Ranfar Steel president Randy Farmer at the control’s of his new 8-kW Durma HD-F 6020 fiber laser from Access Machinery. The control panel includes a 64-bit microprocessor system with an integrated PC. It has a complete cutting database for all standard cutting operations, including cutting parameters  for steel, stainless steel and aluminum.Click image to enlarge

Ranfar Steel invests in new machinery to drive future growth without compromising its founding principles

 By Lou Smyrlis

Steady growth. Long term, reliable relationships. Those are important concepts to Randy Farmer. They come up often in conversation with the president of Courtice, Ont., based Ranfar Steel. They’ve been guiding tenets in building his fabricating and welding shop since its inception back in 1978 with five employees to the 22-employee operation it has grown into today. 

That steady growth has been punctuated at times with rapid development, as was the case in 2021 when Ranfar Steel saw its business grow an impressive 25 per cent. During such times, Farmer has responded with well-researched investments in new machinery, designed to help him reach new markets, but carried out at a pace that ensures existing customers continue to be serviced the way they’ve been accustomed to over the years.

Farmer got his start in the steel business back in 1969, working in the welding operation of his future father-in-law. A little less than a decade later he was ready to start his own business in the north end of  Oshawa and then Whitby with a welding shop and a brake press and a shear, offering custom forming for local customers. By the mid 80s the operation had moved to Courtice and eventually to its current location on Baseline Road. Last year a previous tenant of the industrial building that houses Ranfar Steel moved out and Farmer decided to take over the 10,000 sq ft space right beside his operation. He renovated it, adding heating and insulation, and ordered new machines. The building now houses two lasers and two brake presses, all from Access Machinery, a distributor for the Durma line of equipment. This way, the fabrication and metal processing shops work alongside each other.

“We have specific customers for our fabrication services and separate customers for the metal processing services and some customers who use a combination of  both,” explains Farmer, adding that his market area ranges primarily from Cobourg on the east to Peterborough to the north and Toronto GTA to the west, with a few customers as far as Hamilton and London.

“We found that our growth has been good, and we haven’t had to go afar to get work. When you’ve been in business a long time, you build up relationships and it’s a lot of word of mouth and reputation that brings in our work. We seem to get enough work where we are. When our customer base is busier, we are busier. We’ve had steady growth from 2016. We haven’t had any regressing years.,” Farmer says. “We have slow and steady growth, which is controllable, so that when we do a job, we do it right and then we move on to take on more work.”

The relationship with Access Machinery and its Turkey-based Durma line of equipment began back in 2019 when Farmer purchased the Durma HD-F 3015 4-kW laser, which has a cutting capacity of 12 mm for aluminum, 10 mm for stainless steel and 20 mm for mild steel. He already had a plasma machine for heavier plate work but his operation was shearing a lot of plates and the laser provided a much faster way to do that. 

“The laser replaced a couple of shears and it was quicker. Even on the blank rectangular plates, it was still quicker to laser cut them than to shear them and more accurate too. We were doing a lot of fabrication work where we used a lot of base plates…We were cutting on the plasma and then punching on the punch press. The laser allowed us to do both,” Farmer explains. 

The Durma HD-F 3015 4-kW fiber laser, which has a cutting capacity of 12 mm for aluminum, 10 mm for stainless steel and 20 mm for mild steel, marked the start of Ranfar Steel’s relationship with Access Machinery back in 2019. Click image to enlargeAlthough the laser was initially purchased for Ranfar Steel’s own use in fabrication, it led to the company attracting business from other fabricating shops needing laser-cut parts, which allowed Ranfar Steel to soak up any unused time on the laser. By 2021 it evolved into Farmer purchasing a second, larger laser: the 8-kW Durma HD-F 6020, and selling its old plasma machine as a trade-in. By making the investment in the 8-kW fiber laser, which was set up at the start of this year, the company was capable of handling 38 mm thick plate with a maximum sheet size of 2 metres by 6 metres. The HD-F 6020 boasts a positional accuracy and repeatability of +/-0.05 mm.

“We were dealing with the smaller to medium-sized manufacturing people in the elevator business and the pre-fabricated building business where there are a lot of plates involved, some with holes, some without holes. And we were also looking to expand into small manufacturing businesses and job shops that do semi-production work where they need a quantity of plates. And also local fab shops,” says Farmer. 

At the moment the machines are running one nine-hour shift per day but Farmer figures he will be adding a second shift by late summer, provided he can find the right employees to run them.

The new equipment from Access Machinery also includes two press brakes: the AD-Servo 37220 and the  AD–R 40600.

“The AD-R is the larger one. It’s a 600 metric tonne, 4 metre machine. We are doing a lot of forming for the loading dock industry. We are bending heavy checker plates up to ¾ inch (19 mm) and we are doing steel mill equipment for fabricators, bending up to 1 ¼ inch (31.75 mm) copper plates. It’s for the heavier material, mostly custom forming. The AD-Servo machine is a 220 metric tonne, 3.66 metre machine. It is more of a production machine. We are doing small production runs for the elevator industry and miscellaneous steel for the stair manufacturing industry. Also, for the material handling system industry we are doing a lot of form channels and angles and compound shapes,” Farmer explains. 

The AD-Servo is an electric press brake with the downstroke controlled by electric servo motors as opposed to hydraulic pistons. It has a faster, more accurate computer which allows for handling three dimensional drawings and layouts.

Energy consumption accounts for a significant part of the total cost of ownership for machinery, representing about 30 per cent of total costs. Durma claims its AD-Servo press brake, which includes servo motors, can achieve more than 70 per cent energy savings compared to regular press brakes.Click image to enlargeThe new machinery makes for new capabilities with significant growth potential for the business but Farmer cautions that growth will happen gradually. 

‘It may take us a year before we fully utilize the potential of those machines but we are okay with that. There is a learning curve and it’s more important to me that our customers are satisfied and looked after without compromising our existing relationships before we spread ourselves too thin,” he says.

In the meantime, there are energy savings to be had through the AD -Servo. Durma claims up to 70 per cent savings on energy consumption compared to a regular press brake. 

“With a regular press brake, it’s 100 per cent hydraulic. With the servo, we combine the servo motors and the hydraulic and it’s because of that combination that we can save energy. Noise level is also reduced compared to conventional hydraulic presses through servo motors and variable speed pump drives and the hydraulic oil tank is significantly reduced. It’s also Industry 4.0 compatible,” says Sacha Lorquin, regional manager, Access Machinery. 

Farmer is looking to support the growth he anticipates for his business by growing both his plant and administrative staff. 

“The administrative side of our business is in line for growth. The equipment side of our business is in line for growth. But we are going to have to increase our business with the right candidates. Just adding people is not the answer. You need the right people,” he says. “There is strong competition for talent in the Durham region with General Motors in Oshawa and Amazon warehouses being built in Durham. But we are in a position with our equipment and our experience that we can inhouse train.  We are looking for people who are willing to learn and are willing to be trained. We work with Durham College co-op students. We can bring in new employees this way.  They get an education at the college, hands-on experience here, and a job opportunity when they finish school. This is the way I see new employees coming into the company.” SMT

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