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Laser Technology

Expanding potential

By Robert J. Kolcz, Prima Power North America Inc.

Above: David Weber (right) and his son Spencer (left) say continually updating technology and excellent quality and service have kept Mode Industries in business since 1968.

Evolving technology helps family job shop compete

February 2016 - Family businesses are widely seen as the backbone of the global economy. They account for more the two-thirds of all companies around the world, provide 50 to 80 percent of employment in most countries, and are locally rooted and connected to their communities. Yet in today’s volatile and unpredictable market, can you imagine starting a family business that will be around 50 years from now?

Perhaps that thought was in the minds of David Weber and his father Wesley in 1968 when they founded Mode Industries in a humble 2,500-sq.-ft. building in Genoa City, Wisconsin. The fledgling company’s used equipment included a few small punch presses, a small shear and press brake, and some old hand equipment. David’s son Spencer joined the company in 2003, which has since evolved into its third location—a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility in nearby Delavan. The equipment list at Mode Industries has also been modernized with a CO2 laser, a turret punch press, seven press brakes, five OBI punch presses, a variety of spot and MIG welders, as well as one robotic welder. Today, the company serves such industries as electrical transmission enclosures, P.O.P. display components, utility vehicle, furniture and display, and others. 

FFJ 0216 laser image1

The Platino laser has allowed Mode Industries to reexamine its strategy on attracting new customers.

According to both David and Spencer Weber, the company’s longevity is due to its ability to retain customers through excellent quality and service. “We are continually updating our technology to provide the highest quality and efficiency available,” says David Weber.

Technology evolution

In 1999, Mode purchased a used early-model Finn-Power (now Prima Power N.A. Inc.) turret punch press to help meet growing production demands. “The Finn-Power TP-250 opened our eyes to what a turret punch press could offer, we also realized the limitations of an older machine,” says Spencer Weber. “In 2001 we purchased a new C5 hydraulic turret punch press from Finn-Power. With the C5 we experienced the benefits of nesting parts and things we would normally do the hard way with our old single punch/single die machine no longer [required us] to change out a punch every time we had to change a hole.”

Several years later, one of the display companies brought Mode an enormous job for a large retail chain, Spencer Webb says. “The turnaround time was too short for them to go to China, and we made most of the boxes for the rollout.” There were 30 holes that had to be tapped. Mode purchased a tapping mechanism for the C5 saving time and adding capabilities it did not previously possess.

“We never could have gotten the job through our door without it,” he says. A turret allows cutting without having to touch the part multiple times.

Mode management noticed many of its customers were designing parts with laser technology in mind. Sweeping radiuses, curves, and hole sizes exceeded the standard punch dimension. “We were using a dependable laser outsource for our laser cutting needs for many years,” says Spencer Weber. “They were very accommodating to us, but it got to a point where our turnaround times were getting shorter and shorter, and our vendor had many other customers to service as well.” Mode turned to Prima Power and “they really wowed us with the laser.” The Prima Power Platino’s speed, accuracy and durability won the company over.

FFJ 0216 laser image2

Today, Mode Industries serves such sectors as electrical transmission enclosures, P.O.P. display components, utility vehicles, furniture and display, and others.

The Prima Power Platino is equipped with lasers developed and produced at Prima Electro in laser powers ranging from 3,000 W to 5,000 W. The laser cuts a broad range of materials and thicknesses with speed and precision without the need for manual adjustments. Platino’s laser cutting head gives users a choice of a 10-in. focal length in addition to the standard 5-in. and 7.5-in. lenses. The 10-in. lens enhances the application flexibility by increasing the depth of focus and enlarging the spot diameter for high and uniform cut quality of thick stainless (5⁄8 in.), thick aluminum (1⁄2 in.) and thick mild steel (1 in.).

A compact footprint along with a Cartesian Cantilever structure which provides three-sided access, Platino is easy to operate and quick to program. Its stonecast frame reduces vibration and increases stiffness by about four times compared to cast iron and about six times compared to welded frames. Low heat conductivity results in much higher thermal stability compared to traditional cast or steel frames. 

According to David Weber, training and service support determined the final decision. Concerned with both the technical aspects of programming and the day-to-day operations of the laser, Mode’s management team vetted all its sources in the industry to find out what everyone was using. “The focus kept coming back to Prima Power,” he says, adding after much research, the company felt as if  it “entered a strange new territory,” Prima Power offered the least amount of risk.

Breaking in

In addition to the service support, Spencer Weber says finding and maintaining a skilled workforce has also been problematic. “We know that somewhere down the line automation is going to play a part in our business,” he says. “And the Prima Power version of the storage towers that stack over the bed takes up little or no more square footage than the current machine does now. That also intrigued us. It made good business sense for us to plan for an automated loading/unloading system with the machine while maintaining the same footprint. Everywhere we turned and looked we just felt very comfortable with Prima Power.”

After two years, Mode has shifted much of the work previously cut on different machines to its Prima laser. “It’s a different sound in our shop today—the laser is quiet compared to punch presses,” says Spencer Weber, adding that after installing the Platino, Mode’s additional capabilities have attracted new customers, most recently making headway into the displays industry.

FFJ 0216 laser image3

In 2001, Mode Industries purchased a C5 hydraulic turret punch press from Finn-Power (now Prima Power). The C5 allows the company to efficiently nest parts. In 2013, the company purchased a Prima Power Platino C02 laser.

“The [display] industry had its peaks and valleys,” Spencer Weber says. “When that market went away, we began looking for different avenues. The laser has allowed us to have a more stable environment ... more of a long-term approach in building our customers’ product lines, with the prospect of big blanket orders, longer running cycles, etc.”

Nesting ability has affected Mode’s operations in multiple ways, including eliminating secondary processing. “One of the largest enclosures that we’ve made for years was laid out using a 48 by 120 in. sheet,” Spencer Weber says. “We would get two bodies, two covers, and two backs on each sheet. We literally took those same exact cut sheets, converted them into a .dxf file, and programmed them into the laser. Now all the holes and notches are cut into the parts.” 

Rounded corners, which before the laser were a secondary operation, are produced without sharp edges. “Now when the sheet comes off the laser, we are getting parts with the holes already in them, the radius cut, the notches put in the corners, and ready for the next process,” he says. Sheet usage is up nearly 20 percent with the Platino, he adds. “On the turret we get about 65 to 70 percent. With the laser, it’s 90 to 95 percent sheet utilization.” 

“It’s been a good ride with Prima Power,” concludes David Weber. “Every time we have approached them with questions they have come right back with answers and are helpful at every step.” FFJ 

Dave Weber provides professional training for the next generation of machine tool operators and has worked with various technical schools and the local Economic Development Department in Delavan, Wisconsin, on creating the best approach to meeting the needs of local manufacturers for qualified machine operators.

Sources

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