Covid-19 has wreaked havoc on the nation, but perhaps hardest hit has been the restaurant industry. According to the National Restaurant Association, prior to the pandemic, there were more than 1 million restaurants in the United States with more than 15.6 million employees in the industry. These numbers are being updated almost by the hour, but time will have to tell how the industry rebounds.
Whether it’s a feast or famine, one company that helps put food on the table for this industry is Royal Range of California Inc. Since 1995, Royal Range has been serving up high-quality commercial restaurant equipment. Offering an extensive line of ranges, ovens, fryers and countertop cooking equipment, the company’s commercial kitchen equipment has stood the test of time.
L. Vasan, president of Royal Range, took over the company in 2003 and has since created a booming business. Before purchasing Royal Range and its sister company Rankin-Delux, Vasan was designing and engineering commercial and residential gas cooking appliances for more than two decades for some of the biggest names in the industry, including Wolf Range Co. on the commercial side. Vasan has consulted for Viking, Jennair and Maytag on the residential side, as well. His experience in the commercial food industry and passion for engineering excellence has created a recipe for success.
The commercial kitchen equipment manufacturer has gradually built its business starting with customers on a local level and expanding to regional, national and now international customers today. Vasan explains, “Royal Range is slowly landing customers at the national restaurant chain level, such as California Pizza Kitchen. These chains are recognizing that our products are as good as the big guys in the industry.”
Royal Range also takes pride in manufacturing its products here, at home, in the United States. These commercial cooking products are designed and constructed in the company’s modern 52,000-sq.-ft. facility in Eastvale, Calif. Performing both research and development and manufacturing at one central location ensures that award-winning products are fabricated.
But in order to have superior ranges, ovens, fryers and countertop equipment, top-shelf fabrication equipment is a must.
Too many cooks
Originally, Royal Range was using a punching machine and shear cutter to cut sheet metal for all its product lines. With cutting on average 350 sheets of metal per week, this equipment not only created a bottleneck in production, but it was inefficient for labor utilization.
“We had two guys doing nothing but cutting metal with the shear all day and two other workers operating the punching machine,” Vasan says.
The punching machine also created multiple constraints for Royal Range when it came to machining and tooling.
“To design a product, we need to make a prototype first,” Vasan explains. “When we were using the punching machine, there were too many disruptions and, oftentimes, we didn’t have the proper tooling options available. We couldn’t design anything using the punching machine without having to spend money to do so.”
Royal Range’s sister company Rankin-Delux had a more than 20-year-old Mazak CO2 laser that could be used. But as the business continued to grow, so did the volume of products being produced. To produce more products, the company needed the laser to keep up with demand.
“Unfortunately, the speed of the old CO2 laser was nowhere we needed it to be,” Vasan says. “It couldn’t keep up with our increase in volume.”
When the original laser was initially purchased in 1999, it was cutting edge, but after 20 years, the CO2 laser was behind the times. The punching machine and shear cutter couldn’t handle the ever-increasing production volume, either. Something had to give.
After a service visit for the CO2 laser, Gary Pyles, a field service engineer at Mazak Optonics, suggested Vasan consider purchasing a fiber laser. At the time, Vasan wasn’t aware of the advancements in laser cutting technology, especially with fiber laser, so Vasan connected him with Doug Young, a regional sales manager for Mazak, to discuss Royal Range’s fabrication needs and the criteria Vasan should consider when vetting a new laser machine.
Part of that criteria was the need to cut a wider range of material thicknesses and to keep up with the demand of incoming volume. The company typically cuts 20 gauge up to 12 gauge in stainless steel and non-stainless steel.
The need to increase processing speed coupled with the ability to handle a wider range of laser applications motivated Vasan to consider a new laser cutting solution. And considering that Royal Range already had a 20-plus-year relationship with the Mazak brand, the company’s Optiplex Nexus 3015 fiber laser made a lot of sense. On top of that, the Optiplex fit the manufacturer’s list of criteria.
