- Category: Automation
- Created: 2017-11-29
New cutting head technology and a material handling tower facilitate heavy-gauge cutting to support customer demands
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief
When Jake Wieler and Pedro Dyck started Custom Quality Mfg. (CQM) in 2006 as a fabrication company, the two partners served as the owners, machine operators, sales managers and everything in between. They handled all aspects of the operation from start to finish in their 2,500-sq.-ft. facility with nothing more than a couple of welders and a press brake.
“I had been working in the metals fabricating industry for 10 years prior to opening CQM,” Wieler says. “Starting a business was something that I always wanted to do – and metal fabrication was all I really knew. So, Pedro and I did what we needed to do to run the business as well the shop floor.”
In the years since Wieler and Dyck started CQM, the Aylmer, Ontario-based business has seen exponential growth. For starters, it’s gone from just the two owners to 25 employees. It’s also grown from that handful of welders and a press brake to start-to-finish manufacturing, everything from design all the way through coating.
Located in the hub of Ontario’s industrial heartland, CQM focuses on providing exceptional products, service and support to its customers. The shop offers laser cutting, forming, blasting, welding and paint finishing services and focuses on the agriculture, automotive and general industrial industry. In addition to producing its own products – CQM manufactures box plows for applications such as snow removal. The bulk of the company’s work is custom.
The combination of the company’s growth and goals led CQM to purchase new reliable machinery, including a Mitsubishi eX-F 8-kW fiber laser equipped with the Mitsubishi Zoom cutting head in June 2016 and, later, a 12-shelf automated material handling tower.
Pedro Dyck, vice president (left), and Jake Wieler, president (right), installed their new Mitsubishi eX-F 8-kW fiber laser equipped with the Mitsubishi Zoom cutting head and a 12-shelf automated material handling tower to enhance their competitive advantage.
Diving into fiber
The company had explored fiber laser technology for the shop, but didn't feel it was a good fit for its short-run custom fabrication operation. The speed at which a fiber laser could operate appealed to CQM, but Wieler and Dyck couldn't justify the cost.
“We go from thin gauge all the way to 1 in. on any given day,” Wieler says. “Fiber is great on light-gauge material, but we do heavy gauge, as well, so up until Mitsubishi introduced the Zoom head, it just didn’t make sense for us.”
Coincidentally, as the technology of the Zoom head was being introduced, CQM’s customer base was growing at a rapid pace. This combination of events propelled Wieler and Dyck to rethink their decision on investing in fiber. So, the company purchased the eX-F machine from MC Machinery's local distributor, Fabricating Machinery Solutions. Since then, it has been full steam ahead.
Mitsubishi’s advanced fiber laser technology allows fabricators to cut high-quality thick and thin materials quickly. Equipped with the Zoom head, an all-in-one design that includes an autofocus focal range from 3.75 in. to 10 in., HPP pierce technology and collision protection, CQM’s new machine could handle its full range of work.
"We’ve been cutting a lot of 3/4-in., 5/8-in. and 1/2-in. material," Wieler says. "With the Zoom cutting head, we have a big advantage. It used to take us 15 to 20 sec. to pierce a 1-in. plate. Now we're piercing it in 2 sec. It’s valuable to note that the quality is the same if not better than with our CO2 lasers."
CQM is still running those two CO2 lasers, which it had prior to the eX-F machine, and there is plenty of work for all three machines. Higher volume runs are done on the fiber laser – in part due to the speed, but also because of the tower and automation that the company invested in. Any other odds and ends are processed on the two CO2 machines.
Part of the process of investing in a high-speed laser is recognizing the potential bottlenecks that it can introduce to downstream operations that can’t keep up. Recognizing this, Wieler chose to invest in automation.
"It didn't make sense to have a standalone high-speed fiber machine like this because it would simply sit idle,” Wieler says. “With the addition of the SmartFlex Rapid Tower, we’re impressed with what we can run through our system. Before automation, we ran 60 to 70 sheets through with a 2-min. cycle time. That didn’t give us enough time to clear the tables fast enough, but we no longer have that problem.”
But that’s just part of the approach Wieler took to combat downstream issues. In addition to investing in the SmartFlex Rapid Tower, he also hired additional employees to help sort parts and keep the flow moving. And the flexibility of the tower will usher in plenty of expansion opportunities in the future.
When CQM initially installed its new fiber laser and tower, it was done with the intention of placing another fiber laser under the tower in the future. And the SmartFlex Rapid was designed for just that. Versatile and expandable, configuration options are wide. Up to 20 shelves can be added to one tower for a total of 120,000 lbs. of material capacity.
"Even as we were installing the fiber, we were keeping in mind that we would want to add a second laser under the tower so that it could feed two machines,” Wieler says. “We want to gain experience working the fiber laser and then we will discuss the decision of purchasing a second Mitsubishi fiber machine.”
Positioned for expansion
What started as a 2,500-sq.-ft. facility with a couple of welders and a press brake has grown to become a one-stop metal fabricating shop producing custom parts out of a 40,000-sq.-ft. facility.
“When it comes to heavier gauge materials, the end products vary,” Wieler says. “As an example, we have a trucking company as a customer that we do a fair amount of 1-in. work for producing heavy-duty hitches that they put on their trucks. A lot of that work is custom based.”
With the new capabilities the fiber laser brings, Wieler is hoping to expand on the industries and customers the company serves. Since bringing the fiber laser on board, that end goal is in clear sight.
“When we only had the CO2 machines, we struggled to compete with other companies in the area,” he explains. “Now, however, our cutting speeds are better and especially our pierce times. Having the ability to be more competitive on heavier gauges is what we’ve been striving for.”
The ease of use of the new fiber laser is definitely helping to ramp up the company’s competitiveness.
“There was a little bit of a learning curve getting into the fiber technology,” Wieler says. “But once you’ve dialed in the conditions, such as pierce conditions and the focus beam, you can just put the material on the machine and run with it. In the long run, it’ll be easier to run the fiber than the CO2 machines because we don’t have to worry about dealing with so many variables or losing power depending on where the optics are.”