- Created: 2018-06-05
Relying on a partner that shares its long-term vision allows a fab shop to increase growth and profits
by Robert Farrell, president, Farrell MarCom LLC
At first glance, there doesn’t appear to be anything particularly noteworthy about Southern Metalcraft Inc. (SMI). Like a number of other regional fab shops, this Lithonia, Ga.-based company offers metal cutting, bending, welding and a variety of secondary operations.
So what sets SMI apart? What’s the secret behind the company’s 35 percent revenue growth in 2017?
According to Greg Williams, president and CEO, it’s no secret at all. Just hire the best people and equip them with the best fabrication machinery. And for more and more fabricators, that means Amada America Inc.
It’s a relatively simple concept that seems lost on many in the industry: on-time delivery. And while it’s easy to make promises, consistent and predictable delivery is absolutely critical in supporting today’s accelerated product development environments.
Since its early beginnings in 1974, SMI has built its reputation, and business, on part quality, customer service and unparalleled responsiveness. Throughout its 42,500-sq.-ft. fabrication facility, the company’s 34 employees process a variety of materials, including steel, stainless, aluminum, specialty alloys and nonmetals.
Here, SMI turns out prototypes, medium and large production projects, and contract manufacturing needs for customers in a range of industries, including aerospace, material handling, packaging, non-destructive X-ray testing, food service, control room consoles and more.
The Amada press brakes at Southern Metalcraft Inc. feature cutting-edge capabilities that allow the company to increase its bending speeds and accuracy.
Need for capacity
Several years ago, it became clear that in order to continue to meet customer expectations and respond to ever-tightening delivery schedules, SMI’s production capacity would have to be increased. And so in 2010, the company undertook an initiative to expand and advance its overall fabricating capabilities. Key to success would be an upgrade to its laser cutting and bending operations.
In addition to producing quality parts, SMI had a number of other requirements for a potential equipment supplier. Machinery had to be quick to learn, easy to use, fast and reliable. In the fabrication industry, the most valuable ability of any machine is availability.
Throughout a typical day, there are a limited number of hours available to cover costs and generate a profit. In an eight-hour shift, this imaginary profitability line won’t likely occur until the final few hours. Therefore, any unplanned downtime shortens the work day, which shrinks the profitability window considerably. If SMI was to continue to build its business on dependability, it would need the same from its equipment.
And while dependability, functionality and cost were certainly key considerations, SMI realized the importance of a partner who shared their long-term vision.
“During our search we were looking well beyond machinery,” Williams says. “We wanted a solutions provider who understood our unique challenges and shared our approach and philosophy. Furthermore, we were looking for a company that would take an active consultative role with current and future process improvement initiatives we may undertake.”
Greg Williams, president and CEO at SMI, and his father Ken Williams, founder and chairman, attribute their success to hiring great people and investing in the best fabrication equipment available.
The Amada answer
SMI conducted an extensive evaluation of all that the fabrication equipment industry had to offer and when the dust had settled, Amada was the clear choice. Over the next several years, the company strategically assembled a collection of Amada fiber and CO2 lasers and press brakes.
“With our most recent Amada press brake purchase (HG2204), we were looking for increased speed and accuracy in the thicker gauges and longer length parts,” Williams adds. “Our experience with Amada and the performance of their HD1303 and HG1003ATC press brakes made that decision an easy one.”
To increase the company’s competitive edge, the first order of business for SMI was to upgrade its laser cutting and bending operations, which included the investment in an Amada 6-kW LCG3015AJ fiber laser.
Today, the company’s arsenal of Amada machinery includes:
- 6-kW LCG3015AJ fiber laser
- Two 4-kW LC3015F1 CO2 lasers
- AMS3015 automated system with 10-shelf tower and two unload carts
- HG1303 110-ton press brake with 10-ft. bed, CNC backgauge and automated tool changer
- HDS1303 143-ton press brake with 10-ft. bed and CNC backgauge
- HG2204 240-ton press brake with 12-ft. bed and CNC backgauge
- FabriVision 3Di laser inspection system
According to Williams, Amada’s machinery is better built than others SMI has used in the past. The superior quality and design of the system’s components translates to minimal downtime and increased processing time. At the same time, the Amada service team is very responsive to any issues, which again is a major factor in keeping the SMI production pipeline moving.
To date, SMI has made significant strides across the board. In addition to the expected results – reduced maintenance down time, increased speed/throughput and shorter lead times – the company has enjoyed some unexpected benefits of an association with the Amada brand.
“The Amada name is well known throughout our industry,” Williams says. “The fact that we employ their equipment tells the industry that we are serious about what we do. I’m sure that give us an intangible advantage.”
And what impact has all of this had on the bottom line? The company recorded a 35 percent revenue increase last year. With the recent acquisition of additional Amada equipment, SMI expects a repeat in the year ahead.
“We don’t keep track of these numbers as closely as some do,” Williams admits. “But I can tell you we wouldn’t have been able to handle this workload increase without the Amada equipment on our floor. With the recent additions, we can handle the same level of increase in 2018.”
From above, the shop floor at SMI reveals a sea of red equipment, including Amada laser cutters, press brakes and automated material handling.
Thanks in large part to Amada, SMI’s production capacity and resulting reputation for meeting delivery dates have grown measurably. Two of its lasers are housed inside an automation system delivering 24/7 processing capabilities.
This increased capacity has opened a number of doors over the past few years. With the Amada equipment that was added at the end of 2017, the company believes it now has the ability to turn jobs faster than others in the market. This is yet another benefit for the “need it yesterday” industry.
A growing business needs a growing workforce. And today a common thread running throughout manufacturing is a lack of experienced skilled laborers and machine operators. Finding young quality employees is a challenge throughout the industry.
Rather than embark on an endless search for the ideal candidate, SMI’s approach has instead been to find good people who want to work and to train them. Fortunately for SMI and others, Amada has slashed training time considerably.
SMI relies on a variety of Amada equipment to process steel, stainless steel, aluminum, specialty alloys and nonmetals.
“Amada began incorporating features in their equipment to help fabricators fill this void,” Williams explains. “These features include an intelligent computer interface, automatic tool changer on press brakes, robotic handling and welding.”
Williams points out that the Amada equipment is designed with an operator interface that is simple to learn and easy to operate, thus further streamlining the training process.
“In my experience, Amada’s installation and training team is second to none. With the exception of our new LCG3015AJ fiber laser, all training was conducted here onsite.”
Quality products and on-time delivery are the driving forces behind SMI’s past and continued success. In order to keep the lines moving, the company relies on Amada metal fabrication equipment.
“Simply put, we meet our promised delivery dates,’” Williams explains. And what would he say to anyone considering a new laser or press brake?
“If you process metal for a living and you don’t consider Amada, you’re making a mistake. Look beyond the bottom line purchase cost and be sure to consider all of the factors you’ll face for years to come, such as maintenance, support and service. This is where Amada truly separates itself from the competition.”