Since its inception in 1917, Perlick Corporation has evolved into a leading producer of bar and beverage dispensing equipment. It manufactures its products, which also include brewery fittings and tapping equipment, in a 300,000-sq-ft factory in Milwaukee, WI, U.S. Markets include restaurants, hotels, stadiums, arenas, theme parks, and breweries worldwide.
A few years ago, the manufacturing facility was having trouble getting its flat parts out on schedule. “We were continually behind in the sheet metal area in terms of supplying the rest of the facility, and we knew we needed to do something about it,” says Fred Luehrs, general manager, Operations. “We were also looking for more accuracy, which we needed for a line of products we designed for the high-end home market. For these reasons, we decided to take a leap forward in technology.”
The company spent about 6 months internally discussing the type of equipment it needed. It also looked at how best to lay out its metalworking area. Existing equipment, including a variety of turret presses and shears, were to be replaced. Once the company had a plan, it began to talk to equipment suppliers.
In early 2003, Perlick made its choice—an Omega flexible manufacturing system from Strippit, Akron, NY, U.S. The system includes a 30-ton CNC turret punch press, an Axel laser processing center, an integrated right-angle shear, an automated loading/unloading system, and a sheet storage and retrieval tower. The system uses off-line programming, and is capable of “lights out” operation.
Metal sheets, measuring 4 by 10 ft, are carried by crane and placed with operator assistance in the 12-shelf storage tower. Materials used include stainless and cold-rolled steels in a variety of grades, finishes, and thicknesses. A parts transfer system is programmed to select the appropriate sheets from the tower and stage them in front of either the punch press or laser cutter.
Sheets staged by the punch press are automatically pulled in. Following punching, sheets transfer to the shear where they are cut to size. From here they go to an automatic sorter and are either stacked on a table or loaded into carts.
The laser processing center incorporates flying optics with constant beam length for fast, accurate sheet metal cutting. Sheets are automatically loaded and cut, and there is no need for a shear. Once cut, sheets are automatically pulled out and stacked. Periodically, workers manually unload the stack.
While using the new equipment, Perlick found that prototyping is much easier with a laser cutter. By changing software and using the cutter, the company can quickly cut usable prototype parts. The laser’s flexibility also comes in handy since the company produces many custom-sized parts.
The new system, despite its compact size, is 50-percent more productive than the punches and shears it replaced. With the space freed up by eliminating the old equipment, the company was able to place the manufacturing system adjacent to the forming operations, where the flat metal parts are bent. From here, parts go to welding, finishing, and then assembly operations.
While the factory operates two shifts daily, due to its automation, the flexible manufacturing system is usually working three shifts a day and on weekends. “We began operating it unattended in the second week,” Mr. Luehrs tells APPLIANCE, “and today we have it run completely automatically for 8 to 10 hours daily and on weekends. It makes essentially all our flat parts.”
Integrating the new system onto the factory floor meant familiarizing everyone with the high level of automation, as well as changing internal manufacturing processes and creating the necessary CNC programs for the machines. “It took us a few weeks to get everything smoothed out,” admits Mr. Luehrs, “but Strippit was here to train us, and we’ve got great programmers.
“After just 4 months with the new equipment, we were back on schedule for the first time in quite a while,” he continues. “Also, we hit our target for the payback period, which we estimated at about 2 years. I’d have to say this has been a very successful project.”