What is old is new
- December 3, 2012
Reduce costs, bring outsourced work inhouse
New Laser cutting machine cuts costs, brings tighter quality control to formerly outsourced work
Decades old lasers work side-by-side with new machines to fill “tactical” role in fab shop’s business plan
Other than conversation pieces, what’s the value in having decades-old machine tools occupy valuable floor space in a modern fabrication shop? The answer is “Plenty!” according to Ken Lennox, president of ETSM Technical Services Ltd., Guelph, ON, provided the machines are in suitable roles and were originally built with “the right stuff.”
Lennox’s business, which he runs with his son, Matt, is an excellent case in point, with a mechanical brake from the fifties, a shear from the seventies, and a mid-eighties laser cutting system, all built by Cincinnati Inc. The three machines continue to be used daily at ETSM, within sight of state-of-the-art equipment that includes another Cincinnati brake and laser as new as 2011.
ETSM manufactures its own product line of coil winding systems, enclosures and related equipment for the electrical transformer and utility industries, while producing custom fabrications, machine guarding, automotive fixturing and replacement parts for regional customers in energy, automotive and mining industries. The company has three principal lines of business: machining, powder coating and custom fabrication. It employs about 50 people and operates out of two production facilities totaling about 50,000 sq ft.
As a manufacturer of its own product line, the company has an engineering and controls department, as well as assembly capability. “Our engineering, assembly, machining, fabrication and finishing capabilities give us a lot of flexibility and many of our employees are multi-skilled,” says Lennox. “We’re a one-stop shop for fairly complex systems and machinery, while we can still make a nice profit doing repairs, one-off projects, or walk-in work.”
Lennox started the business in 1985 with used fabrication equipment that included a Cincinnati 5 Series 125-ton mechanical press brake made in1954, followed shortly by a used 18 Series shear with 0.25 in. x 10 ft. (6.35 mm x 3 m) capacity, built in 1974. The company’s first commercial laser cutting system was also a used Cincinnati CL-7 built in 1987 for the manufacturer’s own shop and used heavily for a couple of decades before being sold to a surplus dealer. “We have the technical resources in house to modernize these machines with current safety systems and guarding,” says Lennox. “We installed a CNC backgauge on the press brake, and a new Fanuc control and servos on the laser system.”
Keeping older machines in service
But why keep these machines in production when the company has a new Cincinnati CL-840 laser and newer 60CBII press brake, as well as other new equipment?
“We often have work that we don’t want to use our new equipment for, or the old machines have a slight edge for some things,” he explains. “For example, we use the mechanical brake for lighter duty work that does not require its full capacity, such as straightening a fabrication we just made in our shop. This is a very tough, fast and durable machine. On a high production run, it’s faster than a hydraulic brake so it gives us a time advantage. There are worn components on it, but it still works great.”
Lennox says the company planned to retire its 1200 W CL-7 laser when it installed the 4000 W 840, “but we never quit using the older machine because it fills a niche for us. We do a lot of quick one-off pieces, and by keeping the older machine, we do not have to interrupt a production run on our higher-end laser. We can switch it from 20 ga. to 0.25 in. (6.35 mm) plate quicker than the new machine because it’s lower-level technology; you just change the power settings and run it. It has the same 5 x 10 ft. (1.5 x 3 m) table and swappable pallets. Admittedly, the older machine is slower with ballscrew drives and does not produce the same edge quality or accuracy as the new laser, but for a segment of our business, this is not an issue. The ability to get one part made in a few minutes, without interrupting our new laser, is a competitive advantage for some jobs.”
As a builder of machine guarding, ETSM has the resources to keep its machines current with safety standards. The company has in-house capabilities for fabricating enclosures and perimeter guarding, and integrating sensors with machine control systems. It also works with a safety consultant to ensure its shop and equipment meet current standards. Lennox says ETSM purchased its CL-840 laser with the Lexan enclosure and liked it so well that it plans to fabricate a similar enclosure for its older laser.
Among the products manufactured in volume on the new laser are electrical enclosures that house phone and cable TV lines inside concrete light poles. ETSM makes about 5000 kits for these enclosures every year. The kit uses satin galvanized steel, aluminum and stainless steel. “Prior to our new laser, we outsourced everything but the mild steel, which we cut with our old laser,” Lennox explains. “The new laser allowed us to bring all this work in house, particularly the lighter gauge aluminum and stainless.” Other items fabricated in quantity at ETSM include development-size lots of parking lot equipment.
Likewise, the Cincinnati 18 Series shear made in 1974 continues to serve a role, after being purchased used more than 20 years ago. The machine was built in Cincinnati Incorporated’s former manufacturing plant in Scotland, sold to a customer in Israel, and then to a brake pad manufacturer in Montreal from whom Lennox bought the machine. “We use it every day and have no plans to replace it, despite having laser cutting ability,” Lennox stresses. “It’s pretty much maintenance-free. Just change the blades as needed and wipe the dust off. These older machines still work; they rarely need maintenance, and there’s no cost to keep them on the floor. In fact, the older equipment is often easier to maintain because it’s simpler.”
He adds that there is “no capital cost to keep these older machines. As long as they stay healthy and we don’t need the floor space desperately, we’ll continue to use them because they fill an important tactical role in our business plan.” SMT