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An architectural metals fabricator finds success with a new fiber laser, punch and press brake

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It’s the type of story those in the industry never tire of hearing. It’s the story of how a metals fabricator got its start in a small garage and grew into a successful business in the years that followed.

Founded in 1991, Sheet Metal Supply Ltd. is a national fabricator and supplier of an extensive array of custom metal construction products, such as custom-formed perimeter edge systems, wall facades, flat lock tiles, substructural components, ES-1-rated products, architectural zinc and copper, glazed-in panels, glazing and shading outriggers and bracketry, standing seam, decorative components and much more. Surprisingly, the family business started in the founder’s 16-ft.-by-30-ft. garage space in Libertyville, Ill.

“My father started with a hand brake, slitter and jump shear in our garage,” remembers Ben Kweton, president of Sheet Metal Supply. “I’d come home from school and work one end of the hand brake and he’d work the other. We produced metal trim for roofing purposes, typically from painted 24 gauge. We’d pick up the sheets from Peterson in the family minivan and deliver finished goods in the minivan.

At Sheet Metal Supply, a Mazak Nexus Fiber S7 laser cuts 1-in.-thick stainless steel and mild steel and 3/4-in.-thick aluminum and copper.

“He expanded while I went off to school, buying an auto brake that only needed one person to operate,” he continues. “Eventually, we grew to two small locations in Libertyville, then moved those operations into an 8,000-sq.-ft. facility in Lincolnshire and then a 30,000-sq.-ft. facility in Mundelein. In 2020, we moved into this 80,000-sq.-ft. building.”

Sheet Metal Supply went on a bit of a hiring binge, as well, building up its workforce from 30 workers in 2020 to about 40 workers today.

Overall, the focus of Sheet Metal Supply is on building envelope solutions.

“We started in roof perimeters and expanded into metal roofing systems. And we do multiple different façade systems, as well,” Kweton says. “In addition to being aesthetically pleasing, the systems are functional as well because they protect the walls. We’re sort of the last piece of the puzzle as far as keeping rain out. We make the building aesthetically pleasing, functional and rain resistant.”

Room for growth

Continuing its growth trajectory, Sheet Metal Supply is filling its new 80,000-sq.-ft. building with new equipment to expand into even heavier metal products and fabricate thicker metals. With this equipment, the shop can offer heavier gauges of substructural as well as structural components and outriggers, plus heavier and more durable façade panels, planters, mass timber components and landscape edging.

The SafanDarley 130-metric-ton press brake allows Sheet Metal Supply to form aluminum up to 1/2 in. thick.

The typical production process at Sheet Metal Supply starts with sheet or sometimes coil. The sheets are cut down into the usable blank sizes and put through production. The materials are typically coil painted, as well.

“We wanted to expand our capabilities and that’s where the heavy gauge comes in,” Kweton says. “We’re seeing heavier materials even for products such as window flashings, glazing projects or outriggers for sun shades and screens. People are starting to realize metal is a great product for all these solutions. So we’re moving to those materials without abandoning what we’re already doing. We want to be able to capture and provide more scope on any given project.”

Laser addition

The new equipment that allows expansion into even heavier metal products includes a Mazak Nexus Fiber S7 laser. The laser cutter has impressed everyone on the shop floor where it is mainly used to cut 1-in.-thick stainless steel and mild steel as well as 3/4-in.-thick aluminum and copper.

“We replaced our CO2 laser with the fiber laser, which opens us up to being able to do so many more materials,” Kweton says. “We are a very mixed materials company. In one day, we could be cutting 3/4-in. aluminum plate and light gauge copper and then a 2507 duplex alloy from Europe for a job in Hawaii. We’re all over the place most of the time and the fiber really gives us that versatility. The fiber can cut anything we need it to, including the heavy gauge we are moving into.”

Sheet Metal Supply uses this AMADA EMK 3612 MII turret to punch aluminum and mild steel up to 3/16 in. thick.

Sheet Metal Systems is feeding two press brakes from the laser and is able to keep up with the manual material loading.

“That’s what I like about the Mazak,” Kweton adds. “It’s scalable in that regard. If in two years we decide we want to automate the loading and unloading, the machine is already prepped to receive that solution.”

Kweton also likes that the change from a 1,300-W CO2 laser to a 7-kW fiber laser requires only slightly more power.

Power investments

Other equipment Sheet Metal Supply has added to its arsenal is an AMADA EMK 3612 MII 30-ton turret punch press, which punches aluminum and mild steel up to 3/16 in. thick. This machine replaced two older versions – “old blue and old red that moved up to Wisconsin.”

“The one machine easily replaced those two older machines,” Kweton says. “It has so much more capability. It goes twice as fast, but with so much more control and precision, and it uses half the power.”

Sheet Metal Supply supplied 1,600 sq. ft. of standing seam copper for the façade of an addition to a renovated home in Cambridge, Mass.

The shop still uses its AMADA Coma-567 turret punch press with a 50-ton hammer to punch thicker materials such as 3/8-in.-thick aluminum.

Bought to allow work to be brought in-house, the new SafanDarley 130-metric ton press brake allows Sheet Metal Supply to form aluminum up to 1/2 in. thick.

“It’s all-electric, no hydraulics,” Kweton notes. “It just uses the electric when it is doing downforce; the upforce is driven by springs. It is a very efficient and precise machine in that regard.

Finally, a new Accurshear 625020 from Accurpress provides the ability to cut 20-ft. lengths of ¼-in.-thick aluminum and mild steel.

In addition to allowing Sheet Metal Supply to process thicker materials, the new machinery reduces power consumption, which is another focus at the shop.

“Not only does this new machinery add speed and expand capabilities, it also represents a leap in energy efficiency,” Kweton says. “It’s hard to gauge because we keep adding new machines but we are reducing our power consumption. I know we are going in the right direction.”

Sheet Metal Supply is also headed in the solar energy direction, having just received the last of the equipment needed to tie into a solar array.

“The system was designed around 105 percent of our power usage so it should cover the vast majority of our power consumption,” Kweton explains. “The ROI is supposed to be around 2. 6 to 2.9 years. We are really focused on the environmental aspect, and the incentives worked for us, so we are able to reinvest in ourselves.”

Customers consistently ask Sheet Metal Supply to push the design envelope by asking for more unique and heavier gauge products. The company has also invested in the equipment and skilled team to supply customers with the durable, long-lasting products they require.

Accurpress

AMADA AMERICA Inc.

Mazak Optonics Corp.

SafanDarley

Sheet Metal Supply Ltd.

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