Laser cutting builds reliability reputation

In addition to diversifying business and attracting new customers, laser technology aids on-time parts delivery

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In addition to diversifying business and attracting new customers, laser technology aids on-time parts delivery

Peter Bartram

Timing is everything. In a recent industry survey, more than 90 percent of companies indicated that on-time delivery from suppliers was critical to achieving world-class manufacturing status. In such a “just in time” environment, job shops like Metal Dynamics Co. in northeastern (Holmesville) Ohio are worth their weight in steel. Reliability-both to their customers and from their laser cutting machine-has been an important factor in this company’s ability to meet demanding deadlines and achieve business success.

For more than seven years Metal Dynamics has provided high-volume production components and assemblies to one of the largest agricultural manufacturers in the country. Laser cutting technology has helped Metal Dynamics to meet this customer’s weekly production requirements while giving it the flexibility to service customers with lower part volumes.

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A typical run for Metal Dynamics is about 900 parts (20 to 30 sheets), although a 20,000-part run is not uncommon.
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Company President Scott Plance has insider understanding of this customer’s needs-he used to work for the company. In fact, the manufacturer’s increasing need for on-time delivery of parts was the genesis of Metal Dynamics. In 1998 Plance started a sideline business and spent his evenings welding components for the company. By 2000 there was enough work for him to go full-time with his business. Initially he focused on welding, but gradually he expanded into more of the fabrication processes.

Fabrication was another area in which Plance had a great deal of knowledge. While at the agricultural machinery manufacturer, he helped start the company’s fabrication department. During his tenure, he had been on the team chosen to purchase the company’s fabricating machinery. They narrowed the choice to two major machine tool manufacturers and visited both facilities. Ultimately the company chose a TRUMPF combination laser/punching machine.

Almost eight years later when he bought his own machine Plance went back to TRUMPF and purchased a 5- x 10-foot flat sheet laser cutting machine, a TC L 3030 with 4kW laser, in January of 2005. And more recently, in June 2005, he purchased a TC L 2510 flexible manufacturing cell.

Reliability was a key factor in Plance’s decision. “There are a lot of TRUMPF customers with TC L 3030s out there. That’s a comfort to me.”

To maintain his own reputation for reliability and on-time delivery, there was no room for error as Plance got up to speed with his laser. Although a typical run is 20 to 30 sheets (about 900 parts), it isn’t uncommon for Metal Dynamics to have a 20,000-part run. And with only four employees, manpower is at a premium. “I had planned 30 days to ‘ramp up,’ but I didn’t need it,” he says happily. “I was cutting right away. One week after installation, the machine was running 20 hours a day.”

Familiar with Plance’s dedication and work ethic, his former employer (and now biggest customer), knows he will do whatever it takes. “They know I’ll run through the night and handle the jobs that other shops can’t.” And his laser cutting machine is keeping up. Already pleased with his return on investment, he estimates that he has cut more than a million pounds of material in the half-year he has owned his machine.

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Known for his dedication and work ethic, Scott Plance carefully inspects a laser cut part.
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Most of these parts were cut for its primary customer. Metal Dynamics sends parts to the company a couple times a week. Part runs typically vary by component and run between one and 2,000 pieces. “They keep growing and adding more product lines,” says Plance.

Reliability and on-time delivery are crucial because Metal Dynamics supplies parts directly to its customer’s production. “We feed three to four lines,” he says. “And all the parts are used on a daily production schedule. Our parts are needed to keep the line going.”

Keeping up with the growing demand makes the high-speed nature of the laser cutting operations important too. In addition to the machine’s other high-tech features, Plance credits TRUMPF’s process control system, or PCS, and Sprintlas “on the fly” piercing with helping to provide the necessary speed-and competitive advantage. “The quick pierce makes it possible for me to beat my competition,” says Plance. “My competitors pierce ½-inch material in 10 seconds. I can do it in just a couple of seconds.”

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High-volume production components and assemblies are a company specialty.
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He praises the patented Sprintlas for efficiency increases in thinner materials, because when it is turned on, the hole is pierced in the material before the cutting head is in position for the next feature, completely eliminating piercing dwell times in material up to ¼-inch thick. PCS continuously monitors and adjusts laser parameters in real time to provide a finer pierce with less residual heat, allowing the user to cut holes with diameters less than half the thickness of the material.

Lasers are flexible tools and Metal Dynamics has put this flexibility to use in its shop by taking on more prototype work. Because its customer sometimes has a difficult time scheduling machine time for prototype work, the company frequently gets the chance to help design new components and manufacture prototype parts. This creates a win-win situation for both companies. Plance gets a “heads-up” about potential future parts and a shot at quoting those jobs. In return, he often makes suggestions that result in better manufacturing and increased efficiency. In fact, one suggested component change reduced the component’s parts from three to two and saves the customer about $20 a unit.

“Knowing what the customer was sourcing certainly helps,” says Plance. But again reliability was a key attribute. “The customer is making more and more new products. Although they don’t want to be tied to one supplier, my competitors couldn’t guarantee on-time delivery.”

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Metal Dynamics President Scott Plance loads a sheet of 5- x 10-foot material onto his TC L3030 laser cutting machine.
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Preserving this reputation and competitive edge was a driving factor in the decision to buy a second laser cutting machine, a TC L 2510, as a good backup and complement to his 4kW laser. “Most of my jobs use material under 7 gauge, so I don’t need a super-high wattage machine,” he says. “And I usually do longer runs, so I was looking to gain automation.”

The new flexible manufacturing cell-designed specifically for automated production-was a good fit for Metal Dynamic’s needs. The machine achieves optimal results in thin-gauge material up to half-inch-thick carbon steel. Also, its flying optic design achieves high processing speeds and consistent accuracy independent of material weight.

Because Metal Dynamics did not want to hire additional staff, the new machine’s integrated load and unload device was another appealing feature, because it reduces manual labor requirements and eliminates the need for a traditional pallet changer. It also gives Plance the ability to run “lights-out” production to better meet his customers’ deadlines. He says, “The new laser machine gives me the ability and security to take on more work.”

Metal Dynamics invested in laser cutting technology to diversify its business and attract new customers. Not surprisingly, Plance holds his potential customers to the same high standards he sets for his own company. He uses his laser cutting machine to attract customers who are interested in timely, quality work and who have a reputation for reliability-just like Metal Dynamics.

Peter Bartram is technical sales manager, flat sheet laser cutting machines, North America, at TRUMPF Inc. Contact him at 860-255-6050 or

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