Growing With The Flow
- August 24, 2018
Evolving with a constant investment in technology keeps a family-owned fab shop meeting demand and expanding its business
THE PROBLEM: Fabrication shop capacity and having the ability to meet customer demand.
THE SOLUTION: Investing in a TRUMPF TruLaser 2030 fiber laser with BrightLine technology.
When Cameron Mason was just a kid, he remembers looking up at the wide variety of tooling on the shelves at his grandfather’s tool and die shop. He recalls stamping forms for aerospace and a fascinating one for some kind of gun part.
Imperial Tool and Die opened in 1956 in Etobicoke, ON, where it still remains today. But over the years, keeping up with customer demand has propelled many changes for this third generation family-run business. With a total of 1,115 sq m (12,000 sq ft) and 20 employees, the stamping and welding cells have been moved to a building next door, and the original shop floor is now dedicated to laser cutting and bending.
With Mason and his father at the helm, they recently changed the company name to Imperial Fabricating to stay in line with industry changes as more shops move away from tooling and metal stamping to laser cutting processes.
Five years ago, Imperial invested in a TRUMFP 1030 C02 laser, and just this past spring it added a TruLaser 2030 to its arsenal. “It was strictly about capacity,” says Mason, general manager. “We were getting really busy, we had a bottleneck at our C02 laser cutting station and there weren’t enough hours in the day to meet the demand we had. The fiber is adding more hours of cutting and we still use the C02.”
When you enter the main job shop, the TruLaser 2030 is the first thing you see, banked by two press brakes against the outer walls and the C02 cutting system at the far end. Getting a live demo of the 2030 fiber laser in action, the operator loads a sheet of 11 gauge hot-rolled steel into the fiber laser cell and calls up the cutting program on the HMI touch screen, which instantly displays about 130 neatly nested pieces for a transmission housing. Once the program makes the first cut, the operator pauses it and pulls the part out for inspection. “We like to look at the first part to make sure it’s cutting well,” explains Mason.
The TruLaser 2030 is equipped with TRUMPF's BrightLine technology for fiber lasers, which gives fabricators the ability to cut a wide range of thin to thick materials.
On the C02 machine, the operator is cutting garbage chutes intended for condo and apartment buildings. He pauses the process to pull the head off, clean the lens and inspect it.
“With the fiber there are things that you have to do, like inspecting the head, but not as often. There’s a protective glass you have to clean if spatter or dust gets on it, but it’s pretty low maintenance,” says Mason.
And Mason adds that integrating the fiber laser into their process was seamless. He had planned for such an addition so there were no real changes to the job shop layout. The company is using TRUMPF’s TruTops software for both cutting systems, and the operators were easily transitioned to the new machine. “As soon as it arrived it was up and going,” laughs Mason. “It was a big relief.”
In terms of the learning curve for the operators, Mason says that there are nuances that are a little different and it is a different technology, but the general principle of how it runs is pretty straightforward.
Imperial Fabricating is currently running a day shift, but with his sights set on the future and meeting demand, Mason made sure he would have the ability to add automated loading and unloading capabilities on the TruLaser. “The plan is that we would like to add that on to allow us to run the machine 24 hours a day,” says Mason, who is no stranger to throwing on his work clothes and boots and working an afternoon or night shift.
He operated the C02 1030 for about four years to thoroughly learn the technology. “It’s just all a part of how it goes,” says Mason. “I came in last night (a Sunday) and worked from 6 p.m. to midnight. That’s how busy we are. Hopefully we can add a second shift soon, assuming business keeps up at this pace.”
Imperial Fabricating works with hot and cold-rolled steel, stainless, galvanized and satin-coated galvannealed materials to make parts, components and structural products for building related items, office equipment, construction, etc.
“What we fabricate honestly changes hourly, so it’s hard to really pin down a particular product or part,” says Mason.
In the neighbouring building, the sound of metal stamping machines is rhythmic. Walking by bins of small brackets and parts, and shelves loaded with tooling, Mason explains that there’s still a place for tool and die. If they need long runs of multiple uniform parts, it might be best to invest in the tooling.
With the new fiber laser integrated into Imperial’s process, Mason says that they wouldn’t be able to do the kind of work they have now with just the one cutting machine. “I wish I had three lasers now,” he laughs.
Mason adds that really, what this business boils down to is that it’s a service. “If you don’t have the time to give the customer the service, you’re not going to get the customer. Building something around that main foundation is the most important thing. It’s about time efficiency, being prepared for things and being on the ball.” SMT