Flexible equipment aids mass product customization
By Russ Olexa originally published on FFJournal.net
If you need a lead-lined door or frame to stop radiation, a stainless steel version to withstand the harsh environment of a slaughterhouse or one custom-fit to a particular door jamb, one company can build it fast: Concept Frames Inc., Newton, N.C.
Owner John Wiley had a unique perspective on producing commercial and industrial doors and frames. While other companies in the field went big, he decided to stay small by finding a niche that helped his business grow.
Concept Frames manufactures custom hollow doors, frames and metal window frames from one to hundreds, but it focuses on short-run customized products. Rapid processing and manufacturing allows the company to ship a finished product in as little as one day.
Concept Frames has more than 56 people employed in its 30,000-sq.-ft. facility. Today, the company builds custom, hollow-metal frames and doors for a broad range of aesthetic and functional purposes in commercial and industrial applications. It produces doors and window frames in 12-, 14- and 16-gauge cold-rolled galvanized steel and stainless steel. The company can even produce lead-lined doors and frames.
“Everything that we produce is per order, and because we have custom-ordered products, we can match any other vendors’ products,” says Daniel Gibbs, vice president. “We can match any profile or even make custom profiles of frames and large door or window frames. We don’t stock anything in-house. We work on a 10-day backlog. We also have a quick-ship program. If a distributor needs nine frames and five doors within two days, we’ll get them out.”
Asked why the company looked into mass customization of these products, Gibbs says, “To produce standard products in these lines, our facility would need to be about 10 times larger. Companies that produce large amounts of these products need large warehouses because they’re producing mass amounts of products. With us producing custom products and shipping them quickly, it opened up a different scenario for our customers. If someone damages a door and needs a new one quickly, we’re capable of supplying it, where the large-scale manufacturer couldn’t. So it was the perfect niche, but it’s demanding of time, labor and equipment. To meet our distributor needs, we work a day and night shift and a weekend shift to produce products quickly.”
Gibbs says Concept Frames originally used stamping presses, along with many punches and dies, to give the company large variances for the placement of hinge locations, door jamb widths, striker locations and anything else that would allow it to produce a customized door, door frame or window frame. But this wasn’t the best way to produce these custom products, says Gibbs.
Laser versus punch Several years ago, Gibbs looked at a laser to replace the stamping presses. “It was my first assumption to buy one because it would allow us to make a wide variety of parts,” he says. “But after seeing how a laser worked, and this was some time ago, I could see there might be problems. One issue we ran into was reflection with the laser because we use a flash coating on our steel, which is a light gray galvanneal. And our galvannealed steel has a dull gray finish, and our stainless steel is highly reflective. This meant, at the time, we would have to keep adjusting the laser when we changed out these materials.”
Gibbs’ next step was to look at various punching machines. One company Concept Frames reviewed had a machine with 16 auto-index stations. But he decided Concept Frames needed more punches and smaller ones that this machine couldn’t handle. Concept Frames finally decided on a Motorum 2048 from Murata Machinery USA Inc., Charlotte, N.C., with a 54-punch turret and the capability to run a 4-ft.-by-8-ft. sheet. It also has two auto indexers. This gave Concept Frames stations for putting more tooling so that it would have fewer die changes.
“Once the machine is loaded, we don’t do any die changes,” says Gibbs. “Now, we don’t have to do anything unless we need to change out the dies for maintenance. Our downtime for tool changes is minimal.”
Then the company decided to buy a second Motorum 2548 turret punch press.
“The reason we bought another turret punch was that we had one in place, and this one would be identical to the other one,” says Gibbs. “We would have the capability of running the same products on both of them. If one goes down, we could use the other to run products. We also needed greater product capacity, as we’ve been running our first Murata at 100 percent capacity.
“The nature of our business means we can’t shut down for a day,” he adds. “We need the equipment up and running to do our quick-ship products. For 14-gauge steel, we can use a nibbler to cut out the components, but we also use what’s called a pincher wheel that will cut a line.”
Gibbs says the second Murata will allow the company to set up the tooling so it’s identical to the first machine. And the programming tapes read the same, so Concept Frames doesn’t have to worry about getting another software post processor for a different machine. The company’s shop personnel already know how to run the new punch because of its similarity to the other one, which enables them to continue the production process without any interference or problems.
Speedy deliveries Gibbs says the Murata has been a great help in turning out products fast and with few problems. Every job requires programming for things like jamb width, length, hinge location, striker location, and custom profiles of the doors, frames and/or window frames. This means the programmers have to review the job specifications and program the punches quickly. Once the steel is punched, it goes to downstream operations, such as press brake forming, spot welding, assembling, painting and shipping.
“The Murata punch allows us to do any configuration that we can pretty much design,” says Gibbs. “As long as it can mathematically be done, our Murata can punch it. We use a pincher wheel. It gives us common line cutting, so we can use virtually the entire sheet without nibbling sections out of it. It’s like taking a sharp knife and scoring the material, almost cutting through it completely. When we get through using the pincher wheel, we just move the material back and forth on the score line to break it off. This way we reduce our scrap.
“On our miters, we can do anything from a 45-degree to a 22-degree miter, and we can even do an 88-degree one. So we can go from a 2-in. face jamb to a 4-in. header. With the versatility of the auto index, we are capable of doing any type of miter degree that we need, allowing us to match a 1-in. face to a 4-in. face if needed. Our programmers are capable of quickly modifying these dimensions, so we can send out this information on a tape to the punching machine and punch the product out.”
Gibbs says that if Concept Frames didn’t have the Murata punch, full-service, quick turnaround wouldn’t be possible. A few types of products could be offered but not the quantities available today.
“The Murata has made it capable for us to offer faster product turnaround and a much more custom product,” he says. “We’ve had it for six years now, and it’s been a really good machine.”
By Russ Olexa originally published on FFJournal.net