An interiew with Nema Enclosures President, Rob Bohn on why the company went with a Mazak Optonics laser cutter.
At Nema Enclosures space is getting tighter as the business continues to grow. The manufacturer fabricates custom metal electrical enclosures from its 20,000 sq. ft. facility on Houston’s east side. To make more efficient use of its space, Nema Enclosures added a SuperTurbo-X Champion 510 laser cutter in early 2011 from Mazak Optonics, Elgin, Ill.
“By the end of 2011, it was clear that a single machine couldn’t keep up with the demand,” says Rob Bohn, President/Owner of Nema Enclosures Manufacturing LLC.
With its STX lasers, Nema Enclosures Manufacturing LLC has improved its operation on multiple levels. For one, in 2010, a surge of business pushed the company’s existing waterjet to capacity. To keep up with orders, Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC had outsourced its laser work to two separate local fabrication shops.
“The cost of this outsourcing was high, in excess of $25,000 per month,” Bohn explains. “Plus, we were getting inconsistent deliveries and some quality issues.”
It used the drawings from its main product line to conduct an analysis of which laser machine would deliver the best results. After evaluating its options with its distributor, Capital Machine, Tampa, Fla., Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC determined the Mazak STX Champion would be ideal.
Once jobs are nested using Mazatrol Preview, Mazak’s CNC laser controller, the sheet is pulled and goes directly to the laser’s 5 ft. by 10 ft. bed. From there, it’s inspected and eventually sent for further processing including bending, hardware insertion and welding before powder coating and assembly.
Before Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC bought its 1.3 kW STX Champions, it relied on a combination of using a shear and waterjet to cut, notch, and slice parts to size. The process became costly and cumbersome, especially due to the waterjet. It cost Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC about $90 per hour to run it, including maintenance, consumables and replacement parts. In addition to maintenance downtime, it’s slower than the laser.
Having the lasers has knocked down the cost of operating the waterjet by about 30 percent.
Now, Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC uses its shear maybe three or four times per month, usually to cut plastic material for replacing the waterjet’s bed. The waterjet is only used for nonmetallic items like plastics, Lexan glass or oversized parts.
Aside from costs, material throughput is faster and simpler. One customer, for example, specifies an enclosure that has parts made from 10, 12, 14 and 16 gauge material that are welded and bolted together four different ways. There are specifications for touch screen display cutouts as well as a special latch so the customer can easily open the view window door and adjust the controls. In such a case, the vendor will ship the sheet metal stacked in reverse order of how Nema Enclosures Manufacturing LLC would cut it.
“So we just slide the sheets onto the load unload system, stage it, the operator hits the button and it starts cutting,” Bohn says. “As soon as one laser is done cutting, the next sheet is immediately loaded. That load unload software is very sophisticated and smart. The laser doesn’t care—it’ll cut what we tell it to cut. It asks for max height, width, depth, material, and off it goes?”
The extent of the industries that use Nema’s Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC enclosures requires that it adheres to certain standards for holes, flanges, joint configurations and other rules for how they’re built regardless of size, according to Bohn. Those standards are administered by third-party certification companies, in this case, Underwriters Laboratories (UL). The UL 508 standardizes industrial control equipment—panels, switches, motors and more.
Since the lasers cut a range of material and thicknesses unhindered, it gives Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC an edge over its competitors’ strategy of offering off-the shelf production enclosures with limited features.
However, if Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC cuts custom holes according to an OEM customer’s drawing, the rating responsibility transfers to the customer.
For example, say Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC is making cutouts for six push buttons, pilot lights, an emergency stop button and an Allen-Bradley touch screen PLC. Nema Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC relies on the customer to provide the specifications such that the openings comply with UL’s 4X environmental rating, which ensures enclosures are protected from certain elements. An OEM customer could run into trouble if it bought a production enclosure, then tried to punch, drill, saw or otherwise modify it. With the STX Champion laser, Nema [Enclosures Manufacturing, LLC] can be shrewd in making the correct cuts for its customer.
“That’s been our entry to the marketplace and it’s given us lots of strength from a marketing perspective,” Bohn says. “With the laser, I can cut basically three enclosures of the same size for three different customers with three different hole configurations. It’s so fast, the cut time maybe goes up by 30 seconds or 1 minute total if I’m adding holes.”
“Every time the Mazak Service Technician comes to perform factory specified maintenance such as cleaning the resonator and calibrate it, they’ve always managed to spend another half day or so with my guys to conduct additional training, answering questions, etc. ,” Bohn adds. “I don’t know about it until after the fact. Their technicians are really good, making sure our operators optimize the performance of the laser.”
Check out Rob’s interview on the Mazak Optonics channel below.