Laser Technology

Stair steps

By Lynn Stanley

Fiber laser and intuitive controller supports fabricator’s growth trajectory, small batch processing and need for part accuracy

April 2021 - Viewrail has built its business on eliminating installation steps for customers. That’s because the contemporary staircase and railing systems supplier predrills stair treads and prefabricates posts so no drilling, welding or assembly is required.

“Customers know exactly where each part goes at the job site with our turnkey solutions and detailed layout drawings,” says Viewrail Manufacturing Engineer Manager Tyler Garber.“

Len Morris started the Goshen, Indiana, business in 2001 with a few pieces of equipment, a code of integrity-based values and a vision. The company took off when Morris created and introduced Flight, his proprietary Floating Staircase system. Stair treads appear to float in midair without any structural support. Unlike traditional stairs, Flight staircases use a steel mono stringer that can be attached to a wall or hidden beneath the stair treads. Simple to assemble and install, the company can tailor the stringer, treads and railing to complement a customer’s surroundings.

“We’ve grown tremendously,” says Garber, noting that he was the 80th employee hired in 2018. “Today we have 300 personnel.” Morris has since differentiated the company’s product lines by creating two businesses. Viewrail features modern, elegant staircase solutions supported by advanced metalworking. Stair Supplies focuses on products that are handcrafted from wood.

FFJ 0421 laser image1

Ermaksan’s Fibermak GEN-3, 6kW 3015 fiber laser has an intuitive controller that makes operation easy.

Going commercial

Viewrail supplies its staircase and railing systems to builders, developers and contractors across the U.S., but Garber notes that the company is taking on more commercial work all the time. The company’s ability to prototype and fabricate a nearly endless number of design combinations and its code certifications make it attractive to a wide range of customers. “We have an in-house architect to help support the level of safety standards and codes that come with commercial projects,” he says. “Codes differ from state to state, and you have to be approved and certified for each system in each state.”

When demand for parts outstripped the capacity of Viewrail’s two CO2 lasers, the company found itself forced to outsource to keep pace. “We wanted to keep everything in-house to monitor and control part quality,” says Garber. “The company’s business model is essentially built on the idea that we make parts until we can’t keep up, then we upgrade our technology because we know it’s justified.”

Garber was tasked to research and identify a fiber laser that could replace the CO2 lasers and provide the capacity Viewrail needed to bring parts processing back under its roof. “We looked at every brand across the board,” he says. “Bang for the buck and quality led us to settle on a Fibermak GEN-3, 6kW 3015 fiber laser.”

Turkish sheet metal processing machine manufacturer Ermaksan engineered and built the Fibermak series. It supports U.S. fabricators through its North American headquarters, ErmakUSA Inc., Des Plaines, Illinois. Viewrail sourced the Fibermak GEN-3 through ErmakUSA distributor Mac-Tech.

Mac-Tech is based in Milwaukee, not too far from us,” Garber says. “As a family-owned business, we like to support family-owned companies. Mac-Tech was easy to work with. I have their number in my phone, and I know if I call they will provide me with anything I need right away. They have great technicians.”

The Fibermak GEN-3, 6kW fiber laser was installed in 2020 with an automatic-dual shuttle table. “You can load one sheet while another is being processed,” Garber says. “Since we run smaller batches, this works well for us. Delivery windows for customers are short so we want to be able to quickly cut the variety of parts needed for the job at hand.”

Steel 5-ft.-by-10-ft. sheets are fed to the fiber laser before parts move downstream to a press brake or a machining center. “We do a lot of machining, so the parts cut by the fiber laser have to be accurate,” he says. Part quality consistency is also important because we don’t hold inventory, so we’re always cutting just the parts we need for a specific job.”

FFJ 0421 laser image2

The Fibermak allows Viewrail to keep part processing in-house and monitor part quality and accuracy.

Economies of scale

Viewrail purchased a second Fibermak GEN-3 installed in 2021. The two Ermaksan fiber lasers have made it possible for the company to keep up with customer demand and avoid the need to outsource. Operators find the Fibermak’s touchscreen controller intuitive. “I’ve run other brands,” says Garber. “The interface with the software and the fiber lasers is very easy to use. We spec’d the same control for the second Fibermak. That way if the operator has been trained on one fiber laser, he or she knows they can also run the second machine. The simplicity of operation also helps us overcome the challenges associated with the skills gap when we introduce less experienced personnel to our cutting operations.”

With the help of its research and development team, Viewrail continues to look for ways to improve its products and the service and support it provides to customers. The company is in the process of installing a fully automated powder coat line. Its ability to scale up manufacturing and prefabricate with equipment like the fiber lasers allows Viewrail to be competitive while delivering a premium product.

“Advanced machines like the Ermaksan Fibermak free up our people to spend their time finding ways to make our products stronger, better and faster,” says Garber. “It’s also nice to be able to work with one vendor to source that kind of high-end equipment.”  FFJ


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