Shop thinks small with Laser Technology

Shop thinks small with Laser Technology

December 11, 2013 9:37:20 AM

From five parts to 50,000, Largo, Fla.-based Florida Metal Services has what it takes for efficient, precise runs of any size. It’s a capability the company acquired over decades of experience and strategic equipment acquisitions—including two Mitsubishi Laser machines that handle the brunt of small-lot production. 


Founded in 1975, Florida Metal Services comes from humble beginnings; it began as a small metal-stamping operation and has since grown into a full-service precision and custom sheet-metal fabrication shop with dozens of machines—from presses and brakes to lasers and machining centers. The company now works with nearly all metal alloys and cold-punch plastics and provides paint/powder coating, plating, welding, silk-screening and assembly services—all of which meet AS9100c and ISO9001:2008 certification.
Sales Manager Robert Sipes knows that this type of growth doesn’t come without innovation: He was there when the company purchased its first laser machine in 1997. 


“As a metal stamper, we were able to handle larger volumes,” says Sipes. “But when the environment began to change and require some smaller runs, we needed a way to become more efficient. Setting up those jobs on mechanical turret presses was simply too costly and time-consuming.”


Laser seemed to be a good solution, so the company began researching options. As an early adopter of the technology in its home state, Florida Metal Services was initially apprehensive.

 
“We were a little unsure at first, but when we brought Mitsubishi in, they did a great job of evaluating our application and shop floor, and making a recommendation that gave us a lot of confidence,” Sipes says.
The company purchased a 3020 LXP laser system—one of the most cutting-edge machines on the market at that time.


“Compared to the presses, the lasers required virtually no setup,” Sipes says. “This really allowed us to expedite smaller orders and expand our business.”


Florida Metal Services also appreciated the flexibility of the machine.


“It had the ability to run lots of different types of materials with very little adjustment and setup time,” Sipes explained. 


Mitsubishi’s built-to-last resonator didn’t go unnoticed either. 


“Mitsubishi advertises the benefits of its resonator, and I’ve seen the truth in that firsthand,” Sipes says. “We kept our first laser for 11 years and never had a problem with it. It was very reliable.”


In the fall of 2008, Florida Metal Services decided to purchase a new laser to maintain differentiation in its highly competitive core segments of aerospace, electronic and telecommunication manufacturing.


“We just felt it was time—in light of all the advancements in laser technology and with changes in our target markets,” says Sipes of the purchase. “We were working with heavier-gauge materials and we needed a machine that was more advanced.”


With the purchase of a 3015 LVplus II, Sipes saw how far Mitsubishi Laser technology had come since the purchase of the first laser.


“The 3020 LXP was highly advanced for its time, but we really were impressed with the laser technology at the time of the second purchase,” Sipes says. “We really saw the advancement.”

 

The ease of setup—which had initially pleased Sipes—was even better in the 3015 LVplus II.
“The first laser slashed our setup time, compared to the turret punch presses,” says Sipes. “But still, with the older laser systems, you would have to tweak the parameters a lot and change out focal lenses and focal points; the new laser technology is a lot more automated and really takes the setup complexities out of the operator’s hands.”

 


Florida Metal Services was so happy with the new technology, the company decided to purchase another machine. “We knew almost immediately that we wanted another one, because it did exactly what Mitsubishi advertised,” Sipes says. “They told us it could increase production rates five to seven times, depending on the type of materials, and we saw that immediately.”


In addition to the speed and productivity enhancements, precision was a necessary—and highly appreciated—attribute. 


“We’re an aerospace-certified company,” Sipes explains. “We take on tightertolerance parts—it drives a higher dollar, but it requires more attention to detail. And that’s another reason why we purchased Mitsubishi, because of its accuracy.”


Support is also a bonus for Florida Metal Services.

 
“Mitsubishi Laser’s support is unmatched,” Sipes says. “We have a lot of equipment on our floor and a lot of different manufacturers, and I would put Mitsubishi right there at the top.” 


Best of all, any challenges can typically be handled immediately, according to Sipes. 


“Their response time is very fast,” he says. “And a lot of times, they’re able to walk us through any issues right over the phone.” 


For now, Florida Metal Services is happy with its two laser machines, and doesn’t have any immediate plans for laser-cell expansion. Still, the door is wide open for more Mitsubishi Laser machines in the future. 
“We’ve talked to Mitsubishi about our options, including automation,” Sipes says. “We don’t need a new machine now, but if the need arose, we’re huge Mitsubishi fans.

 

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