Additional laser capacity gets filled quickly as Service Steel looks to the future
Service Steel has been serving the needs of fabricators and manufacturers for 100 years. Founded in Detroit, the company started off exclusively supplying the automotive industry. Today, Service Steel has five branches across the United States and proudly serves several different industries.
East Moline, Illinois is home to one of the company’s branches which predominantly services agricultural equipment manufacturers in Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, and Kansas.
The company offers a wide range of steel tubing products including carbon, alloy, hydraulic, and more. In addition, Service Steel carries seamless, Drawn Over Mandrel (DOM), and Electric Resistance Welded (ERW) steel tube, as well as aluminum, stainless steel, and metric tubing.
While supplying steel is the service center’s bread and butter, the company also offers cutting and fabrication services. “The majority of our work is supplying tube, along with some bar, channel and angle,” says Jeffery Smith, district manager. “Roughly 90 percent of the product that is sold has some process done to it before it is sent out.”
One FABRI GEAR
Service Steel purchased its first tube laser, Mazak’s 3D FABRI GEAR 400 II, in 2015 to efficiently process the company’s diverse product offerings.
The FABRI GEAR 400 machines excel at processing an expanded range of mill-length tubes and pipes including round, square, rectangular, and triangular. It can also process I- and H-beams, C-channel, angle iron, and additional user-defined shapes.
Featuring a powerful, high-precision 6-axis laser, the FABRI GEAR 400 can handle larger, longer, thicker, and heavier material compared to similar machines in the market due to its rigid workpiece handling system incorporating a four-chuck design.
Additionally, the FABRI GEAR series offer done-in-one solutions. The FABRI GEAR machines can perform a number of different processes including: material handling, cutting, machining, drilling, tapping, and punching. Having all these processes performed on one machine eliminates the need to have an operator work through these multiple steps moving the part from machine to machine.
While existing customer business was increasing, Service Steel also developed new business due to the capabilities of the 6-axis laser.
Two FABRI GEAR
The engineering capabilities of a 6-axis tube laser gave Service Steel the opportunity to develop new business—in addition to increasing existing customer business and its engineers’ growing expertise with the design tools.
“Having the ability to bevel cut parts makes it easier for welding,” comments Smith. “Being able to take engineering advancements like these and use them when designing products allows us to increase our production capacity.”
This increase in demand led the company to begin vetting the possibility of adding a second tube laser. “Once the first FABRI GEAR was filled up, it was decided that we needed a second one,” says Smith.
The decision to purchase another FABRI GEAR was advantageous to the company. While the first FABRI GEAR was from 2015, a newer version of the tube laser machine gave Service Steel what it was looking for—consistency. “By having the same machines, we can utilize one program, have the same consumable parts and reduce the operator learning curve,” says Smith. “The consistency of the same machine, the same programs, the same parts, just made sense for us.”
Having a FABRI GEAR on hand made the transition of adding a new machine all that easier. The company had the opportunity to start training additional personnel for the new machine before it was even delivered or installed. “With already having a FABRI GEAR, we were able to get new operators started with the basics,” says Smith. “Once the machine was installed, we had operator training with Mazak which took our new operators across the finish line. After the machine installation was complete, we were ready to go.”
The second FABRI GEAR was essential for keeping up with volume. Smith explains, “I believe this happens with many industries. When customers discover you have the capability to do X, business grows organically. Plus, you get more business from current customers since you have the capacity and they are familiar with your performance on their current parts.”
Confident in the new machine’s processing capabilities, the company did not hesitate to take on new jobs. “We started taking work for the second FABRI GEAR before the machine was delivered,” explains Smith. “By the time it was being installed, the machine was already filled with jobs.”
By November 2020, Service Steel’s second FABRI GEAR was ready for production at its East Moline facility.
Since implementing the second FABRI GEAR tube laser, Service Steel has experienced multiple benefits. Having two machines has made it easier for the service center to run multiple shifts per day. Mazak’s FX TUBE software solution for tube and pipe processing has also helped increase productivity by quickly and accurately programming parts for the machine to process. Now, the company runs three shifts per day on one FABRI GEAR and two shifts on the other FABRI GEAR.
An additional machine has meant additional capacity for Service Steel with the ability to take on additional business, bring work back in-house, and handle the influx of seasonal work.
“With us serving the agriculture industry, October through April is very busy,” says Smith. “During the winter, agriculture equipment dealers need spring planting equipment on the floor, and then by summertime, dealers need the harvesting equipment available.”
Service Steel has also been able to adjust its production strategy to be more ‘made-to-order’. “We receive the job, run today, ship tomorrow,” Smith explains. “It was tough when we’re changing jobs and making major material switches. Now, with the second laser we are able to run longer jobs.”
The additional machine has not only helped with the additional workload, but also during maintenance and downtime. “With the second machine, we are able to schedule preventative maintenance and not have production come to a stop,” explains Smith. “We still have one laser processing parts while the other one is having maintenance completed.”
The FABRI GEAR machines have performed exceptionally; however, as with all capital equipment, service and support is needed at some point.
“We have found that Mazak’s service has been very responsive for onsite technical support, parts, and software support,” explains Smith. “When we have a programming concern, we get a quick reply, and we aren’t left stranded for days.”
“Parts support has also been great. If we place an order, we know it is going to arrive the next day,” Smith says. Due to Mazak Optonics’ parts department achieving a 98 percent same day shipping.
With the second FABRI GEAR fully integrated into Service Steel’s operations, Smith is already thinking about when to buy the next one. He explains, “I say this because it is true. The first laser purchase takes forever, but once you see the benefits, it is quicker to purchase the second one. Now that we have the second one, it is already filled. We have already started the conversation of when is the next purchase. We have only had the second one a few months now, but after 6 months, we will have a better idea if the third FABRI GEAR will be in 2022 or 2023. It definitely won’t be 5 years from now, it will be much sooner.”
Article published in the March issue of Modern Metals.