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Fab Shop Stays Laser Focused on Short-Run Success

By: Lou Kren

Friday, August 01, 2008
 
We addressed the challenges and successes of a four-person press-brake prototyper and short-run specialist in the feature article beginning on page 28 of this issue. Here we’ll take a look at another four-person operation, New England Laser Processing, a laser-cutting and laser-marking house in Danvers, MA.The 20-year-old company, recently purchased by former employee Michael McCullock, seeks to remain competitive and successful by investing in technology and relying on its small and highly skilled workforce.

New England Laser Processing, a pure laser shop, performs laser cutting and marking via two- and three-axis laser-cutting machines and a laser-marking machine in 5500 sq. ft. of space. Materials fabricated include steel to 0.625 in. thick, stainless steel to 0.375 in. thick, aluminum and other alloys.

The company primarily serves precision fabricators or OEMs across a range of industries, including aerospace and medical, usually supplying in small lots.

Parts for aerospace, electronic, medical and other customers
New England Laser Processing employs two- and three-axis laser-cutting machines to produce parts such as these for aerospace, electronic, medical and other customers. New ownership has beefed up marketing and equipment capabilities to best serve its prototype and short-run clients.
“The days of 5000-piece runs seem to have ended,” McCullock says. “It is sad that we don’t see the volumes that we used to, so we perform short-run work and may cut one part, or ten 3-in.-dia. parts. If I need to put out 16 or 20 one-piece jobs, so be it. We have been doing this for a long, long time and we know how to move jobs through and get things done.”

The company receives plenty of orders to laser-cut parts destined for secondary operations at shops that can’t justify the capital expense of owning a laser themselves, according to McCullock. It also works with formed parts, using its three-axis cutting machine to perform rotary cutting operations.

McCullock bought New England Laser Processing in July 2007, quite a step up from 1990, when he began his laser-cutting career as a temporary employee with the company. “When I started I knew nothing about the industry,” he recalls. “Fortunately, I had a grandfather that taught me a lot. I would complain that I didn’t like it and wasn’t making any money, and he said, ‘Here’s how it works: You learn everything you can whenever you can at work.’ Fortunately, I listened and progressed over time. Eighteen years later I own the first laser-cutting company I ever worked at.”

Focused on Marketing, Technology Upgrade, People

One of McCullock’s first orders of business upon taking the reins was boosting the means to get more business and keep costs down.

“We’re all in the same boat,” he says. “Materials costs are skyrocketing. Shipping costs are soaring. Everywhere you look, it costs more to do less.”

The company has set up a website, www.nelp.com, to get the word out about its capabilities, and has upped its commitment to sales, two areas that McCullock felt needed immediate attention.

To handle more business and best serve customers, the company also has dedicated itself to having on hand state-of-the art equipment.“In the last year we have put more money back into the company than was put back in the last 10 years,” McCullock says. That includes a new Rofin-Sinar Nd:YAG laser marker. “We used to do laser marking and got a from it,” he says, “but now we see it as a value-added process that can be brought in and be productive right a.”

With the new laser marker New England Laser Processing can perform standard and custom marking, including serial numbers for medical devices, and handle a range of metallic surfaces and plastics as well as flat or curved parts.

The company also upgraded its CAD/CAM programming software to

three-axis laser cutter
A three-axis laser cutter processes nonflat parts at NewEngland Laser Processing. “We have equipment that will move quickly enough to make part production more cost-effective,” says Michael McCullock, owner and president. “Though cost savings may be a small percentage, any savings is beneficial. A small prototype run may not yield a big impact, but if that prototype run turns into a production run, saving 20 cents on a part can make or break a job for us and the customer.”
current versions and replaced one of its old laser cutters with a new machine with more laser power than the 1700-w unit it replaced, and able to handle sheets to 60 by 120 in.

“We had difficulty being competitive on thicker material with only 1700 w of power,” McCullock offers. “That’s part of our philosophy that we need to make things happen for our customers and need equipment that allows us to process jobs in a timely and cost-effective fashion. If our employees, be they office personnel, CAD programmer or setup technician, struggle with antiquated software or shop-floor equipment that is tedious to use, it slows us down. So we’ve made a tremendous push to make the company a more efficient fabricator.”

Raw-material prices are a big driver for that push.

“I remember when it used to cost more to laser cut the part than to purchase the material,” McCullock says. “Now we are seeing that the reverse is true: We spend four or five times more for the material than we do to turn it into a part. That is horrific. We deal with it by trying to stay ahead of the technology curve. We have equipment that will move quickly enough to make part production more cost-effective. Though cost savings may be a small percentage, any savings is beneficial. A small prototype run may not make a big impact, but if that prototype run turns into a production run, saving 20 cents on a part can make or break a job for us and the customer. We are trying to keep ourselves lean, trim the fat and be as cost-effective as possible so that our customers can stay competitive.”

But technology upgrades only lead to success if employees have the skills to use them correctly, according to McCullock.

“Personnel sometimes can be overlooked,” he says. “You need stability and rock-solid results from employees in an operation, and we have that.”

And New England Laser Processing plans to hire skilled, seasoned personnel to run new equipment as it is brought into the company. MF

 

See also: Rofin-Sinar, Inc.

Related Enterprise Zones: Fabrication


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