Laser Technology

Flame on

By Lynn Stanley

Above: The Salvagnini L5 cuts components for the burner pan used in RH Peterson’s newest product—its firebowls.

Fabricator stokes production fires for outdoor entertainment products with compass-driven laser and automated single-sheet delivery system

September 2015 - Need to control your hypertension naturally? Consider parking yourself in front of a fireplace. New research from the University of Alabama links sitting fireside with a 5 percent decrease in blood pressure. Healthy eating habits can help. The Age Good Food Guide 2015 makes a case for grill cooking and the use of rubs made from superfoods like kale. Cosmetics, function and fabrication methods for these appliances have altered over the decades but one thing hasn’t changed: Consumer appeal.

“People are always looking for new designs and concepts,” says Dominque Seim, senior managing director of operations for RH Peterson Co. For nearly 75 years, the City of Industry, California-based company engineers and builds high-end products under the brands Fire Magic Grills, American Outdoor Grills, Real Fyre Gas Fireplace Logs, and Outdoor Campfyre Fire Pits and Campfires. 

What began as a one-man enterprise in a garage has matured into an operation that covers 230,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space supporting everything from high-precision sheet metal work to casting concrete. In addition to making indoor appliances, RH Peterson caters to individuals who want to take entertaining outside with a selection of grills and accessories as well as fire tables, bowls, urns, outdoor fireplaces and firefalls. In March 2015, the company launched its newest product: firebowls. Customers can also choose the type of fire burner, logs, stones, nuggets, glass, gems and texture finish to complement their decorating scheme.

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Going shopping

“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in sales over the last five years,” says Seim. “We are the No. 1 consumer of stainless steel in Southern California.” The company’s post-recession uptick in sales prompted the need for additional forming capability. “We considered press brakes but Salvagnini’s P4 panel bender caught our eye. Tooling setup could be done in seconds. That feature was a huge time saver for us. The panel bender took the place of three press brakes.”

Installed in 2009, Seim says automating the equipment was the next step. “A trolley grabs a part, checks it, loads it into the panel bender and runs it. In six years of operation we estimate our uptime on the machine at 96 percent. And it performs as well today as it did the first day we got it.”

An aging laser cutting system and a change in customer requisitioning habits put RH Peterson in the market for another capital investment in 2012. 

“We are a manufacturer and a distributor in Southern California,” Seim says. “Our customers, like everyone else, are running lean. They order what they need when they need it. That means we have to get product out the door as fast as possible. Our laser was having difficulty keeping up and we were having trouble finding replacement parts when maintenance issues came up.”

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Good vibrations

The company spent the next year researching laser equipment, studying several machines produced by different equipment manufacturers. With floor space limited—the company just added a 3,000 sq. ft. deck—Seim says the manufacturer needed “high-volume production with flexibility and a small footprint.”

The search led them back to Salvagnini and its L5 fiber laser. “In comparing it with other machines the first thing I noticed was the vibration in the other models versus the L5. When you feel that much vibration during operation you know there will be maintenance issues down the road. In contrast, the L5 flies during cutting and the only thing you feel is a mild pulsation.”

The laser’s compass “is really the heart of the machine,” says Steve Aleshin, laser applications engineer for Salvagnini. “The compass structure is driven by two rotary or brushless motors that move the cutting head in and out in small, quick movements on an X-Y plane. During the design process, we removed a significant amount of weight from the cutting head to reduce resistance to movement, speed and change of direction. This low inertia is what gives RH Peterson faster acceleration and deceleration without vibration.” 

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RH Peterson installed the L5 in 2013. The sound performance of the panel bender, modular construction and Salvagnini’s reputation in the laser market were deciding factors. “They have been in the fiber laser market longer than anyone,” says Seim. “They have already worked out any bugs or headaches. Others are still in the middle of that process. Also, we liked the fact we could integrate the laser with our panel bender in the future.”

The Hamilton, Ohio equipment builder likes to say it produces sheet metal solutions, not machines. “We were the first manufacturer to introduce fiber technology to North America in 2008,” says Mike Duscher, regional sales manager for the Western United States and Mexico. “We write our own software, which gives RH Peterson integration capability and control of different aspects of its manufacturing processes.”

Built to order

Eighty percent of RH Peterson’s products are fabricated in the U.S. and built to order. The company’s low-volume, high-mix part profile means it needs changeover speed and quick response time along with the capability to perform short runs efficiently. 

The L5 nests parts that can range from 1⁄2-in. brackets up to panels for barbecue carts that are 36 in. tall and 72 in. long.

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“We’re cutting 11-gauge to 24-gauge stainless steel exclusively on the laser right now as well as some cold-rolled [carbon] and aluminized steel,” says Seim. “It can also cut copper, brass and aluminum—materials that can’t be cut on a CO2. 

“The laser also eliminated an extra step for us,” he says, noting that stainless sheets arrive protected by film. The laser cuts without marking the sheets, allowing  operators to quickly remove the plastic and move the parts on to other operations like welding or grinding. “With the CO2, peeling off the plastic required a secondary operation.”

Bevy of benefits

The L5 provided an unexpected benefit. “It’s impossible to cut brass on a CO2,” Seim notes. “But we’re able to cut small gears from brass on the L5, which is a nice plus. It wasn’t something we were looking for but [the company previously] had to farm out cutting and milling of small copper and brass pieces.”

Weekend warrior

An automated single-sheet delivery system has freed operators from manually moving racks carrying 3,000 pounds of stainless and made it possible to run the L5 lights out on weekends. “We load the tower and the jobs on Friday and push go,” says Seim. “It will process sheet metal until it runs out of material or parts need to be offloaded. During the week, we run the L5 all day and all night. Maintenance is low and we’re realizing a huge savings on operating costs because we use less nitrogen and gas. We run the laser mostly on shop air.”

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“Our tower design is exclusive to Salvagnini,” says Duscher. “It’s another example of anticipating a production challenge and creating equipment that helps solve the problem. The tower can be loaded with material in different gauges to accommodate different jobs and it instantly cues up one sheet after the other without the need to put material back. You can also expand the tower if you need to.”

Seim, fabrication shop manager Rene Rodrigues and Jon Bridgwater, executive vice president over factory operations, agree the L5 gives them flexibility to accommodate RH Peterson’s present volume requirements and future design changes. 

“We’ve built our reputation on making products that deliver high performance yet are very beautiful,” says Seim. “Demand for artistic sheet metal designs is rising. Each year we make changes to our grill products and we are continually enhancing our Real Fyre burners. The L5’s technology gives us the flexibility to support product changes as well as engineering improvements for our Real Fyre burners.”

To feed its growing customer base, the company will take ownership of a new Salvagnini punch/laser SL4 in January 2016. The machine will be integrated with the L5 and the tower delivery system set up to supply sheet to both for an optimized work cell that will keep RH Peterson burning brightly. FFJ



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