The peaks of production
Micro Metals makes smart use of automation to keep production running at its best and parts flowing out the door.
At the base of Pikes Peak and the majestic Rocky Mountains, a job shop called Micro Metals Inc. established its foothold more than forty years ago. Although vice president Greg Driscoll was not around in those early years, he did grow up alongside this Colorado-based shop. “My father, Ken Driscoll, was recruited as general manager in 1981. The company was losing money and they looked to my father to help turn it around,” explains Driscoll. A year later, Ken was invited to invest. As fate would have it, he was a 10% shareholder for just 21 days before the original owner died unexpectedly leaving Ken to take over as majority owner of the business. From here, Ken Driscoll began to steadily grow the business with a new partner. Greg Driscoll grew up around the shop but officially joined his father in business in 2000, and for the next seven years held a series of roles before becoming vice president.
A secure assembly
The Driscolls do well to keep Micro Metals diversified in the industries it supplies. The company most often manufactures parts and assemblies for industrial HVAC, air conditioning, medical, railway and defense use, and it is certified by the American Petroleum Institute (API) to supply the oil and gas industry as well. The energy industry has been a growing source of income in recent years as new developments in solar and wind power come into focus nationwide. Micro Metals’ expertise, however, is in service and quality it supplies at a production level. “While we help our customers with any need, the production level is where we thrive,” Driscoll explains. In addition, the company also maintains its own product line of secure mail solutions, sold under the dVault® brand. “We helped to develop the product prior to manufacturing it, and eventually bought the company. It is a nice subset of our business,” says Driscoll.
Bigger in bending
As Driscoll is well aware, such a strong customer base comes with its challenges. One struggle is in finding qualified operators for the numerous press brakes that line the shop floor. This problem has been amplified in recent years by an uptick in larger part forming which require an additional set of hands to maneuver safely. Since quality and productivity always diminish over the course of a shift, even with a highly accurate press brake, Micro Metals knew it needed something more consistent.
“On paper we couldn’t justify an automated system, but it made sense from a human commodity side,” he recalls. Driscoll saw the technology as an asset for his employees as well. “I believe in and want the technologies that will make our employees’ jobs easier and better.” In the end, the company decided to invest in a TruBend 5230 with BendMaster 150 and Driscoll and his crew quickly found ways to keep it busy. “Any part that would require two people was automatically programmed for the automated bending cell and we filled any additional time with longer production runs.” The system is now maxed out and running around the clock, which has Driscoll thinking about adding a second system. Not only is Micro Metals able to run more parts with less effort, the automated bending cell also generates higher level employees. This is a true benefit to Driscoll. “We work individuals through the system so they continue to develop, and as a result, we have been able to grow a more technical staff,” he says.
Keeping up with the speed of light
Automating the company’s new laser cutting machine also turned out to be an easy decision. With a TruLaser 3030 and two TruLaser 3050s already installed in the shop, Micro Metals is no stranger to laser cutting, but it was starting to become less competitive with pricing. “Our TruLaser machines are workhorses and always provide high quality results, but we knew we had to invest in fiber technology because that’s the way the industry is going,” Driscoll explains.
When setting out to purchase a solid-state laser cutting machine Driscoll did not expect to buy the most powerful system on the market. “We thought a 5kW laser might be the right fit but then we realized the volume of work the 8kW laser is able to process and just how fast it is. We put the pen to paper and the difference was substantial.” The company decided on the TruLaser 5030 fiber with an 8kW TruDisk laser and purchased a LiftMaster Compact and STOPA storage system for maximum productivity. “It was a no brainer to go with the best available and the LiftMaster Compact is essential because you just can’t load material fast enough without it. We already knew we liked the TRUMPF brand and quality, and TRUMPF is the only machine tool manufacturer with an 8kW laser. I was very confident in the decision.”
Watch the TruLaser 5030 fiber at work:
This system could not have come at a better time. Customers are constantly pushing Micro Metals to maintain greater inventories and part numbers – a fact Driscoll substantiates as he references a company that has steadily increased its part numbers from 150 to 750 over the course of just a few years. “Our customers need us to support greater diversification of parts and increase in changeover, and with a 141,000 square foot facility, we were running around a lot.” Driscoll asserts. Now they let the machines do heavy lifting while they focus on other tasks. When it comes to recognizing the impact automation has on his shop, Greg Driscoll puts it simply: “Automation just makes something really good even better!”
Contact us: MastersofSheetMetal@trumpf.com
This article was first published in spring 2016.