabrication in-house is helping Jøtul North America survive business volatility

September 2012 - Most companies operating in the housing market have experienced tribulations in recent years as home sales and new construction stagnated. But for Jøtul North America, a provider of high-end stoves and fireplaces, the difficult housing market, combined with increased oil costs, creates an even more volatile business environment.

Founded in 1980 by the Norwegian firm Jøtul AS, which dates from 1853, Jøtul North America originally outsourced its fabrication. In 2005, the company added sheet metal fabrication capabilities when it moved to its current 118,000-sq.- ft. facility in Gorham, Maine.

Bringing fabrication in-house meant not only a reduction in costs but also an increase in the company’s flexibility. As business needs shifted, it could target specific market areas and produce more of its gas, propane or wood-burning models.

The company currently has two TruLaser 2030 machines from Trumpf Inc., Farmington, Conn., along with four Trumpf press brakes, a punch and a six-axis welding robot. Nineteen workers on two shifts produce the company’s stoves and fireplaces.

The lasers are important elements in the company’s equipment because they enable Jøtul to fabricate heavier gauge products in-house and also expand into new areas, says Scott Clinch, manufacturing manager for Jøtul North America.

“We knew right away as our business was changing in 2005 and 2006, that these spikes in oil were happening, and if we were going to start to design more wood products and efficiently cut that steel, laser was definitely the way to go,” he says.

The wood-burning appliances Jøtul fabricates are made from hot-rolled steel up to 1⁄2 in. thick. “One of the big reasons to [bring lasers into the facility was] so we could produce the wood-burning stove here with the thicker gauges,” Clinch says.

The lasers also let the company start making decorative fronts for its stoves and fireplaces. For instance, some models feature a pine tree cut out of steel. The lasers “really opened the doors from our designers’ standpoint,” he says.

Lean manufacturing

Clinch’s first day working at Jøtul also was the company’s first day in its Gorham facility. With the move, the company was able to dedicate roughly a third of the new space to sheet metal fabrication, which Jøtul hired Clinch to oversee.

Choosing equipment and determining how to arrange it in the facility was a challenge because the company adheres to lean-manufacturing principles, notes Clinch. “We were going to be doing very short runs and we were going to be generating kits of this material. We are not a job shop. We know exactly what the breadth of what we’re going to build is,” he says.

Clinch played a key role in selecting the equipment for the facility.

He selected the first Trumpf laser in 2006 because the company needed equipment that could change over quickly. “When we looked at the 2030, we thought it was a good fit mainly because of the ability to be loading and unloading material even when the head is running,” says Clinch, noting the company added its second Trumpf 2030 laser a little more than a year ago.

“What is special about this machine is its very small footprint for a machine with automation” because the unloading and loading system is integrated into the design, says Stefan Fickenscher, Trumpf’s product manager for the TruLaser product group.

The machine has a linear flow, says Fickenscher. Workers load the sheet into the machine on one side, then unload the parts on the other, which enables customers to integrate the machine into their material flow. Companies that use lean-manufacturing principles appreciate the simplicity of integrating the machine into production combined with its good accessibility, he says.

The TruLaser 2030 is available with either the TruCoax 2000 or TruCoax 3200 laser. The TruCoax 2000 has maximum power of 2,000 W and can handle mild steel up to 0.5 in., stainless steel up to 0.25 in. and aluminum up to 0.2 in. The TruCoax 3200 has maximum power of 3,200 W and can handle sheet thicknesses of 0.8 in. for mild steel, 0.4 in. for stainless steel and 0.3 in. for aluminum. For flexibility reasons, most customers choose the 3,200 W, notes Fickenscher.

Ease of training was another reason for selecting a variety of different equipment pieces from a single vendor. “All our major cutting and bending equipment is Trumpf,” Clinch says. “We program our press brakes once and send it down to all the machines, and we program our lasers once and they both run the same files.”

Fabricators like Jøtul also can benefit from building relationships with equipment manufacturers that extend beyond equipment purchases. “We really want to partner with customers,” says Fickenscher.

Revamped operations

Bringing the fabrication in-house enabled Jøtul to assess how it wanted to build its products going forward and change its production model. Previously, three or four large vendors fabricated the company’s stoves and fireplaces.

Every model includes a welded fire box and can require up to 40 sheet metal parts. “That meant having 40 crates just to do an assembly changeover, and that was just sheet metal parts,” Clinch says.

Ultimately, the company decided to make kits for each type of stove or fireplace. “We put everything we can for one stove on a sheet, and we cut it as a kit. We form it as a kit and we weld it as a kit,” Clinch says.

Switching to a kit system helped the company reduce material-handling time from up to eight man hours to just minutes to set up a stove, notes Clinch. “Think of the change we had in assembly. It’s a huge evolution in that instead of having to move 40 crates of sheet metal alone, a worker can take one cart housing a kit, wheel it 20 ft. and begin assembly,” he says. “That drastically changed how we plan production.”

The company continues to work to reduce the number of different materials that go into its stoves. Now that the company designs, cuts and builds everything in-house, “we want to design it around as few materials as possible,” says Clinch.

Ultimately, lean manufacturing is at the heart of how Jøtul runs its business, and Clinch saw a similar focus at Trumpf. “They do a very good job of lean manufacturing and the way they go about building their products,” he says. FFJ

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