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issue: August 2005 APPLIANCE Magazine

Firing Up Productivity

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by David Simpson, Contributing Editor

By utilizing a CO2 laser cutter and material handling system, grill manufacturer Robert H. Peterson was able to increase productivity with little investment.

A laser cutter has proved to an invaluable tool for grill maker Robert. H. Peterson. The Cincinnati CL-707 cuts stainless components without “blue-edging” discoloration on the finish-critical parts. The stainless sheet is delivered from the steel supplier with a scratch-resistant protective coating, which is left on the sheet as the laser cuts.

Production Advantages

When Robert H. Peterson Company bought its laser cutter in 1998, it visualized a system that would work while the rest of its 230,000-sq-ft City of Industry, CA, U.S. location rested. For that reason, the manufacturer added an automated material handling system to go with its newly acquired linear motor-driven CL-707 from Cincinnati Inc. (Harrison, OH, U.S.). Today, the system’s “lights out” capability enables it to operate most of the day, 6 days a week.

“We reasoned that, rather than purchasing a second laser cutter, it was better to spend half the cost of a new laser to buy a lights-out loader system and get the equivalent of 1.5 to two additional lasers,” says Jon Bridgwater, senior vice president. “We can run the laser all night without hiring a second or third shift. The laser’s most productive time is at night when it operates unattended. Even with that, we purchased a new 3,300-W CL-707 to keep up with demand.”

During its long day, the CO2 laser cutter, with a 1,350-W resonator, cuts many of the company’s stainless steel parts. About 20 percent of the time it also cuts cold-rolled, galvannealed, and aluminized steel parts. The stainless-steel parts are used primarily for high-end grills, the company’s specialty. The company also makes fireplace gas log systems. All production operations are done in-house, from metal fabrication to final assembly, packaging, and

Reliability is critical with a system that plays such a large role in production, and Mr. Bridgwater says that certainly hasn’t been a problem. “We’ve had extremely high uptime, and there are very few maintenance requirements. If there is a problem, Cincinnati service is there when we need it. One routine we follow is to do preventive maintenance on the laser every 1,000 hours, and this has paid off. About 1-1/2 years ago, we did a white powder rebuild, which refurbishes the laser and extends the life. And we’ve found that the linear motors basically don’t wear out.”

The laser’s material handling system has two bays for incoming pallets of sheets, brought by a large forklift truck. Sheets are mostly 16- or 18-gauge stainless steel measuring 60 by 120 in or 48 by 120 in. Since these sheets are used for most laser-cut parts, it is relatively easy to program a full day’s production using the two bays.

Programming is said to be easy. If workers have downtime, they can program on a PC at the machine. Otherwise, programming is done off-line in the engineering department. The company uses nesting software that is designed to maximize sheet usage. “The program allows us to nest tighter, and put more parts in the nest,” Mr. Bridgwater points out. “Since the laser loader allows 24-hour operation, there is time to do these ‘bonus’ parts, which might otherwise have to be done during the day in a separate run.”

Because part changes can be made through programming rather than hard tooling, prototyping can be done very easily. Once a program has been modified and a prototype part cut, it can be taken to a nearby Cincinnati Inc. Autoform or Proform press brake for bending. Obtaining a new part can take just a few hours.

Another area where the programming capability comes in handy is in making minor changes and adjustments. “Parts need to fit together precisely, and most components are riveted together on the assembly line,” Mr. Bridgwater offers as an example. “If the rivet holes are misaligned, we can quickly re-progra
m and re-locate the holes.

“I’d say we made a very good investment 7 years ago,” he adds. “The lights-out laser cutter system has enabled us to stay competitive and has lowered our manufacturing costs. To remain competitive, we’ll have to continue to study other advanced technology and apply it when it makes sense, and we’ve needed to hire workers who can work with that kind of technology. It’s what you need to do to survive in a global industry, where the rules are changing fast.”

Production Advantages


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