Fiber laser cutting technology increases productivity levels
In 2017, North American RV shipments hit their highest level ever, according to the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association, marking the industry’s ninth consecutive year of gains. Those shipments are accelerating and should grow even more in 2018, the group said.
Through hard work, great timing, smart fabrication equipment procurement, and a strong employee base, sheet metal fabricator Rock Run Industries (Millersburg, IN) has been able to ride this strong RV wave to register some very impressive growth. Located near Elkhart, IN, known as the RV Capital of the World, the company was founded by Fritz Schlabach in 2007. Schlabach quit his full-time job in the mobile home industry, and purchased an old punch press and other used equipment. Today, the company has grown to 45 employees housed in a 37,000-sq-ft. building for offices and fabrication, and a small powder coating facility that will soon be relocated to a 36,000-sq-ft. building. Since 2013, the company has doubled its sales.
“The RV industry is very demanding,” Schlabach explains. “We are a high-mix, low-volume industry with short lead times—less than two weeks most of the time. To meet the JIT [just-in-time] demands of our customers, we began searching for new equipment. We made our first new equipment purchase in January 2015—a Prima Power E6x turret punch press with modern servo-electric punching productivity [FIGURE 1]. We found we liked their servo-electric technology. And a year later, we were looking for a laser and a press brake. We looked at other brands, but because of the excellent service on the turret punch press, we selected them for the fiber laser and servo-electric press brake.”
FIGURE 1. The E6x turret punch press features modern servo-electric punching productivity.
Fiber laser cutting
Rock Run Industries purchased the Prima Power Platino 2.0 fiber laser with a 10-station tower, which was installed in March 2016 (FIGURE 2). This machine is the right choice for sheet metal manufacturers looking for a production tool that is efficient, providing energy and maintenance savings; productive, particularly on thin- and medium-gauge sheets; flexible and suitable for a wide range of materials, including highly reflective metals; reliable and capable of meeting any production need, with a variety of automation modules; and user-friendly, easy to install, and maintain.
FIGURE 2. The Platino 2.0 fiber laser, with a 10-station tower, cuts a wide range of materials.
The fiber laser can be used to cut a wide range of materials. Fiber lasers are more effective than other laser sources for cutting highly reflective materials such as aluminum alloys, copper, and brass. The Platino 2.0 fiber laser cuts various thicknesses, up to 20 mm of mild steel, with efficiency and quality. Productivity increases particularly with thin- and medium-gauge sheet metal.
Outdoor kitchen cabinetry is a relatively new product for Rock Run Industries that utilizes galvannealed steel for the countertops and doors. “We are cutting a large amount of 16-gauge galvannealed steel every week,” Schlabach explains. “We had a CO2 laser, but it didn’t do that good of a job on coated materials like galvannealed. As a result, we were outsourcing all of this work. When we bought the Platino fiber laser, we brought that work back in-house.”
The compact TowerServer allows easy loading/unloading for blanks and processed sheets (FIGURE 3). It has an elevator for loading and unloading the pallets on and off the tower, and features single-sheet separating, control systems, and sheet reference.
FIGURE 3. The TowerServer allows easy loading/unloading for blanks and processed sheets (inset).
It is particularly suitable for lights-out operation, often performed in unattended mode. It is a fully independent machine, with no need for manual intervention during machine operation. Once the production schedule is programmed, this laser system takes care of the necessary settings, tip replacement, and sheet change and storage, among other tasks.
“We bought a 10-shelf compact tower because we don’t have a lot of room in our shop and also wanted to do lights-out production,” Schlabach says. “The Platino fiber laser and tower has a small footprint that fits our shop. It has allowed us to bid jobs and be confident that we have the capacity to complete the job on time. If needed, we can run the unmanned extra shift on the laser without adding people.”
Servo-electric press brake
A Prima Power eP servo-electric press brake was also installed at Rock Run Industries in 2016 (FIGURE 4). The design of this high-precision brake is based on the company’s extensive experience in press brakes and servo-electric machine tools in the metalworking industry. The eP servo-electric brake reduces the costs to form metal components by lowering operating costs, increasing productivity, and reducing setup time.
FIGURE 4. The eP servo-electric brake reduces the costs to form metal components by lowering operating costs, increasing productivity, and reducing setup time.
“The eP-1030 servo-electric press brake is very accurate,” Schlabach says. “In fact, the repeatability is so great that the welders request any jobs in lighter gauges to run on the ep-1030. We keep the Prima Power machines quite full of production...we don’t have the luxury of being down a day or two.”
Rock Run Industries’ latest addition, a Prima Power BCe panel bender, was installed at the company late in 2017 (FIGURE 5). “We purchased the BCe Smart to run the galvannealed product,” Schlabach says. “There are many 6-ft.-long panels that are 2.5 ft. wide and weigh approximately 40 lbs. When we make these on the press brake and put a flange on a 6-ft.-long part, the operator is lifting the part up past his head, and then flips the part. You can’t do this type of work year after year and not create some type of physical problem. So instead of buying another press brake, we decided to go with the panel bender. It is faster, a lot more ergonomic, and it can do bends that press brakes can’t, such as radius bends, hems, etc. It will allow us to offer more options and versatility to our customers.”
Rock Run Industries currently offers sub-contract work for over 150 different RV OEM plants. “Our customers will check on us from time to time,” Schlabach explains. “They want to make sure that we have the modern equipment that will run every day. They will come to our plant and inspect. They are knowledgeable customers, and they have to be comfortable working with us on a just-in time [JIT] basis.”
“The addition of the Prima Power equipment has been a big part of our success,” Schlabach continues. “It has allowed us to supply a high-quality part at a very competitive price that we can deliver to our customer on a JIT basis.”
“We made the decision to purchase the BCe Smart based on the service we have received from Prima Power,” Schlabach concludes. “It’s the people at Prima Power that make the difference.”