Keep Smiling

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by Staff Writer

Ontario fabrication shop enjoys rapid growth despite challenging times

The challenge: Labour shortages, overseas competition, and an uncertain economy
The solution: Continue to upgrade the shop’s metalworking equipment

The past seven years have kept Milan Popik Jr. and his team of fifteen employees busy. The owner of Metal Tronics Inc. purchased the metal fabrication company from his father in 2014 and has enjoyed 10 to 12 per cent annual growth ever since. Until recently, that is — like many shops, Metal Tronics’ revenue plummeted as Covid-19 cases grew. “We took a big hit early on in the pandemic but started to rebound less than a year later,” Popik says. “And since January of 2021, we’ve seen a 66 per cent increase in sales volume.”

Continuous improvement
Thanks to this welcome growth, Popik has been able to continue down the path he’s followed since assuming ownership of the nearly four-decades-old business: replacing outdated equipment and increasing the shop’s production capacity. In 2015, he upgraded a Mitsubishi LVP-series CO2 laser that he’d had for 11 years with another Mitsubishi product, an ML3015 EX 4.5 kilowatt (kW) CO2. 

“That first Mits was a good machine but given all the advancements in laser technology over the years, we’d begun to realize that our cutting times weren’t competitive enough,” Popik says. “It came to a head when we missed an opportunity for some parts made out of 3/8-inch stainless steel plate. That $150,000 order would have gone a long way towards paying for a new machine, so we made the move. We bought another Mits.”

That was just the start. Over the next few years, Popik made numerous other shop floor improvements, including a BB404 Diamond Series electric press, also from Mitsubishi. And in late 2020, right in the middle of the pandemic, he purchased yet another piece of equipment from MC Machinery—an Adira PA Basic Series model 16030 hydraulic press brake with 3,000 mm (118 in.) bending length. 

An operator makes a bend on Metal Tronics’ BB4013 Diamond Series electric press from Mitsubishi. IMAGE: Metal TronicsExpanding markets
Milan Popik Sr. started Metal Tronics in 1983. The younger Popik has worked there since graduating from Ontario’s Sheridan College in 1992. The company is known throughout the Toronto area as a dependable provider of high-quality custom metal and plastic products for a range of customers, many in the retail, electronics, medical, and transportation industries. Both Popiks take pride in their decades-long reputation as a “one-stop shop” for metalworking projects.

Popik explains that he purchased the new Adira for two reasons. The first was an inability to bend long lengths of heavy gauge material, requiring that he subcontract such work to other suppliers. One example of this is a job for a nearby auto body shop, bending 8-foot panels for a “Hummer” limousine conversion. Popik’s team also used the hydraulic press brake to produce stainless steel architectural components for a restoration project at the Royal Ontario Museum, work he describes as “a big job that requires cutting, forming and welding to replicate window frames made more than 100 years ago.”

Aside from giving him the option to bring these and other large parts in-house, Popik’s second reason for the new press brake was its ease of use. “Like a lot of shops, we’re finding it difficult to find skilled help,” he says. “Most of the young people coming into the job market now would rather work with computers than their hands, which is why we need equipment that even less experienced people can set up and operate. The Adira checks both of these boxes.”

Taking the next step
As it turns out, expanding his press brake capacity was a very smart move. Popik continues to gain new work. “Our automotive customers have picked up a lot lately, and on the retail side, we’re beginning to get back some of the work that went away when the pandemic kicked in, stuff like shelving, racks, and brackets, he says. “Construction is booming as well, but it seems like everybody is starting to get busy. That’s why I’m especially glad we recently bought our first fiber laser. We’re very excited.”

Metal Tronics used its new Adira hydraulic press brake to produce the body panels for this Hummer limousine conversion.  IMAGE: Metal TronicsThe machine he’s talking about is a Mitsubishi GX-F Advanced, and as with his other equipment, Popik purchased it from MC Machinery Systems, a subsidiary of the Mitsubishi Corp. The new 8 kW fiber laser boasts rack and pinion direct drives, cutting speeds up to 100 m/min (3937 ipm), rapid traverse rates of 170 m/min (6700 ipm) simultaneous and positioning accuracy of 0.05/500 mm (0.0019 in./20 in.). It’s also automation-ready, a feature that Popik plans to implement later this year. 

“We’d like to get more familiar with its programming and operation before moving to automated sheet loading and unloading, but we’ve found that the machine is so advanced, we should be able to run it completely unattended 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Popik says. 

As mentioned at the outset, Popik is a busy guy. In addition to all the new equipment, Metal Tronics is also upgrading its Job Boss ERP software with a scheduling system and data collection. He expects that this will give the company greater visibility to the shop floor, allowing him and his management team to “keep better track of the jobs and meet our due dates without manually running around trying to see where everything is.” 

Perhaps the biggest challenge right now, however, is floor space.

 Metal Tronics’ growth is constrained by its 1160 sq m (12,500 sq. ft.) facility. “There’s a chance that I can take over the building next door to me, but we’ll have to see what happens,” Popik says. “Regardless, we’ll continue to do whatever’s necessary to keep our production operating as efficiently as possible. It’s a very competitive market up, and the best way to stay ahead of the other shops is to keep our equipment and software systems current. Doing so will allow us to continue our growth, remain competitive, and give our customers the best service we can; more than anything else, that’s what keeps us smiling.” SMT

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