Tilling New Ground

Agriculture equipment manufacturer, Orthman Manufacturing Inc., implements new fabrication equipment to cultivate growth 

Many innovations in agriculture started from farmers in the field. That is exactly what happened to Henry Orthman in 1965 Lexington, Nebraska. His first great idea was a hitch conversion kit that allowed growers to keep their existing implements when they purchased a new tractor. That was just the start. From there, Orthman developed its 1tRIPr strip-tillage system which allows farmers to perform ideal seedbed preparation, precision nutrient placement and optimal root zone conditioning in one pass. Today the company produces a range of ag equipment for OEMs like John Deere, as well as conveying systems for the food, chemical, power and manufacturing industries.

In 2012 growth prompted Orthman Manufacturing to think about expanding its plant and investing in new equipment like a fiber laser. “Part of our strategy with the laser investment was to make the new plant, which we dedicated to agricultural products, self-sufficient,” says Orthman Manufacturing President Ward Jorgenson. In-depth research led the manufacturer to Mazak Optonics Corp. Purchase plans idled until Orthman Manufacturing opened its new 115,000-square-foot production plant in 2016. By 2018 the company was outsourcing $2.5 million in laser cut parts in addition to other parts its fabrication shop couldn’t process.

“We have great suppliers that have taken care of us for many years and still do a great job of supporting us with other components today,” says Jorgenson. “But when buying this volume of parts you are paying someone else to invest in their equipment. It was the right time to invest in our own equipment. We went through the research process all over again. We visited manufacturers to see their equipment and evaluate them. We determined that a Mazak laser with automation was still the best fit for our application. Competitive pricing helped us decide on Mazak. Customizable automation was a big deal.”

“In hindsight I am thankful we did not purchase a laser the first time around,” he continues. “At the time 6kW was the maximum power available. Our application is not sheet metal. The majority of the material we process is plate from 0.250 in. to 1.000 in. We needed power to cut as much plate as we could. An 8kW or 10kW fiber laser with automation made sense for our production needs.”

From left to right: Andrew Viera, Continuous Improvement, Camil Sa’adi, Continuous Improvement Manager, Trent Whittaker, Supply Chain Manager, Ward Jorgenson, President and COO

High Power, High Pressure and Custom

Orthman Manufacturing Inc. ordered a Mazak OPTIPLEX FIBER III 8kW laser. But after attending a trip to Mazak Japan in May 2019, Jorgenson had a change of heart. While touring the Optonics factory, Minokamo Plant 1, a presentation about high power fiber lasers and high pressure compressed air cutting caught his attention.

“With high pressure air cutting we could cut up to ⅜-in. with air instead of using nitrogen,” Jorgenson says. “We scrapped plans to use nitrogen even though we had already poured the concrete pad for the tanks. We decided to upgrade our original 8kW fiber laser order to a 10kW fiber laser paired with a high-performance dry air system.”

High performance air cutting, often referred to as high pressure air cutting, offers incredible cost-per-part savings and overall laser operating savings. A nitrogen generator has a $5.00 cost per hour, a traditional supply of liquid nitrogen is $16.00 per hour and the high-performance dry air system is $3.00 per hour. The typical ROI on a Liberty Systems dry air system is one year or less on two shifts. The system usually pays for itself in only one year.

Regardless at 8kW or 10kW, a high power laser has incredible cutting speeds and throughput which often requires automation in order to stay to pace with the laser. “If we didn’t get automation, we would incur a lot of non-value added time loading and unloading the material and lose valuable production time,” said Jorgenson.

Orthman Manufacturing also sourced a Mazak M-Series automation system tailored to its needs. The company didn’t have a lot of floor space and limited ceiling height. The M-Series offered a compact footprint while optimizing the manufacturer’s ceiling height with a 20-shelf tower.

“We were also interested in being able to run the machine lights out so we chose over/under carts that can hold 6,600 lbs. each,” Jorgenson says.

This is all possible with Mazak’s custom automation configurations.

In House Outcomes

Lack of experienced laser operators opened the door for Orthman Manufacturing employees to undergo training on the machine which has reaped a number of benefits for the company.

“Our parts have lots of holes, but they don’t require drill accuracy,” says Jorgenson. “With the laser’s cutting accuracy we were able to eliminate secondary drilling operation on a lot of the parts we make.”

“A hole-cutting operation means a lot of piercing,” says Tim Tapper, applications manager at Mazak Optonics. “The high power OPTIPLEX FIBER 10kW laser offers piercing techniques that can also improve overall nest cycle times. With a 6kW laser, you can pierce 1-inch thick mild steel in three seconds, but with the 10kW it takes less than a second to pierce 1 in. mild steel. This is important for full nest times because if you are cutting and piercing a large number of parts or your parts have a lot of features, you will see a dramatic reduction in your nest’s cutting time.”

Cutting with high performance air versus nitrogen is helping Orthman Manufacturing save costs. The automated fiber laser has improved throughput and reduced non-value-added time that can occur with loading and unloading the material by hand.

“We have started to have some real success with this automation, and we are just getting started with it,” says Jorgenson. “Being able to operate lights out requires us to pick the right parts to process while unattended. We continue to make progress and gain confidence running the system unattended.”

By bringing parts in house, Orthman Manufacturing has reduced its inventory and its reliance on suppliers. “When you are working with a supplier, you are buying components further out and have more inventory in the supply chain,” Jorgenson says. “We were outsourcing 2.5 million in 2018. We are very fortunate in this agricultural market to have had a couple good years of growth in our business. If we didn’t have a laser, we would now be outsourcing over 4 million-laser components.”

The ability to cut parts in a dedicated facility has reduced transportation costs since personnel don’t have to make as many trips back and forth between the original plant and the new factory. These efficiencies are helping Orthman Manufacturing move closer to JIT manufacturing.

“We have a kitting department next to the laser,” Jorgenson says. “That team kits all components for the weldment. The kitting team gets all the parts needed for a weldment, puts them on a table, then rolls that table over to the welding department. Having the laser and kitting next to each other, improves operations by having the parts flow right into the kitting department and then to welding.” 

Article published in the December issue of FF Journal.

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About Mazak Optonics Corporation

Mazak Optonics Corporation is a major supplier of laser-cutting systems, offering 50 laser models and leading the industry in the implementation of emerging laser technologies. The company’s 50,000 sq. ft. North American Headquarters are located in Elgin, Illinois, and feature a 30,000 sq. ft. laser technology center housing up to 18 machines for demonstrations and training. Mazak Optonics is part of Yamazaki Mazak Corporation (Oguchi, Japan), the global leader for the manufacture of machine tools and systems for the precision machining of metal parts, including CNC turning centers, horizontal and vertical machining centers, Multi-Tasking machining centers, turnkey cells and software solutions. The North American Headquarters for Yamazaki Mazak are located in Florence, Kentucky. For more information on Mazak Optonics’ products and solutions, visit www.mazakoptonics.com, email sales@mazaklaser.com or call 847.252.4500.