Nontraditional Fabricator Pursues Diversification

Nontraditional Fabricator Pursues Diversification

December 10, 2013 2:45:16 PM

Company Branches from Automotive into New Markets


Matrix Metalcraft has done plenty of prototype and production work for the automotive industry in the past, but with the downturn in the industry, it is targeting industries aligned with alternative power generation for new business. In doing so, it has found out that its laser cutting capabilities will serve those efforts well.


Cutting on 3- and 5-axis Mitsubishi Lasers is a key part of Matrix Metalcraft’s plan to pursue manufacturing projects that once relied on stamping and machining processes to be made. 


The lack of demand for automobiles and the corresponding aftershocks have affected everyone in Michigan. What most people don’t realize is that many fabricators that have been closely linked to the automotive industry have worked hard over the last several years to diversify their customer base. The work associated with prototypes and small-volume runs for limited-edition automobiles is a great foundation from which to build a business. Matrix Metalcraft is a good example of a metal fabricating company anxiously looking to jump into new opportunities.


Laserlike Focus


Paul Kwiatkowski, now the company’s president, and Greg Genoff, currently vice president, started Matrix Metalcraft in a small, 1,200-square-foot space in January 2000. Its first laser basically filled up the entire manufacturing floor. Even then they knew that laser cutting was a good fit for the prototype business it was pursuing. Tooling didn't have to be created to knock out holes from blanks or cut trim from formed components.


That kind of thinking is still considered “nontraditional” even today, according to Ryan Willette, Matrix Metalcraft’s vice president, sales and marketing. Old-school OEMs are so accustomed to high-volume approaches to manufacturing that developing tooling for a job is almost second nature. They are not thinking about technologies that might remove an extra step in a tandem or transfer press setup.


“Traditional manufacturing is taking steel off a big roll and feeding it into a press. The stamping press is going boom, boom, boom, and it’s forming the part after six or eight hits,” Willette said. “We don’t do that. We work with sheet.”It’s not a revolutionary approach to manufacturing, but it can appear to be the most unique idea in the world when presented to a purchaser who has no deep understanding of metal fabricating. 


For example, the company produced a prototype of a crossbeam, which supports a vehicle’s instrument panel, for a new multiperson vehicle being made by a private company. The crossbeam featured a main support structure fabricated with rectangular steel tube, which made more sense for joining the myriad brackets used to affix things such as the steering wheel and glove compartment to the beam. The vehicle designers had been using round tubing, but accepted the suggested change.


Matrix Metalcraft also was able to combine three separate components into one sheet metal center support structure for the radio and HVAC controls. This helped Matrix Metalcraft save the customer money because tooling did not have to be made to punch out the holes in blanks or trim off excess material after forming.


The company’s two 5-axis VZ Mitsubishis make a real impact when working with these types of jobs, Willette said. Its 3,000-watt laser with an 80 x 60 x 23-inch table and its newer 3,000-W, 122 x 87 x 33-in. table with pallet changer are able to whip around these types of parts, cutting all of the openings.
The company is still pursuing these types of prototype and, hopefully, production jobs, but the success in the immediate future will have to be found in other industries as the automotive companies restructure and recover from these difficult times.


Getting Into the Thick of It


Like many other companies, Matrix Metalcraft is looking at industries aligned with alternative power generation as it seeks to find new customers. The company is quoting parts for a wind turbine manufacturer looking for a North American supply base. The turbines contain many steel brackets to hold pieces in place as the giant turbines spin around, and Willette said Matrix Metalcraft can cut and bend those thick parts as efficiently as anyone.


Laser cutting makes sense for these types of thick parts. The company’s 5,000-W, 3-axis Mitsubishi Laser and its newest 6,000-W, 3-axis machine, can make short work of plate. Willette said its newest laser cutting machine is capable of cutting up to 1.25-in carbon steel, 1-in. stainless steel, and 0.50-in. aluminum. It has proven especially useful in pursuing armor kit projects being solicited by nearby military vehicle designers.


Willette said the newest laser can make an impact as the company pursues more traditional sheet metal jobs. Because the gantry features a rack-and-pinion design instead of a more traditional ball-and-screw design, the laser head moves incredibly quickly over the sheet metal to be cut. He said the laser can move up to 2,000 IPM across various processing areas, giving the company much more cutting efficiency.


Company management looks at the investment in new equipment as a priority in keeping the business coming in despite the economic slowdown, Willette said. It is how the company plans to be more competitive.


The newest 5-axis VZ has a pallet changer, which means an operator can switch out jobs in 60 seconds and push jobs through more quickly. Now the company has to let the manufacturing world know of its capabilities and convince traditional manufacturers that developing tooling is not necessary for every production scenario. Change is a constant, but some traditions die hard. 

 

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