Owned by AGCO Corporation, Sunflower Manufacturing in
Beloit, Kansas acquired its first laser cutting system in
January 2008 and it’s already making a major impact on
the 67 year-old manufacturer of agricultural tools.
AGCO’s Sunflower Manufacturing has had many corporate
parents over the years, but it has maintained its reputation
around the world as a producer and marketer of top quality
products with exceptional customer support.
AGCO products are sold in most of the United States
through approximately 750 dealers. They are also sold in
Canada, Taiwan, Australia, England, Saudi Arabia and
Charles Fleming and Orland Hazen bought the Sunflower Express Truck Line in 1941 and four years later bought the patent rights to the Diamond Packer, a series of 50-pound cast wheels with five diamond-shaped heads that made a series of diamond-shaped holes in the ground. It was usually pulled behind moldboard plows or discs to prevent wind and water erosion. Production started in a small garage in Beloit and Sunflower eventually sold this product line to a company in southwest Kansas where it is still being built today.
Known in the industry as the “originators of flexible tillage tools,” AGCO’s Sunflower Manufacturing division saw the need for flexible equipment to follow field contours and terraces. In 1961, the company introduced the three section, flexible stubble mulch blade plow, the first flexible plow on the market. The first international shipments came in 1977 when blade plows and chisels were exported to Australia. A line of field cultivators was introduced in the early 1980s to continue the growth of the company and finishers were added in 1984.
More recently, Manager Tyler Odle said the company wanted to make its manufacturing operation more efficient, mainly automating more of its welding operations. That meant adding a laser cutting system that is more accurate and repeatable than the plasma cutters it had been using for parts that needed welding.
After comparing several lasers, AGCO decided on a 4,000-watt, HyperTurbo-X with a Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) from Mazak Optonics. “The bottom line was the space when it came to selecting the Mazak,” Odle said. “We preferred Mazak’s material handling and compact configuration.”
Two weeks after the January installation, the HTX was cutting parts and it hasn’t stopped since. Odle says the machine runs 24/7, mostly unattended. In fact, Odle says, the laser has been running at 85 percent on-torch. Among the parts AGCO cuts with the HTX are: bearing mounts, tool holders for ground-engaging inserts, brackets, hydraulic mounts and lifting arms for the chisels, primary tillage tools, soil conditioners, land finishers, air drills, small drills, disc harrows, field cultivators, grain drills, fallow tillage tools and dump wagons it manufactures. “We do a lot of different style of parts,” Odle says. “We cut anywhere from ¼” to ¾” steel.”
In addition to making AGCO’s automated welding system work more efficiently, the new Mazak Optonics laser also is helping the company’s human welders. “It makes fit-up better so you spend less time on the gaps,” Odle explains. “It allows some of our less-experienced welders to have better weld quality because they’re not required to be quite as skilled.”
There have been additional benefits to using the HTX as well. “A lot of the things we’re trying to put on the laser is stuff that was plasma cut and then was sent to another machine to put holes in it,” Odle says. “We’ve eliminated a lot of secondary operations. It has also eliminated the need to hire approximately five people. The machine is replacing a plasma torch that takes two and a half people to run on two shifts.”
Odle says one talented operator spends about a half day setting up the HTX for a 24-hour run. “Our programmer is also our operator and our nester is also our operator,” he says. “And he also runs another machine. The thing that sticks out is how fast he’s picked it up. His travel speeds are pretty impressive.”
Since AGCO’s Sunflower Manufacturing division only builds what is on order on any given day, different parts are needed and so the laser’s nests are different every day. “Ultimately we’ll end up with 9 or 10 programs that are preprogrammed and that will never change for certain repetitive parts,” says Odle, who summarizes the positive impact the HTX has had on AGCO’s operation. “It allows us to run around the clock without the demand for human resources. We can get a lot of production out of it.”