The right mix
In late 2018, Royal Range implemented a 2-kW Optiplex Nexus 3015 fiber laser machine, which was able to match its cutting criteria and increase its manufacturing speed. Six months after the fiber laser was installed, the company was already looking to add another machine.
“The first fiber laser was a great improvement to our business,” Vasan explains. “But volume was still increasing, and we needed even more part throughput.”
After weighing options for another Mazak laser, Vasan decided to go with a second Optiplex Nexus 3015 fiber, this time with 4 kW of power accompanied by a high-performance dry air cutting system by Liberty Systems from Accessorie Air Compressor Systems Inc. High-performance dry air systems, often referred to as high-pressure air, are gaining popularity throughout the laser cutting industry due to their ability to provide exceptional edge quality with certain materials at a reduced operating cost. Vasan was intrigued by these benefits and decided to install a high-performance air system alongside the fiber lasers.
“Air is composed of more than 70 percent nitrogen, and so the cost of laser cutting with nitrogen is quite high,” he says. “When cutting on a fiber laser with high-pressure air, the edge quality is still high caliber. It just made sense to save money and not have to compromise on quality.”
By building a relationship with Mazak over the last 20 years, the team at Royal Range knew that Mazak understood their products and business operations.
“With Gary servicing the CO2 laser machine, he already understood our operation and what we need to manufacture our products successfully,” Vasan says. “And after taking his suggestion to invest in the fiber laser and then in the high-performance cutting system, my trust with Mazak has only increased further.”
Vasan adds that, compared to the old CO2, the most impressive factor about the Optiplex is the efficiency the machine achieves with such minimal maintenance. The company keeps up with the few preventative maintenance procedures required for each fiber laser, and the machines continue to run consistently well.
“We change what we need to change, keep the lasers clean and perform preventative maintenance, when necessary,” Vasan says. “Because of this, there is no machine downtime – they’re basically trouble-free. If we do run into any issues, I know I can rely on Charlie Zeman in technical support or Greg Furman in software to get us back on track quickly.”
Layers of benefits
Royal Range has experienced multiple benefits after installing the two fiber lasers in its facility. In its laser operations, part throughput and cutting speed have increased tremendously.
“We’re able to produce four to six times more in production with the two lasers,” Vasan says. “When we’re running low-volume and prototype parts for product development, the turnaround time is faster and even more economical.”
Another area where Royal Range experienced benefits is through the reduction in overhead costs, including reduced utility bills because of the higher efficiency fiber lasers as well as the high-pressure air system. Vasan says the company has saved approximately $4,000 per month by utilizing high-pressure air instead of nitrogen.
The company has also seen direct cost savings and increased production by redistributing its labor pool.
“We were able to reassign the four employees that previously operated the punching machine and shear cutter to other parts of our production,” Vasan says. “Now, we have just one operator running both lasers.”
Additional benefits are made possible by the Radan profiling software that Royal Range uses. The software applies a unique algorithm that maximizes sheet utilization, which results in minimized material scrap. If there are any disconnects between parts in the nesting program, the profiling software connects gaps in the geometry and smooths out any uneven curves. This increases sheet metal utilization.
Overall, Vasan is a major fan of the “wow” factor the lasers bring to the table. The machines’ capabilities are impressive at every turn and allow Royal Range to capitalize on the quality of its commercial grade kitchen equipment.
“We have customers that come to our facility for training, and we love to show off the lasers,” he says. “Customers are almost starstruck by the fiber lasers’ capabilities. When you can show your customers that your products are made with cutting-edge technology, it bakes even more value into your offerings.”
Since taking the reins at Royal Range, Vasan’s persistence to excel has created a strong reputation for the company’s high-quality products and after-sale customer support. To say the least, adding the new fiber lasers and high-performance air cutting system will be the bread and butter to manufacturing successes for years to come.