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Laser Technology

Bring it on

By Nick Wright

Above: Fabrication assemblies made from parts cut with the TruLaser 5030 fiber

After a huge jump in fiber laser jobs, metal parts producer justifies a second Trumpf TruLaser

December 2014 - Wisconsin Metal Parts Inc., Waukesha, Wisconsin, has nearly tripled its fabrication business since buying its first fiber laser cutting system about a year ago. The enthusiasm company Business Development Manager Dave Holzer and General Manager Joe Pease evince for their fiber laser is palpable, not just because of the influx of additional business, but also the new markets they wouldn’t have been able to penetrate before.

In many ways, the TruLaser 5030 fiber  from Trumpf Inc., Farmington, Connecticut, has changed the way Wisconsin Metal Parts thinks about the fabrication market. With about 80 employees and 75,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space spread among three facilities, Wisconsin Metal Parts is accustomed to growing and evolving its marketing prowess. Founded in 1988 as Die Concepts Inc., the company rebranded to its current name in 2010 to reflect its services beyond just progressive stamping dies and gauges, which accounted for much of its activity for two decades. It’s now a full service metal manufacturer with fabrication, stamping and CNC machining. They still have a full service tool room to service its die customers and stamping department.

“We went from serving other metal stampers to serving more of the OEM market for production parts,” says Holzer. “That’s been our game plan and direction. So far we’ve been pretty successful with it.”

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Wisconsin Metal Parts primarily targets companies that produce assemblies—that is, it wants to be a go-to manufacturer for any company selling a product. It has the expertise, the resources and, with the fiber laser, the equipment to form and fabricate parts for customers to assemble. 

“That’s where we fit best. We can help customers improve their designs to make their parts more cost effective and then we can use the many forms of manufacturing we have here to produce a complete package for our customers. We are a total solution supplier,” Holzer adds.

That’s not Wisconsin Metal Parts’ only outlet. Job shops that need quick laser-cut parts or competitors in a bind feed the fiber laser’s order book. A local industrial seat manufacturer whose press malfunctioned came to Wisconsin Metal Parts to take over its stamping work. Then, after learning about its TruLaser, the customer moved 50 percent of its metal work to Wisconsin Metal Parts. The speed with which the TruLaser 5030 fiber can churn out sheet metal, about three times the pace of CO2 lasers, is limited only in duration by the capacity of its stacker. The machine has been so effective that Wisconsin Metal Parts has decided to add a second one.

Filling a need

Most of the material Wisconsin Metal Parts cuts is stainless, galvanized steel, copper and brass, aluminum and some carbon steels. The largest volume of its fiber laser cutting is 16 gauge stainless. The parts could be the size of a quarter, or a 4 ft. by 10 ft. sheet cut into two parts.

The company sought to advance its thinner sheet metal processing, which the 5 kW TruDisk laser could accomplish. Most companies in the market had a CO2, but Wisconsin Metal Parts knew fiber would put them ahead of the curve. The TruLaser 5030 fiber cuts a wide range of materials easily, lending itself to short run stamping, says Pease. 

“We can now cut copper, brass and other highly reflective materials that the CO2 struggles with and the fiber gives us a far superior edge condition in most of the materials we cut.”

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Plus, the company’s solid experience with other Trumpf equipment like its punching machine and press brakes made the decision to stay with Trumpf easy. “Trumpf has a solid reputation in the industry providing dependable equipment and state of the art technology. That is what originally drew us to them. The Trumpf equipment delivers on those promises. That is what will keep us coming back. They have an awesome manufacturing facility in Farmington. I highly recommend taking the tour to see the equipment manufactured right here in the USA. Trumpf equipment has continually met or exceeded our expectations.”

Wisconsin Metal Parts acquired the fiber laser to reduce cost per part, respond to jobs quickly and attain a clean-cut, quality edge—all skills for which the company is known, says Holzer. The TruLaser has attracted a new customer base, both in terms of size and types of companies. Some of its top 10 biggest customers are being directly attributed to this laser, according to Holzer.

Speed of the market

Compared to the stamping market, sheet metal fabricating provides much faster turnaround, as reflected by Trumpf’s innovations behind the fiber laser. The buying cycle for sheet metal is two weeks to one month. “Stamping is closer to a year. We dance with the stamping 

customer much longer. These same customers have high- and low-volume parts,” says Pease. “Before, we would approach customers looking for stamping and tooling opportunities. Now we have found this laser conversation easier because it opens the door faster, and they have less invested in part costs, no tooling investment.” This keeps their risk low. 

With stamping or CNC work, Wisconsin Metal Parts would have to build fixtures and tooling—a bigger investment for the customer.

“In this market, the customer can just give you the work on Tuesday and receive it from you on Friday. It’s much quicker,” he adds. “If a company can do a quality job, delivered on time, customers are more likely to continue to grow with you.” That means the onus has been on Wisconsin Metal Parts to prove the laser’s efficiency so it can grow the bigger, higher volume stamping work. 

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There was about a three-month learning curve after Wisconsin Metal Parts installed the TruLaser 5030 fiber in January and the results shined through after second quarter. Pease says the amount of work coming in the door “just crushed us and consumed us with that volume of new growth—now that we have it under control it’s been very nice to have the additional growth and we are looking to add more. We’re very thankful.” 

Wisconsin Metal Parts even has local laser cutting houses, some former vendors with CO2 machines, that are placing work orders. The owners of those shops have different purchasing models for capital equipment. If it’s not an aggressive growth model that invests in new technology, then the fiber laser would become an expensive purchase. It works out for Wisconsin Metal Parts. Their plan is to continue the business into the next generation.

From a sales end, Wisconsin Metal Parts used to figure about 5,000 parts was the tipping point where punching with hard tooling would make more sense. But with fiber, it might be more than 10,000 units that the company could run before it makes sense to go to a stamping solution. “It keeps the window open for more mid-volume stamping,” Holzer explains.

Light load, lights out

The TruLaser 5030 fiber at Wisconsin Metal Parts is equipped with Trumpf’s LiftMaster Compact automation system, an option that requires little ergonomic effort to load parts. It loads and unloads the fiber laser automatically. 

According to Trumpf, vacuum suction frames separate sheets and transfer them individually to the pallet changer, while a separate rake frame removes cut parts and places them on top of the suction frame. After parts are cut, operators don’t have to strain to reach across the pallet because the belt-driven PartMaster positions parts for easy removal. “It’s above waist level, so even if the parts are 20 lbs., we aren’t damaging parts or our employees. It’s comfortable, safe and not fatiguing. It’s great the way they’ve designed it,” Pease says.

“The material automation has proven to be a great investment. Last month we ran an additional 40 percent unattended by running over the weekends,” Pease adds. 

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The company is thinking beyond: It’s planning to continue to train a skilled workforce and add a second TruLaser fiber with a tower system to aid in running lights out. Pease feels the sales numbers are close to justifying the purchase of the second machine. 

This has all happened in less than one year, so the Wisconsin Metal Parts team is still tallying the numbers of how much the fiber laser has boosted business. Holzer says it’s safe to estimate, if he took the second quarter through fourth quarter of 2014, that the laser has generated a 300 percent increase in overall fabrication activity. Such a drastic jump has prompted Wisconsin Metal Parts to adapt to the influx of work. Not a bad problem to have.

Says Holzer: “When talking with potential customers, we just say we have one of the fastest lasers in the industry on the floor and then we let the conversation go from there. When we tell people we have Trumpf equipment they know we invest in top of the line machines. The rest is up to us to prove in our performance.” FFJ

Sources

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