by Andrew Brooks
To be leader of the pack from day one
A ‘monster’ of a press brake
A “monster” press brake gives Saskatchewan fabricator huge head start
When Regina, SK-based Sight Cutting & Forming opened for business in 2012, it came into the market with a simple, but not easy-to-achieve proposition: have a huge jump on the competition from day one. “We wanted to be bigger,” recalls Jonny Eberle, one of Sight’s general managers. “Starting out we needed something that would separate us from the competition. Initially that was our capacity.”
Eberle, who was the prime mover in getting Sight up and running, had years of experience in metal processing sales, including laser, plasma and oxy cutting, press braking and rolling. He assembled an experienced team in 2011 and set to work transforming a former truck shop into a state-of-the-art facility that could provide a full spectrum of metal processing services. Sight Cutting & Forming opened for business early in 2012 (although Eberle says not everything was up and running until a couple of months later).
When describing the company’s machinery inventory, Eberle starts with two TRUMPF TL3040 lasers, both 5 kW units with 6 x 12 ft (2 x 4 m) beds with 1 in. (25 mm) capacity –“as big as you can get before getting into the really big 30 ft (9 m) units.” He says these are really the driving force for the company’s business, in tandem with the 9 x 30 ft (3 x 9 m) Messer plasma table, which sports two HPR400XD Hypertherm cutting heads and two oxy-propane cutting heads. “This is where most of the processing jobs start out when they come in,” Eberle says. Backing up the lasers and plasma table are three Ferric-AKbend plate rolls, at 16, 10 and 6 ft (5, 3, and 2 m) lengths.
The plate rolls were supplied by Ferric Machinery, Mississauga, ON, a supplier of fabricating machinery, which also has a base in Western Canada. Ferric also supplied what is one of Sight Cutting & Forming’s primary competitive edge: its two Ferric Ermak Speed Bend press brakes. One is a 192 ton (174 metric ton) capacity 12 ft (3.7 m) unit. The other is what Eberle calls “a monster”: a 24 ft (7.3 m) press brake with a capacity of 1100 tons (998 metric tons). This is the star in Sight’s lineup. The unit’s overwhelmingly massive capacity has attracted notice–and business–from other provinces and the US.
“We decided to go with Ferric because we already knew the company,” Eberle says. “The machines are workhorses and we’ve been very successful with them.” The projected purchase was a big enough deal that Sight staff went to the Ermak factory to watch how the units are manufactured. “The manufacturing is very solid and the staff there are very knowledgeable,” Eberle says. “At the end of the day, Ermak offered superior value.”
The plasma and laser units may be Sight Cutting & Forming’s main business drivers, but the 1100 ton press brake is the true competitive differentiator. “It really sets us apart,” Eberle says. “We can do a lot of work that most people can’t. In fact the press brake is probably one of the largest–if not the largest–in Saskatchewan.” The 24 ft length and the 1100 ton capacity set the “monster” apart. The length allows Sight to use materials that competitors can’t, while the tonnage capacity allows the processor to handle thicker materials than anyone else. “Between those two it brings in quite a bit of work.”
Saskatchewan’s economy is booming on several fronts, which brings in a range of customers from different sectors. “We’re definitely a job shop, so the work varies week to week,” Eberle says. “We do whatever we can get our hands on.” Sight primarily serves the agriculture and construction sector, but general manufacturing, oil, gas and mining all contribute major shares. The larger press brake is especially useful in jobs involving frame extensions for trailers and tractors, which requires high capacity. It also shines in implement work on skid steer buckets, backhoe buckets and larger attachments.
“We’re still finding more and more uses for the press brake every day,” Eberle says. “It gives people flexibility with how they design things, so we find that once they know the capacity we can handle, they’re actually going back to their drawing boards and sketching new designs–ones you’d previously have to go out of province for. So now, instead of doing a job in two pieces or more, they can save time by getting it done in one piece. It brings up the quality on their end and it also saves the labour of welding pieces together.”
Sight can perform work for out-of-province customers, including in the US. “The customer’s options have been limited when they need machines that large,” Eberle says. “A lot of work up to now has tended to go to Ontario and Northern Alberta, and now we’ve opened doors to people closer to home who can do work with us and not have to pay the high wages you see in Northern Alberta.” Sight is more affordable than the competition even with transportation costs factored in, Eberle says.
The digital controls on Sight’s machines yielded an unanticipated benefit. “On the older machines you used to have pushbuttons and a basic numerical display with just numbers, which was a bit confusing for most people without experience to understand. The newer controllers all have a graphical user interface that gives you a 3D picture of what you’re doing, and where you may run into problems. Our staff are able to get up and running much quicker.” Over half of Sight’s 28 employees had no prior experience before coming to the company, however with the experience of Sight’s core staff and the commonality of the controls, staff trained on one press brake are virtually ready to run any of the other machines.
“We don’t like our backlog to go over two weeks,” Eberle says. “When work starts to pile up, staff are cross-trained so we can move them from one machine to another to get the extra shifts we need. ” Sight has two shifts operating now, although the company has gone to three as required to stay on top of the backlog.
Times are good. The company just underwent a major expansion. “We experienced success early and our team is second to none,” Eberle says. “We found once we set up, we ran out of room quickly for staging areas, quality control, materials storage, and so on. So we’re adding 15,600 sq ft.” This doubles Sight’s capacity. When the day comes, the company will have to find new digs, and Eberle laughs when he says he’s not looking forward to moving the “monster.”
Still, it’s a nice problem to have. SMT
Andrew Brooks is a regular contributor. [email protected]