- Category: C02
- Created: 2016-08-01
In the wake of an economic downturn, a Tulsa shop diversifies – and perseveres – with a new laser cutter
by Abbe Miller, editor-in-chief
Local economies and small businesses closely tied to petroleum are familiar with the boom and bust cycles of the industry. As analysts warn, the current industry downturn is different from past busts, with some estimates saying it could be years before oil prices return to the highs seen just a few years ago. Local manufacturing shops in oil communities like Tulsa, Okla., increasingly face two alternatives: sink or swim.
When Avery Barron Industries opened its doors in 2010, the Tulsa fabrication shop joined countless metal fab companies in oil-rich regions of the United States that had historically relied on oil for survival.
Initially, this reliance helped the business grow.
Before barrel prices launched into a lethargic period of decline late in 2014, oil and gas customers contributed almost three quarters of the company’s revenues. But by mid-2015, much of that traffic disappeared. Business owner Bruce Barron soon realized diversification was his best strategy for weathering the recessionary storm.
Today, Avery Barron Industries is beating the market pressures stacked against its onetime bellwether earnings stream by turning to the construction, cabinetry and food processing industries. These moves were made possible by a new CO2 laser cutting machine and press brake from MC Machinery Systems. The moves were also made possible thanks to support from a local distributor, C4 Industrial Inc.
Avery Barron Industries acquired the Mitsubishi Laser 3015eX in 2015, propelling the company toward increased job opportunities and greater success.
The potential for success
Diversification was not a new idea to Barron. When he and his partners purchased the assets of a 40-year-old fabrication business that had closed its doors in the wake of the 2008 recession, they had every intention of building a diversified customer base. But the upward swing in the oil and gas market offered opportunities too good for the start-up venture to pass up.
“We always wanted to diversify away from oil and gas,” Barron says, “but we were doing really well, getting more and more business.”
The newly acquired facility and equipment provided “a pretty well-rounded fabrication capability” despite its age. Building on that base, the team made the business work for almost five years without any significant equipment upgrades. But, as the oil economy soured and the company sought opportunities in other industries, its laser cutter started to reach its limits with some of the shop’s potential jobs.
“We were losing,” Barron admits. “We were not in the final running for jobs because we could not offer competitive bids or compete with the newer pieces of equipment out there.”
Evaluating feedback from lost quotes, Barron and his team realized their rates were higher on average than competitors. And, as recurring maintenance issues took the older laser cutter out of service, Barron knew it was time to elevate the company’s capabilities.
In a strained economic environment, however, he was concerned about exactly what he could do to improve.
“I was looking at used pieces of equipment,” Barron says. “I didn’t think a new laser was something we could afford.”
Everything changed after he met C4 Industrial sales representative Bryon Machado. As one of MC Machinery’s industrial distribution partners, C4 and Machado possess a deep level of market knowledge. Guiding Barron toward the Mitsubishi Laser 3015eX in 2015 and the Dener Press Brake Elite-XL-220-4 in early 2016, Machado facilitated Avery Barron Industries’ first substantial equipment investment since the business opened. Ultimately, Mitsubishi’s equipment capabilities combined with C4’s support won Barron over.
Attendees at Avery Barron Industries’ open house watched laser cutting demonstrations on the company’s new Mitsubishi Laser 3015eX.
“He looked at Mitsubishi and a number of other manufacturers,” Machado says. “We were truly a partner, however. Showing a vested interest in his business, we helped him create targeted marketing campaigns to different customers based on his new capabilities.”
Replacing former LVP series, eX is the fifth generation in a line of powerful 2-D CO2 Mitsubishi Lasers. These machines deliver low running costs, eco-friendly features for power and gas consumption, and stable operation for greater productivity. Gas change time is improved by 60 percent over previous models, and the helical rack and pinion reduces noise and allows for an increase in acceleration in X and Y axes. This provides increased accuracy and longer lifetime.
With the Mitsubishi equipment in place, Avery Barron Industries was officially poised to take on projects with a new level of aggression. The overall process became more efficient , and production levels surged to two to five times faster.
In addition to gains in speed, the company was also able to hold higher tolerances, cut thicker materials and complete more complex bending than before, improving the company’s position in the economy and allowing it to win bids the shop would have previously considered unattainable. With a 4.5-kW resonator, Avery Barron Industries’ new laser cutter is rated at 1 in. for mild steel.
“Overall,” Machado says, “both machines give him better capability to quote jobs that he was unable to accomplish before.”
Now more competitive on shorter runs, Barron is able to capitalize on opportunities for growth. Considering more than 90 percent of the projects he takes on require laser cutting on the front-end, the new equipment is irreplaceable.
“From a small fabricator’s perspective,” Barron adds. “We now have the newest, most efficient and highest powered laser in Tulsa.”
Once the new eX laser was installed, Avery Barron Industries hosted an open house to showcase the company’s new capabilities to potential and existing clients and partners.
Getting the word out
To promote the company’s new capabilities, Barron worked closely with Machado to host what would become a well-attended open house, turning the attention of both old and new customers toward the shop’s increased potential. From there, opportunities to quote contracts exploded, and multi-million-dollar opportunities were brought to the forefront of sales.
“It’s great to have the latest and greatest technology in your shop,” Machado says, “but it does you no benefit if you don’t let the people know that you have it.”
Before, Barron had to worry about losing business to local laser shops stacked with multiple 4- to 6-kW laser cutters completing high-volume repetitive cutting work with ease. And that was on top of regularly competing with the smaller fabrication shops.
Now, with the new machinery, the company is competitive and here to stay.
Co-CEO Bruce Barron with chairwoman and co-CEO Kimberly Barron with the eX laser from MC Machinery.
“I now think that we can compete with those guys on cutting jobs as well as beating out the small guys doing cutting and fabrication work,” Barron says. “We’re way more competitive than we used to be. With our old laser cutter, we wouldn’t even be in the running.”
The company has become so competitive that not making it to the final running for jobs is starting to feel like a distant memory. Leveling up with the big guys, the shop’s increased capabilities and its ability to diversify ushered in its current increase in quote activity, multiplying the number of opportunities the business can pursue.
“And almost none of it is oil and gas related,” Barron acknowledges, “which is promising to me.”
With the new Mitsubishi equipment and support from C4, Avery Barron Industries is poised for long-term growth. The company’s current group of partners and employees has watched the shop climb from opening its doors to no customers to collecting on its first order and onto working toward closing multi-million-dollar annual jobs – floating right alongside the “other guys” in metalworking today.