Building blocks

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Trumpf’s unique active die option makes processing scratch-free and punching more competitive with laser.

Job shop leverages technology for growth and education

April 2015 - There’s a saying in Tupelo, Mississippi, says Bryan Hawkins: “You build a church and they will come.” The phrase—supported by careful planning—aptly describes the mindset of Hawkins, a Magnolia State native, when he and his wife, Brenda, took a leap of faith in 1995 to establish Hawkeye Industries Inc. and anchor it with Trumpf punching technology. 

“I left stable employment with benefits,” Hawkins says of those early days. “I had a wife and three young boys but I pulled together every cent we had and cast my lot.” The founder and president admits to second thoughts. But two decades of growth and Hawkeye’s resilience following the Great Recession have put doubts to rest. 

Hawkeye today supports markets including commercial and industrial lighting and HVAC with precision sheet metal components. In January the company announced a $750,000 investment in Trumpf’s TruPunch 5000 and plans to hire up to five people to support expanding operations. The new machine joins a stable of Trumpf machines that include three punching systems, a laser-punch combination, three flatbed lasers and seven press brakes.

Hawkins’ startup strategy was, in part, timed to take advantage of evolving punching technology, but  Trumpf wasn’t a shoo-in when he first considered his equipment choices. “I kept an open mind,” he says. 


Changeover capacity

As a fledgling job shop producing myriad small part lots, Hawkeye had performance criteria primarily concerned with changeover and setup time. “When compared to a turret punch, changeover time from one job to another on the Trumpf single head punching machine was by far superior,” Hawkins says. “With the Trumpf machine you can build tools offline, drop them on the rail and go. It was a much more competitive machine for us and better suited to the job shop mentality. Over the years they’ve continued to make leaps and bounds in their technology development.” 

Trumpf’s introduction of a single-head punching unit was a game changer for a mature technology with a long history, claims Mike Kroll, TruPunch and TruMatic product manager for Trumpf.

“A single head punch holds just one tool at a time and regardless of which tool is loaded, the punching head can rotate that tool 360 degrees to any angle,” Kroll explains. “With fewer tools, unnecessary tool changes are eliminated. Operating costs are lower, making production more economical.”

Part quality also increases with punching tool innovations like the MultiShear, which produces shear-cut quality edges on outer and inner contours without the need for secondary operations.

Kroll adds that a complete tool rail—up to 21 tools—on the TruPunch can be changed in less than three minutes, raising run times to approximately 70 percent. “With a turret punch different tool stations are required for specific tool sizes,” he notes. “Since tools can’t be staged in advance, it takes three to five minutes to change just one tool. That translates to a run time of about 35 percent.”

Hawkeye Industries was one of the first job shops in the region to invest in the technology. “I didn’t have to sell it,” says Hawkins. “Once word got around, we were busy.”

Hawkins has continued to balance company growth with capital equipment investments. The 59,000-sq.-ft. facility is at the hub of the state’s densest concentration of manufacturers, making the region fertile ground for the company—both ISO 9001:2008 certified and winner in the OSHA SHARPS program—to build a diverse customer base.

Track record

“I’m a regional supplier,” Hawkins says. “I find the further you get from your base, the less likely customers are to talk to you if they can’t walk through the door and do some paper napkin engineering.” Instead Hawkins has chosen to expand through the increases in capacity and productivity that technology affords. 

“I started with Trumpf 20 years ago based on a premise I still follow today: I will always invest in new technology that can boost output and yield greater efficiencies.” 

Fabrication, joining, welding and assembly methods produce parts from materials as varied as Hawkeye’s customers. Part design dictates material and processing methods. Order size determines sheet size whether the part calls for aluminum, mild steel, galvanized, cold-rolled or copper. Part nesting parameters are programmed through a CNC and downloaded to the appropriate machine. Hawkins estimates that of the in-house blank-producing processes, 50 percent are punched, 40 percent laser cut, and 10 percent laser-punched. 

In addition to longer run times and faster setups, the TruPunch contributes to lean manufacturing because of the variety of processes it can run. “If I have a light-gauge part with holes that need to be extruded and tapped, I can do it all on the punch,” Hawkins explains. “It wipes out the competition. I can roll ribs into a part, form flanges, execute high-speed marking or perform deburring.”


Trumpf’s technology also supports Hawkins’ knack for identifying new niche markets. “I have landed work because I had Trumpf punching to back me up,” he says. “I bought the latest machine because a customer committed substantial part volume requiring 5-ft. by 10-ft. sheet metal stock. My other three Trumpf punches handle 4-ft. by 8-ft. sheets. Since the machine is already nearly booked to full capacity, this was a no-brainer.” 

The larger punch also features the “active die,” an option unique to Trumpf. Once the punch positions sheet metal, the die is timed to be lowered so that it does not come into contact with the material. Processing is scratch-free, making punching more competitive with laser. 

Hawkins’ penchant for equipment advances is due in part to his keen observations. “I’ve been on both sides of the make-versus-buy analysis and seen too many customers consolidate or close facilities, uproot old equipment and move it to a new location only to have it break down.

“It has caused me to become somewhat of a teacher over the years,” he continues. “I try to educate customers about the technology and show them that, with our company, they are getting the most advanced machines without the investment, maintenance or skilled operators needed to run them.”

Making disciples

Branding is a valuable tool in a shifting business landscape when quality and service alone are no longer quite enough. Hawkins took to heart the words of former Harley-Davidson communications strategist Ken Schmidt, who spoke at a recent leadership summit for fabricators. “He said, ‘We don’t want customers, we are cultivating disciples, people who will buy a Harley because it’s a Harley.’” The statement hit home. “We have quality parts and competitive pricing, I want people to do business with us because they love Hawkeye,” he says. “With my wife and my three sons in the business I’m trying to foster a culture shaped by a strong sense of ethics that I can pass down to them.”

Hawkins also recognizes other valuable resources: his employees and the young people that may someday take their places. “Part of earning customers’ unbiased trust is paying attention to your employees,” he says. “That means providing a safe, comfortable workplace and in-depth training that teaches them not just to run the machines but understand how they work.” It also means giving back to the community.

Hawkeye Industries’ annual camp for kids has Trumpf machines performing double duty. “This is our eighth year,” he says. “We expose kids 12- to 15-years-old to advanced manufacturing and show them the programs available at the community college level. They get to push buttons on the machines and handle components they then use to build a stainless steel clock. We try to create an experience we hope they will remember and later consider as a potential career choice.”

Meanwhile, Hawkins is prepared to discover the next new market opportunity. Practicing his ‘build a church they will come’ mentality, Hawkins says he has his eye on a Trumpf laser that can process pipe and tube. “It’s an industry I think is underserved. I’m looking for the right customer so I can buy that piece of equipment.” FFJ



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