This multi-unit, automated contract manufacturer strives to maintain a high level of quality in everything it does
David A. Belforte
Tim Hayden, president of Sargent Metal Fabricators, is a modest man, but not when it comes to talking about his company, which is a major contract manufacturer, serving the Southeast out of Anderson, South Carolina. He likes to characterize Sargent employees as humble, adhering to the company’s philosophies: treating people as their most valuable resource by utilizing the latest technology and manufacturing techniques while managing the process and quality that customers deserve. Not a bad way to do business.
The company was founded as a two-man conventional sheet metal fabricator back in 1975, supplying textile machinery guards and HVAC components, produced by manual fabricating operations. Tim’s grandfather and step father used him part time to cut, punch, bend, weld, and paint sheet metal parts, providing good bottoms-up education in this technology.
The automated seven-tower storage system, in the center of this panoramic view and in the illustration above, serves sheet metal and parts storage for three lasers, a punch system, and six press brakes.
The business did reasonably well until one of its major customers shifted its business because Sargent didn’t have CNC capability. Tim’s dad, Donnie Sargent, decided that this might be a precursor to other lost business so he went out and bought a used Amada LC667, making a dramatic leap into CNC with Tim’s help. After a learning period they added CNC press and punching equipment, and eventually a Bystronic Bystar 2kW system with load/unload capability. Business grew to the point in 2000 when the company began to plan a new facility to handle growth; and then the recession hit forcing them to postpone this decision.
In addition to the lasers, the tower system also serves a Trumatic 500 punch and a number of press brakes.
The company broke ground for a new 79,000-ft2 building in 2002 and moved into it in 2003, with a new TRUMPF 3050 equipped with a three-tower storage system, a TRUMPF TC 500 punching system, and six press brakes. In 2004 they added a second 3050 and four more storage towers so that the three lasers, the punch, and six press brakes were all served automatically with sheet metal and parts storage. This year Sargent has added a TRUMPF 3040 with a Liftmaster unit that allows them to cut thin gauge metal faster. As is the case for many shops today, diversity in cutting requirements, materials, and quantities are the norm, and the lasers used at Sargent allow quick response to customer needs. The addition of the new laser cutter means that the work load can be spread amongst three units reducing lead times and, because of the available power increasing throughput, enabling more jobs to be run on a shift. Now the company runs 24/7 with extended periods of lights-out unattended operation.
Unattended at Sargent means that the bulk of the shifts have at least one operator present except from 3AM to 6PM, Monday through Friday and 6:30PM Saturday to 6AM Monday. Tim says that the first shift on Mondays is a little like a fire drill as several employees are kept busy unloading the storage towers and sorting parts cut in the lights-out weekend operation.
Sargent’s 110 employees work as a team to serve the company’s 15 major customers who are under extended contract and a number of spot order customers, among who are several of the majors who spot their orders as needed. These customers are in diverse industries such as truck, electronics, beverage coolers, and vending machines and are clustered in the Southeast, although several have additional facilities around the nation. This work load enables Sargent to keep its laser cutters running at least 80 percent of the shift time.
Other than the fact that Sargent is among a growing number of multi-unit job shops, its cutting operations are similar to the majority of North American shops. What sets them apart, besides the fully automated operation, is the strong emphasis on integrity that the company places on its operations, not only in the stated philosophy of business but in everything that carries the company name from trucks to letterheads. This thriving company focuses on being the very best supplier to its customers.