Accurate Increases Business at Least 15 Percent
If you ask Tim Morrow, President of Accurate Tube Bending (ATB) in Newark, California, about the key to success in today’s manufacturing environment, he’ll say diversity. “The way the economy is going, you’ve got to be diversified,” Morrow says. “Customers don’t want to go from shop to shop to get different things done.”
Morrow began his career sweeping floors in another Bay Area shop, Superior Tube and Pipe, where his stepfather worked 30 years ago. “I was practically born with a tube in my hand,” Morrow says. Later, he worked at a couple of other tube-bending shops before founding Accurate Tube Bending in 1994 with a tube-bending machine he designed and created himself with the help of a local machinist. That machine is still in use. “It still does wonders,” Morrow says of his creation. “It’s very customized for tight-tolerance, tight-radius coil-bending combinations.”
Morrow focused on small tubing in the beginning and worked out of a shed for the first three months he was in business. He didn’t take a dime out of the company for the first year and just kept investing in machinery. ATB now occupies a 30,000- square-foot facility that has machines for nearly every metal processing operation. “Plating and painting are the only things we don’t do to our products,” he notes.
Morrow and Accurate Tube Bending’s 50 employees tally sales between $4 million and $5 million annually. The company’s customer base of about 500 companies represent a wide range of industries, including heavyduty trucking, furniture, aerospace and firms in the silicone valley. Morrow says ATB specializes in processing parts and assemblies from stainless steel, copper, titanium and other specialty materials.
Morrow turned to Mazak Optonics laser-cutting systems – first in 2006 and again in 2008 – to help ATB become more diversified. The first addition was a 2,500-watt SpaceGear laser cutting system, which has both 2D and 3D cutting capabilities. “There’s a lot of work we do on our CNC mills and lathes that can be done faster on the SpaceGear,” Morrow says. “We have two products that have holes, mitred sections and slots. The CNC machines we were using for those products are nowhere near as fast as the laser. It’s really opened the doors for being a lot more competitive in bidding, getting more throughput and breaking up bottlenecks in our machining area.”
Morrow says that SpaceCAM, Mazak’s PC-based CAM system that allows users to process more 3D parts by reducing the typical preparation time needed to cut a part, has been helpful to his operation. “To be able to cut on tubing after it’s bent is a big benefit,” he says.
Morrow estimates that ATB’s business has increased at least 15 percent due to the SpaceGear. “We’re able to bid and be a lot more competitive,” he says. “And we’re able to do more complete assemblies in house where before we would just do a portion of a product. In the past, a lot of our customers bought only tubing from us. Now we’re doing full products, a lot of our products have CNC lathe work on them, the lasers, the press brake, the welding, the bending, the whole deal.”
Multiple factors led to ATB’s purchase of the SpaceGear. The first was a visit to Mazak’s Western Technology Center where Morrow saw a SpaceGear demonstration. Next was a trip to Mazak’s facilities in Japan where he saw the builder’s attention to detail in the manufacturing process. Ultimately, however, the decision was based on capabilities and service.
“We bought the SpaceGear because of the 6-axis capability because we work in 3D,” Morrow says. “Mazak Optonics is very service oriented so I knew I wasn’t going to be left stranded after I bought the machine.”
ATB’s success with the SpaceGear led the company to invest in a 2,500-watt Mark II 2D laser sheet and plate cutting system with Mazak’s Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS) early in 2008. Morrow says the SpaceGear was being overrun by sheet metal work that was getting in the way of the 3D tube work.
“We were getting so much work that we were tying up the SpaceGear,” he says. “Having the combination of the two is just a plus. The 2D market is now an area where we’re looking for growth.” The Mark II currently runs one eight-hour shift per day and could easily go two or three shifts.
Just like the SpaceGear before it, the Mark II adds to ATB’s versatility. “Our sheet metal customers are asking us to do more and more. The Mark II allows us to get them everything that they need,” Morrow says. “Now we have the versatility of the 6-axis and we have the Mark II to streamline the bottleneck on the SpaceGear.”
Morrow’s career in tube bending came full circle five years ago when he bought Superior Tube and Pipe, the place where he started sweeping floors as a teenager. Superior was producing larger-sized projects and with ATB’s focus on more intricate work, the acquisition gave ATB a boarder reach. “Before, we were more of a job shop selling custom bends,” Morrow explains. “Now we’re selling full-service projects, from smaller quantities to larger runs.”
Continuing its diversification push, sometime this year ATB will publish a catalog of standard bend and flangetype products for the first time. “We’re out there to offer a service,” Morrow says. “The catalog will be another way to serve our customers.”