by Christian Foehl
The purchase of a multi-axis laser system enables job shop to bring precision cutting and welding jobs in-house
Employees of Superior Joining Technologies join Thom and Teresa Shelow for the unveiling of their new TruLaser Cell 7040.
In March of 1992, Thom and Teresa Shelow decided to give the manufacturing community of Machesney Park, Illinois, what they needed —a quality job shop, conceived and structured for precision welding. Their company, known as Superior Joining Technologies Inc. (SJTI), specialized in gas tungsten arc welding or TIG welding, with the goal of maintaining higher quality standards than typical fabricating shops. In addition to welding, the Shelow duo also offered metalworking services such as tool and die repair; all with a focus on extreme accuracy. Now, 18 years later, Superior Joining Technologies continues to be a local workhorse for precision and highly specialized welding.
Along the way, however, they realized it was necessary to expand their capabilities in order to better serve their customers and become more competitive. With careful consideration of the dynamics of their customers and the parts brought to them for production, they have consistently added areas of expertise. Having already moved several services such as NADCAP accreditation, nondestructive testing, and laser part marking within the doors of their facility, Thom and Teresa Shelow have become very familiar with the process and recognize taking risks is necessary to generate new growth.
Recently, elements of their business suggested it was time to consider taking another well-supported risk; the installation of their own multi-axis laser system for cutting and welding. This conclusion stemmed from the realization that for years SJTI had been providing their customers with products that required multi-axis laser processing. Because they lacked these capabilities in-house, the parts had to be outsourced to a location 350 miles away. Thom had stayed directly involved in this tedious process and, with quality a high priority, he often traveled the distance to perform first piece inspection. He realized that not only did outsourcing drain time and money; programming problems always seemed to exist. Thom Shelow explains, “We knew we needed the system to better control our output as well as the scheduling and flexibility for modification in programming.”
In addition, Superior Joining Technologies had been approached by new customers and new opportunities that would support the laser system. Thom recounts, “We were increasing our volume and broadening our base. We knew it was time to bring the multi-axis laser processing in-house.” And with welding at their core, they also knew the addition of a laser processing center would be compatible with their existing operation.
Whether laser welding or cutting, the multi-axis laser system delivers high-quality processing with reduced processing time and leads the way for future growth.
At this point, Thom and Teresa were already fairly aware of which manufacturers could offer a multi-axis system with the processing capabilities demanded by their business. Having attended the FABTECH International/AWS Welding Show and other industry trade shows, Superior Joining Technologies had compared prospective machines with others on the market. Additionally, Thom and Teresa drew from their experience of searching for a laser marking system. Thom recalls, “We had performed extensive research before deciding on a laser marking system a few years prior and were very pleased with its performance and the support received.” Building on this knowledge, they consulted with others they respected in the business who were running TRUMPF machines. They moved quickly through the initial screening steps and eventually decided the TruLaser Cell 7040 with 5kW TruFlow laser and up to 158 inches of travel in the x-axis would be the best choice.
With this system installed and operators trained, SJTI was quick to test their new laser processing center on a job they were familiar with—laser cutting of an aerospace tank. For years, they had steadily outsourced this work to a fairly accurate supplier's machine. Thom explained, “The job consistently took 20 minutes, right on the nose, for every tank. When we cut the first group of tanks on the new system, the speed was mind-blowing.” Teresa Beach-Shelow continued, “On the TruLaser Cell, the process took just 45 seconds and the result was much more accurate. Not only did the machine vastly reduce the time necessary to cut the parts, it increased precision, diminished the post-processing stage, and reduced programming time as well.”
The multi-axis system has provided a way for SJTI to meet their objective, whether it be welding or cutting, and supply the customer with higher quality processing in a fraction of the time. In addition, this performance is supported by equally impressive programming. “The machine is very sophisticated in terms of programming, but is easy to work with,” says Thom. “The offline programming software allows us to convert 3D CAD files directly into cutting files. This has saved us a lot of time;” and allows Superior Joining Technologies to quickly move past the programming stage and into part production for their customers.
With their new high-speed laser processing center, Superior Joining Technologies is eagerly focused on converting previous jobs to run on the new multi-axis system. “With enhanced control and programming, we are in a much stronger position with existing customers,” Thom explains. “The TruLaser Cell 7040 allows us to be much more responsive with new developments in part design.” He continues, “This could be and will be a standalone process. It will help us to bring in new work which is already evident in the opportunities we have begun to quote.” In many ways, he ensures, “It is a phenomenal tool and has greatly enhanced Superior Joining Technologies' ability to serve.”
Excited to formally introduce their new laser processing capabilities to the community, Superior Joining Technologies hosted an open house last August with the TruLaser Cell ribbon cutting ceremony as the capstone event. Many distinguished business leaders and local dignitaries had a chance to see the laser in action. With the first laser processing system of its kind in the area, the Shelows are not only looking to increase their profits, they are also staying true to their initial goal of enhancing the quality of their manufacturing community. They realize this goes beyond running a successful business and producing high-quality parts for their customers. They assert, “We can now educate our region on what this process can do. Not only will it help us bring in new welding work, this process also contributes to the global competitiveness of our industrial community.”
This forward thinking has been fundamental in shaping Superior Joining Technologies into the success it is today. Although it was a few years after the company's initial inception before Thom and Teresa Shelow decided to add additional staff to the payroll, their growth has been steadfast. Up to this point there has been a single shift operation with 19 employees, but they expect this to change. With high-volume production, short set-up times, and the flexibility to handle constantly changing customer demands, they expect the TruLaser Cell 7040 to open the doors for expansion, supporting additional hires as well as an increase in the number of shifts. For this company, it's just another step toward the future. With a constant focus on maintaining and achieving quality certifications and accreditations, Superior Joining Technologies Inc. has become a highly respected operation not only for the work they perform but also the way in which they do so.
Christian Foehl is product manager – systems for TRUMPF (www.us.trumpf.com).