American Fan’s “Little Elf” Increases Efficiency Over 30%
American Fan started in 1969 by Dick Newhaus in his garage. Since then the company has grown to over 80 employees and manufactures fans for both industrial and commercial use. Most of their customer base is domestic, however they have done work in Malaysia, Spain, Dubai and for Euro Disney’s Armageddon ride. In 2008, American Fan took delivery of a Mark II with a load/unload cell and it has changed the way they manufacture parts. Dave Nadler, the VP of Manufacturing and Kirk Schaeper, the Facilities Manger, talk about the benefits of automation.
What prompted you to look into automation?
Kirk Schaeper: We were first looking at the laser for accuracy because we wanted to get into robotic welding, plus some of the other things our engineers wanted to do in designing fans. First, we looked at a pallet shuttle, but at the Fabtech show in Chicago we saw the advantage of the load/unload cell. Also, we have a low ceiling and space restrictions, but it fits nicely and we know it can grow with us.
How were you making your parts before you purchased the Mazak laser?
Dave Nadler: We were making our parts on a punch plasma, but we were quite limited on sheet size. So most every sheet that went into the machine was cut on the shear. Then we would manually load one sheet on the table at a time.
Was that time consuming?
DN: Yes it was. We constantly had two operators tied up just loading and unloading parts and that would take about 15 minutes each time.
How has the Mazak improved this process?
KS: With the Mazak load/unload it only takes 1 minute for the machine to pick up the sheet, lay it down and begin cutting. It’s also made the whole process safer since you don’t have a person tugging and pulling at the sheet and working around the laser. Now we just rip cut the sheet so when the operator is pulling the skeleton off the table, he is only pulling off small sections.
What about accuracy?
KS: Our accuracies have improved also. With the punch plasma you had more of a kerf, if you wanted a 10 inch wide part you would get a 10 1/32 and sometimes, depending on how big the tip was, as much as a 1/16 of an inch off so the tolerance wasn’t there. Now with the Mazak, you get a precise hole and the fit-ups are much better.
How has that affected your secondary processes?
KS: There is no sanding or deburring. We don’t have to clean the parts anymore. With the punch plasma the welders would have to sand the cut edges before they could weld; now because the Mazak is so precise they don’t have to do that. The parts come off the laser ready to weld.
How has the Mazak load/unload system affected your labor?
KS: Before when we would run a shift we needed two guys per shift. Now, with the Mazak, we calculate it to be about a half a man. Our operator loads the Mazak with material and while it’s cutting he is doing other stuff like running a press brake or a cut off saw, we are getting more out of our manpower during the day. Then if we are going to run a second shift, the operator loads up the table and the machine runs unattended at night.
DN: Since adding the Mazak laser with the load/unload cell, our efficiency has gone from 60% to just over 90% in little over a years time.
What type of savings have you seen with the Mazak?
DN: Our scrap factor was phenomenal because of the spacing you had to leave for the punching and the plasma. We were scraping 52% of our material. Now with the Mazak we have reduced our scrap to only 24%, which alone has saved us over $5,000 a month.
What are some of the other benefits to running an automated Mazak system?
DN: It’s like the story of the old shoe maker and the little elves that came in at night and helped with the shoes while the shoemaker was asleep. That machine is our little elf.
It’s a huge advantage for us to come to work in the morning and have anywhere from four to eleven hours of work sitting there to give to our fabricators. There’s savings on every piece that comes off that machine.
How often do you run the Mazak Load/Unload unattended?
KS: We try every night, but it’s dictated by volume. Some nights it’s four hours, others it’s more. And it’s not just one gauge, if I can set up a full sheet to be cut, I will run anywhere from 16 gauge to ½” plate. I can run five different jobs with five different types of material unattended.
Has it allowed you to change the way you manufacture parts?
KS: Absolutely. Our design team has been able to change designs for ease of manufacturing, so we don’t have to fixture or jig as much and it’s due to the accuracy of the laser cut. With the fixturing we used to have to outsource the material, we have also brought our welding in house that we used to outsource and that has been a cost savings also.
How has the Mazak improved your business?
DN: It’s helped our sales force to be priced more competitively and it’s helped our process flow through the plant, which gives us the flexibility with our scheduling to bid on jobs that are needed tomorrow. In today’s market people are not spending as much, but when they do decide to spend, they all need it right now, the Mazak affords us the flexibility to service that kind of customer.
How has the Mazak Load/Unload system lived up to its expectations?
DN: We’re real happy with it. It does everything we wanted it to do. It gives us accurate cutting, unattended operation, lights out cutting, and lights out cutting of variable gauges. Originally we bought the 2500 watt, because that’s suitable for what we primarily run, but with the load/unload being expandable we plan to add a 4000 watt next to it and let the load/unload feed both lasers.