Laser smart

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by Mary Scianna

The Problem: Inability to meet rising production levels

The Solution: Automated laser cutting

Laser automation meets shop’s production demands and innovative work schedule

The team that operates the metal fabricating cell in Cam Tran Co. Ltd.’s Colbourne, ON, facility has a pretty sweet deal. Four days a week, they work ten-hour shifts, running the lasers, press brake and welding operations, and then take the fifth day off, effectively giving them long week-ends throughout the year. The only exception is when rush orders need to be completed because “the customer always comes first,” explains Craig Hoskin, value stream leader.

The current setup at Cam Tran reflects the core values of owners Kyle and Bryn Campbell, whose father George formed the origins of the company in Grafton, ON. The company began as a distributor of transformers and in 1982 Kyle and Bryn, with two other siblings now retired, formed Cam Tran to repair, remanufacture and sell them. Since then the company has expanded the Colbourne facility six times and today the 50,000 sq ft operation includes the transformer tank metal fabricating facility and a powder coating operation. In 1997, the Campbell brothers opened a Chilliwack, BC, facility, a 48,000 sq ft manufacturing operation.

That sweet deal came to an abrupt halt back in 2011. Production levels had increased significantly because of growing demand and they weren’t able to meet production numbers during their four day, ten-hour shifts.

“The team elected to split shifts with some coming in at 6 am and working until 4:30 pm and others coming in at 10 am and working until 8:30 pm,” recalls Hoskin, “but it was still the owners’ belief that this situation wasn’t falling within the core values of how they wanted to operate the company, so the task was given to the team to determine how to get off the split shift, get back onto the four day, ten-hour shift and meet production requirements.”

The task began in January 2012 and took a year to complete before the installation of a new LVD Strippit laser cutting machine, a 4 kW Orion 3015 Plus C02 model. The year-long process was a first for this team of metal fabricators.

Solving a problem
The team tasked with solving the problem consisted of Joe Hoskin, laser operator, Steve Robbins, brake/laser operator, Chris Haalstra, brake operator and brake trainer; Joe Amodeo, flow leader, Matt Murphy, brake operator/welder, and Darrell Tremblett, mechanical engineer.

Craig Hoskin proposed the team use A3, a lean problem solving tool. Hoskin and the team knew the process of solving the problem would take time, “so we committed to doing what was required to meet production demands until we went through the process of solving the problem and the owners in turn said that once we told them what we wanted, they would commit to the investment,” says Hoskin.

A3 requires individuals to identify a problem, identify the cause of the problem and propose a solution. In the case of Cam Tram, the problem was the team’s inability to meet rising production demand within the scheduled working hours. The team then identified eight possible causes and tackled them one by one, with the biggest item being metal cutting.

“We looked at taking the existing laser cutting machine and upgrading it with a tower to make it fully automated,” recalls Joe Hoskin, “but we could only cut one gauge [thickness] at a time and we handle different gauges and typically process a whole week’s worth of production at once, but with this idea, it would have meant too much work in progress sitting on the floor. And we practice lean here and that wasn’t the way to go for us because it would also have meant more material handling and more storage.”

The team then looked at other cutting processes, including waterjet, plasma and punching machines, and purchasing a
new laser cutting machine equipped with automated loading and unloading.

“The waterjet process was too dirty for us and plasma was slow, dirty and noisy and would have created a lot of slag and fumes in the shop. With turret punching, the tooling was an issue because we would have needed customized tooling beyond the 32-ton offered; we would have needed 50 ton tooling to punch big holes. It would also have required different programming so there would have been a learning curve,” says Joe Amodeo, flow leader.

The team zeroed in on a new laser cutting machine as the best option to help them solve their problem.

Laser as the best bet
“We were cutting almost 100 hours and trying to fit it into 40 hours, so another laser would help us to make up the time, says Steve Robbins, laser/brake operator.

Cam Tran contacted six suppliers of laser cutting machines who all provided suggestions on machines they thought would help the team achieve its goal. While they liked several different machines, they selected the Orion 3015 Laser Plus 4 kW CO2 from LVD Strippit equipped with automated loading and unloading of sheet metal.

“One reason for choosing LVD was that there was no learning curve since we already have another LVD laser in the shop,” says Robbins. “We’re all cross-trained in our cell and we had a couple of operators that knew the LVD system so when the second LVD came in we were able to train more of our cell members quicker since not everyone needed to be trained on it.”

Matt Murphy, far left, and Chris Haalstra, middle, who were part of the metal fabricating team that made the decision to purchase a laser cutting system. Mike Catherwood, far right, also works in the fabrication shop.Cam Tran’s metal fabrication cut and form cell consists of two LVD laser cutting machines, three press brakes, a welder and a punching press.

Amodeo says the team also liked the fact that LVD Strippit was willing to do any necessary training in-house where most of the other suppliers told them they’d have to have initial training at their respective facilities before conducting any in-house training.

One of the biggest benefits Cam Tran has experienced with the addition of a second laser is elimination of costly off-hours cutting, adds Craig Hoskin.

“We used to have to run the other laser when no one was there, lights out, but to do that with the older laser we’d have to come back and reload through the night. Now with two lasers we don’t have to do that and we can shut down the lasers completely at night.”

Hoskin says by shutting down the lasers completely at night, the machines aren’t idle and turbo blowers, which typically continue to run even when a machine is idle, can be shut down so they won’t wear down.

“Even a used turbo blower for the machine is $55,000 and has to be changed every 22,000 hours. Newer technology offers up to 25,000 hours. So even when our machine wasn’t running, the turbo blower was running and wearing down, but we weren’t getting any production hours.”

Prepared for the future
The A3 process was a first for Cam Tran and its employees. It was a big step for the members of the team that selected the LVD laser, but it was also a learning experience for both the team and the company’s owners.

“The owners put their trust in us to find a solution to a problem and we did it. We now have the knowledge behind us about different technologies and the companies that offer them so it will help us in the future if we expand with more equipment,” says Robbins.

Jason Matijasich, the Ontario sales representative for LVD Strippit who sold the Orion laser to Cam Tran, says he was impressed with the process the Cam Tran team underwent to resolve their production issues.

“I respect the in-depth analysis the team at Cam Tran went through and I’m glad LVD Strippit was able to help with our laser and be part of their solution.” SMT

Cam Tran Co. Tran Co. Ltd.

LVD Strippit

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