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Laser Technology

A straight flush

By Lynn Stanley

Above: In addition to lower operating costs and reliable, high-speed performance, R-D Manufacturing is able to cut thin gauge, cold rolled steel parts lights out with the Amada FLC 2 kW fiber laser.

Fabricator wins business, shrinks lead times with automated technology

October 2015 - When Lou Tashash decided to replace aging laser equipment with new fiber technology, it was his previous purchase of an automated punching cell from Amada America Inc. that influenced his choice of suppliers.

“The Amada punching cell was our first piece of automation,” says Tashash. The owner and president of East Lyme, Connecticut-based R-D Manufacturing Inc. installed the punching system in 2013. The cell’s sheet loader and parts picker allow the operator to cue up material, hit start and walk away.

Tashash explains he didn’t have work lined up for the punching cell, but bought the equipment based largely on speculation, which “paid off in spades.”

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” he says. “The first two jobs we landed for the punching cell were jobs we won back from China—words I never thought I would hear myself say. It was one of the proudest moments of my life.”

FFJ 1015 laser image1

Tashash is used to making bold moves. At 27 years old, he established R-D Manufacturing in 1984 with just $5,000 in his pocket. “The company I worked for at the time started a second business and offered me a partnership,” he says. “Within 12 months I was running both businesses at the same time. Something had to give, so I took the new company and ran with it. It had been launched as a one-product company which never really took off so I shifted gears and returned to my area of expertise—precision sheet metal.”

The company has since multiplied in size and profits. In 1999 Tashash brought on General Manager Richard Connelly as partner. The telecommunications industry represents a large piece of the pie for R-D Manufacturing, which also performs engineering, fabrication, finishing and assembly for laptop cabinets and other products requiring panels, brackets, chassis weldments and enclosures. 

Eighty percent of the material R-D Manufacturing runs is cold rolled steel ranging from 20 gauge to 16 gauge. “We don’t do a lot of heavy plate,” Tashash says. “But high-speed cutting of thinner material is where the fiber laser shines.”

Sea change

Tashash says he considered several equipment suppliers when looking at fiber lasers but experience with the punching cell, along with the machine builder’s commitment to service and technology development, led him back to Amada. “We’re primarily an Amada house,” he says, though that wasn’t always the case. Early in his career Tashash says his preference leaned toward another equipment supplier.

“That company has since been bought and sold a number of times and its products diluted,” he says. “Very little in the way of technology advances was put back into the line. Amada on the other hand, had a presence in New England. Their technology developments put them at the forefront of the industry. We decided to get on board.”

R-D Manufacturing installed an Amada FLC 2 kW fiber laser with an MP-F load/unload system in 2014. 

The fiber laser, along with the punching cell, anchors the manufacturer’s downstream processes. “Certain jobs are better suited to the laser and some are more appropriate for the punching cell,” he explains.

The manufacturer’s work profile includes both high volume jobs and short runs. Standard size sheets from 3 ft. by 8 ft. up to 5 ft. by 10 ft. are fed to the laser which exceeds tolerances of ± 0.002 in. to 0.003 in.—standard accuracy requirements for R-D Manufacturing’s parts. 

FFJ 1015 laser image2

“We build parts for customers, produce blanks for our own purposes as well as laser cut, punch, weld and assemble,” Tashash says. “The fiber laser is flexible, reliable and fast—three things we require of all our equipment. Next to the punching cell, the fiber laser is the first operation in a string of operations so we have to be able to depend on it.”

Aside from equipment reliability, Tashash says that Amada’s service approach was another deciding factor. “Everything breaks at some point or requires maintenance,” he says. “The real question is, ‘How fast can you get serviced?’ Amada’s service is second to none.”

The machine builder’s personnel includes more than 200 factory trained service representatives. “Our technicians are regionalized service providers,” says Jason Hillenbrand, laser product manager for Amada. “Instead of being a plane ride away, our service people are situated in close proximity to customers’ work environments. We understand that any down time can be critical for a manufacturer. Local support cuts down on travel costs, is more efficient, and ensures a company is back up and running quickly.”

The value of automation

Lower operating costs also make the fiber laser an attractive choice. Wall plug efficiency for the fiber laser is 35 to 40 percent compared to 10 to 15 percent on a CO2. The fiber laser uses anywhere from 1⁄4 to 1⁄3 the amount of electricity typically consumed by a CO2. Consumables are cheaper too. “We use nitrogen as the assist gas for the fiber laser so we were able to install a nitrogen generator,” Tashash says. “We no longer have to buy bottled gas, which was getting pretty expensive.”

“Our local power company offers an incentive program to area companies purchasing energy efficient equipment,” he adds. “The rebate check we received was substantial. We were able to put that money toward the purchase of the fiber laser.” 

“The fiber laser can use shop air or nitrogen as an assist gas,” notes Hillenbrand. “These options give you a cleaner cut at faster speeds. While oxygen can also be used as an assist gas, the fiber laser loses the productivity advantages offered by nitrogen or shop air.”

Cost-efficient operation coupled with automation helps to optimize parts production. The fiber laser’s automatic nozzle changer can house up to eight different nozzles, a feature that permits R-D Manufacturing to use different materials without having to stop production.

FFJ 1015 laser image3

“The eight-station changer automatically changes, cleans and calibrates the nozzle based on material processing requirements,” says Hillenbrand. “It eliminates the need for the fiber laser to stand idle while the operator sets up for the next job.”

The fiber laser’s automated load/unload system allows R-D Manufacturing to run lights out. “We operate two shifts,” Tashash says. “Now with the fiber laser, we can make parts around the clock. We reserve smaller runs for our daytime shifts. Before leaving the factory we load the fiber laser with long running jobs—2,000 to 3,000 parts—and when we come back in the morning the parts are done and waiting for us. High speed and accuracy are important but the automation is what ties it all together for us.”

The fiber laser has boosted the manufacturer’s throughput and leveled the playing field. “We’re not a large facility,” Tashash says. “We have a 13,000 sq. ft. manufacturing space but automation allows us to keep pace from a production standpoint with competitors that are four times larger.”

R-D Manufacturing has increased throughput and created excess capacity on its new fiber laser but the company’s primary goal is to shrink lead times from six to three weeks. Automation on the fiber laser and the punching cell is helping the company achieve that objective.

 “Automation has been the most significant change I’ve seen in the last decade,” Tashash says. “I’ve been in manufacturing for more than 40 years and I’ve watched it erode to the point of being scary. I wish more manufacturers would realize that reinvesting in advanced technology is what helps you compete in a global marketplace. We’ve seen other companies in our area go under because they did not keep up with technology that is being adopted on an international level. We’re playing a game of catch up here in the U.S.”

Reluctance on the part of some companies to embrace change could be linked to the notion that automation takes jobs from people, Tashash observes. “That couldn’t be further from the truth,” he says. “Automation creates excess capacity. My labor costs have gone up because my volume has increased. I’ve had to ramp up my downstream processes, which adds labor instead of eliminating it.”

Automation has also given R-D Manufacturing an opportunity to rethink how its business operations and processes work. “We’re working to shorten lead times but prior to getting the fiber laser we would not have given this a second thought,” Tashash says. “Sometimes you need to look at things from a different perspective. Shake things up a bit. Partnering with a good equipment supplier can help you do that.” FFJ

Sources

  • Amada America Inc.
    Buena Park, Calif.
    phone: 714/739-2111
    www.amada.com
  • R-D Manufacturing Inc.
    East Lyme, Conn.
    phone: 860/739-3986
    fax: 860/739-8385
    www.rdmfginc.com
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