Waste not, want not

By Lynn Stanley

Above: Accuracy and aesthetics are critical requirements for Pace Edwards’ retractable truck bed covers, which are fabricated with black powder-coated aluminum panels.

Automated cutting technology helps manufacturer keep pace with growing customer demand

March 2016 - In 1966 American novelist Pearl S. Buck wrote, “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word: excellence.” Years later information technology entrepreneur and inventor Steve Jobs said, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do.”

You don’t have to talk to Pace Edwards Co.’s Operations Director Ray Klamn for long to understand its employees do great work and they love it. 

Credited with designing one of the first retractable truck bed covers in 1987, the Centralia, Washington-based manufacturer established a niche market with the product, propelling its growth as a specialist in spring-activated and electric retractable covers. Pace Edwards now operates under Truck Accessories Group LLC. 

“It’s a cool gig,” says Klamn. “We get to make big boys’ toys.” The covers are installed as aftermarket additions on new trucks or on vehicles that have been restored. Pace Edwards relies heavily on customer feedback to guide the development of new designs and modifications.

FFJ 0316 sawing image1

Able to cut at ±0.004 in., TigerStop’s automated cutting system technology maintains accuracy for repetitive cuts and tight tolerances, making downstream assemblies easier and faster.

In 2000 the manufacturer added a motorized, retractable option to its line. It introduced the Jackrabbit in 2002, the Full-Metal Jackrabbit in 2006 and the Switchblade in 2013. 

For example, Klamn says, “we engineered an electric-motor driven cover for hands-free, remote operation, and we modified the cosmetic look of our covers. Aluminum typically appeals to gearheads and contractors. And we offer leather-like, UV-resistant polyolefin foam skin that is adhered to a roll-formed panel substructure.”

Repeating pattern

Sales have escalated in line with changing demographics. “Customers are looking for rugged, reliable aftermarket products that provide convenient, versatile options for securing their truck cargo and gear,” says Klamn. “A cover is a job site necessity for service trucks but we’re also seeing soccer moms trade in their vans and SUVs for a truck fitted with one of our covers.”

Aside from an uptick in sales, early adoption of the low-profile covers led Pace Edwards to evaluate production flow and begin implementing lean manufacturing practices. 

“We cut, punch and drill,” says Klamn. “Most of our processes are repetitive except for the first step. We cut aluminum extrusions to different dimensions to fit the width and length of a truck bed. We initially used a tape measure but no matter how carefully we calculated, we ended up with varying sizes and additional cuts to get it right. Although our product is an aftermarket item, we still have to meet original equipment manufacturer standards for accuracy and aesthetics. Multiple cuts generated a lot of waste.”

Looking to reduce scrap and improve throughput, Pace Edwards found a solution in its own backyard with TigerStop LLC’s automated cutting system technology. The manufacturer visited TigerStop to watch its equipment operate, says Klamn. “Local representation along with great customer service and after-market support influenced our decision to go with them.”

The manufacturer installed its first 14-ft. TigerStop in 2008 to “see if the machine was as good as we thought it would be,” then bought a second TigerStop six months later.

“We like to call it add-on automation,” says TigerStop President Spencer Dick. “It’s more flexible and cost-effective for the customer. They can keep the machinery they already have, yet automate it with TigerStop.”

“When we performed a return on investment analysis for the TigerStops we calculated it would take us 18 to 24 months to pay off the equipment,” recalls Klamn. “But when we looked at the returns we couldn’t believe our eyes. We were able to pay the equipment off in just six months.” 

Pace Edwards stair-stepped two more automated systems into its production line, virtually eliminating waste. “With TigerStop we measure once, cut once and get it right the first time,” he says. “We’ve told our sister companies to try these machines [and] they are giving the systems a hard look. From an environmental and safety perspective, our operators no longer have to risk their fingers by having to measure stock within cutting range of the blade.”

Pace Edwards added a touch screen for even greater simplification. “It’s now a one-touch operation for us,” says Klamn. “You touch ‘go,’ the unit slides to the specified dimension, you position the material and make the cut.”

FFJ 0316 sawing image2

Once TigerStop slides to the specified dimension, the operator positions the material and makes the cut.

Touch and go

Operators can move from cut to cut in less than two seconds. Previously it took up to 30 seconds to make one cut, because multiple attempts were required. “If you make hundreds of cuts a day, reducing processing time from 30 seconds to two seconds or less adds up to major labor cost savings,” says Klamn. “And the guys love it. It’s a semi-automated process so it takes the tedium out of the work. That makes for a happier workforce.”

To help Pace Edwards meet its aesthetic requirements, TigerStops are designed to cut at ±0.004 in. or 0.10 mm. “We know how important cut quality is to manufacturers,” says Dick. “The first operation is cut to size. The cut quality, at that point, lays the foundation for the rest of the manufacturing.” 

“The TigerStops can maintain accuracy for repetitive cuts and tight tolerances,” affirms Klamn, “making downstream assemblies easier and faster.”

The truck bed covers, constructed of black, powder-coated aluminum panels, interlock for strength and durability. Similar to a roll top desk, vehicle owners can open their covers manually or electronically in 1-ft. increments. And because the cover rolls up into a canister, very little open bed space is lost, unlike standard canopies. Pace Edward also offers options for opening mechanisms, security features, emergency access and patented technology that seals panels against inclement weather.

Pace Edwards provides a three-year warranty on its products. “It might sound cliché but our customers have built our business. TigerStop has been a big part of that success.” 

Pace Edwards cuts tons of aluminum a month to support production of its covers. “TigerStops are flexible,” according to Klamn. “We also use them to cut 4-in. PVC tubing. Years after purchasing the systems we’ve had little to no maintenance. We have put no money into them. But the advantages we’ve gained from the equipment have improved our profit margins. We’re looking at purchasing a fifth TigerStop.” FFJ



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