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Opening doors

By Russ Olexa

Along with having a full complement of metal fabricating equipment such as lasers, punches and press brakes, Bar Tal Electronic Enclosures Ltd., offers something unusual for a job shop fabricator--the capabilities to produce complex finished products that require engineering and multiple outsourced parts.

In fact, one product that Bar Tal produces has roughly 3,000 parts, all managed by the company so that a finished product is delivered to either the company that owns the product or drop-shipped directly to a purchaser. This is a service that few job shops even want to consider doing.

Bar Tal was founded in 1982, and in the early years it was just a small shop in Tel Aviv. With only three people the company produced special tooling for stamping. In 1993 the company was traded on the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange, but has since repurchased its stock and is now owned by several members of its current management team.

Bar Tal is a subcontractor for high-tech companies in Israel and throughout the world. Its areas of expertise are in producing electronic enclosures and packaging parts, as well as building entire products. The company has a staff of 120 employees housed in a three-level 3,500-sq.-m. facility. Most employees are qualified specialists, including seven engineers and 12 practical engineers in multiple discipline areas.

Ilan Ya'acov, general manager at Bar Tal, says, "We first made stamping tools for vehicles for the accessories aftermarket. Motorola is also a customer for electronic components. We started to produce electronics enclosures, starting with simple brackets and some assemblies and then the work just grew from there."

Bar Tal does laser work, stamping, bending and punching, but they also have an extensive staff that does nothing but assembly work of dedicated rack-mounted computer systems, sound systems, enclosures and even complex medical equipment.

Sold on lasers
For the first 10 years of its operation Ya'acov says that the company primarily relied on punching machines, press brakes and low-tonnage stamping presses to produce parts. If processes needed to be done to the parts that the company didn't have equipment for, they were outsourced.

But things began to change, he notes. "When the first laser came into Israel about 25 years ago, all our customers started producing parts that needed to go on a laser, not a punch press. All the designers in Israel such as Hewlett Packard and Kodak designed parts to be best produced on a laser. They didn't think about whether or not the vendors had a laser or punch either. They just wanted to design the part as freely as possible to get what they needed. So they were pushing us into new technologies that included the laser to get the best competitive price.

"If we didn't get a laser to produce these parts, we were out of business. For small quantity parts we cut on a laser, but when we have a very large quantity, something that we might run for months, then we use either a punch or stamp the part."

Bar Tal bought a Bystronic BTL 1800, a Bystronic Bystar 2512 and then added a Trumpf Trumatic L3030 with an automation system to move sheet metal in and parts out. Along with this equipment, the company has a Finn Power Express punching system that offers 6 axes and a servomotor-driven punch mechanism along with an automatic loader/unloader enabling 24/7 manufacturing. They also have five Amada press brakes and an Amada Pega-357 mechanical turret-punch press with an automatic loader/unloader for lights-out production.

Ya'acov adds, "I also think that as other Israeli job shops grew and acquired lasers, it meant that for any of the other shops to remain competitive, they needed to invest in the technology."

But why a laser? Ya'acov explains that speed was important. "We calculate the part's cost between laser cutting it or punching it. The laser has the capability to be automatically loaded and unloaded to do lights-out manufacturing during the weekend. Automation is very important to us. We have some parts where the lot sizes are very large and we can use the full capability of the laser to do lights-out manufacturing, up to 72 hrs. unattended."

Keeping lasers in focus
One way that Bar Tal keeps its laser running efficiently is by using yellow lenses from Ophir Optics. The company found that instead of using the OEM lens, the Ophir lens gives them a longer life.

Bar Tal also uses Ophir's Black Magic lens that has dramatically increased time between lens changes. It makes a big difference in cut quality, speed and the ease of cleaning. If the lens gets a spot on it, it comes right off.

Product or part considerations
Having a laser for a job shop isn't all that unusual, but having a job shop that acts as a custom product builder with in-house design and engineering capabilities is quite unique. And it's one way that Ya'acov says the company can set itself apart from the other 70 or so job shops in Israel. However it does bring other considerations to part and product production, such as warranties and insurance.

If a company builds a complete product on contract, what company warrants it? This is especially unclear if the design is done by the job shop but approved by the company that owns the product rights and markets it. If a part is just produced, then it's usually designed by the company that gives it to the vendor. The design is built to the product company's specifications. If it fails as part of a larger product, then the product is under warranty by the company that makes it.

But if a job shop designs, engineers and produces a product, even though it's approved by the company who contracted it, which company is responsible for its warranty and liability insurance? These are some of the questions that have to be answered when a job shop takes on the task of an entire product.

For Bar Tal, being in Israel, the risks are different compared to other countries. Ya'acov says that usually the warranty and liability risks are handled by the contracting company, but all this has to be spelled out in any contract.

Bar Tal produces a medical product that has 3,000 parts. Many of which, such as plastic parts, are produced under contract by outside vendors. Along with keeping track of incoming and outgoing parts, Bar Tal must take on the risks of making sure that all the parts get to them in time for a finished product and must oversee and contract for all the parts that they don't produce in-house. This is a mammoth undertaking that many job shops wouldn't want or couldn't have because of the shear number of people required to manage it.

Selling its capabilities
Ya'acov says that they have a full-time sales staff. "We have three salesmen who are engineers. You just can't hire any salesman who doesn't understand our capabilities, because he wouldn't know how to sell our technology. They work with the customer to define the products and understand the customer's needs to develop a quote."

Bar Tal will do large quantities, especially for stampings along with prototypes. As Ya'acov says, "If you don't do prototypes, you won't be able to get the quantities of these parts. We don't take parts from every company that knocks on our door, even if there's good profit in it. We try to work with the biggest companies in Israel. We normally take jobs that can last months or years for production."

To keep track of all the various complete parts or parts for finished products, Bar Tal does part kiting for complete products along with using a sophisticated computer system that tracks every part using bar codes.

Ya'acov mentions, "If you do a complicated part where you buy the electronic boards and the cables and so on, you add value to the part and you have fewer competitors. Often you get a contract for the life of the product. If you produce a simple part, you have greater competition and tighter profit margins. By doing everything, we are more confident that the part will stay with us for its lifecycle. We are fair with our customers that we build finished products for. We don't take advantage of them by being a single source. Actually, 70 percent of our parts are just single ones that we produce in-house with the other 30 percent being parts to build a finished product." FFJ

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