From Art To Part

Part art studio, 100 percent advanced manufacturing space, a fabricator in Connecticut harnesses the best of both worlds

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The sheet metal fabrication space at Kammetal in Naugatuck, Conn., doesn’t feel like your stereotypical shop. Sure, it’s replete with the expected equipment – waterjets, laser cutters, press brakes and the like – but there’s an air about it that feels different.

Perhaps it’s a tad cleaner or higher tech than your average shop or perhaps it’s a bit greener; a solar-paneled roof provides 100 percent of the company’s power needs throughout the year. Or maybe, it’s the parts that are coming off of Kammetal’s equipment that sets the company apart. Spend a day there, and you’ll see a wide variety of fabricated parts being made – from high-end architectural metal and retail displays to parts for industrial and commercial applications, such as the recycling industry. You might even see some metal art sculptures being produced, too.

At Kammetal, the new TruArc Weld 1000 will be used to produce one-offs all the way through to projects that total a thousand parts or more.

After all, Sam Kusack, Kammetal’s president and founder, got his bachelor’s degree in fine art at the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. As is central to the school’s mission to prepare its students to “apply their talent and expertise to make impactful contributions worldwide,” Kusack and his team are producing parts that are both exquisite and functional.

After officially launching his business in 2001, the same year he graduated, Kusack landed artists, galleries and high-end residential properties as his primary customers. As he got involved with more projects, his reputation grew, resulting in high-profile contracts, such as the stainless steel metalwork at Manhattan’s Battery Park and the stainless steel and glass encapsulation of the 1 World Trade Center beacon. While it’s not common to hear about art students steering their careers toward metal fabrication, these two worlds came together for Kusack in an impactful and beautiful way.

“I went to art school, so I was doing a lot of metal work, and I just loved it,” he says. “I didn’t have any family members in metal fabrication, so it was just my thing and something I thought I could make a career out of. Adding in all of the technology that’s involved in modern manufacturing made it even more exciting.”

From flat to final

Some of the exciting technology Kusack is referring to is found in his fleet of machines from TRUMPF Inc., including multiple press brakes, a 10-kW fiber laser, a CNC punching machine and now, an automated welding cell. Coincidentally, the TRUMPF campus is just a stone’s throw from the Kammetal headquarters.

Like Kammetal, the TRUMPF headquarters isn’t stereotypical, either. Spend a day there, and it’s guaranteed you’ll hear the phrase “from art to part” at some point. And it’s not something that the staff reserves for Kusack’s visits. It’s a phrase that represents the journey from flat sheet to final product, and as far as Kusack and the team at TRUMPF are concerned, that journey should be a simple, straight line.

Kammetal’s new TruArc Weld 1000 was in part chosen for its integrated safety features, including an an exhaust system and housing with anti-glare protection.

For a company like Kammetal that is constantly looking to diversify its customer base, quick turnaround times can be a big selling point for new business. So, with the difficulties of finding skilled welders and a pre-existing robotic welding cell that was, at times, challenging and time-consuming to program, Kusack was in the market for an automated welding solution that was easy to program and quick to set up.

“When we moved the business from Brooklyn to Connecticut five years ago, we doubled our floor space, which allows us to take on larger projects,” he says. “Since then, we’ve gotten into more manufacturing and making parts for all sorts of different industries. That includes sheet metal parts, assemblies, welded assemblies, fabrications and just a lot more variance in our work. Part of getting the robotic welding system corresponds to that work and our future growth strategy.”

From trainee to programmer

As a TRUMPF customer for 12 years, Kusack already considered his relationship with the company as more of a partnership than a transactional one. So, while he did his due diligence, he ultimately chose to invest in TRUMPF’s TruArc Weld 1000 welding cell. Topping his list of priorities, the welding cell is billed as being easy to launch, program and operate. So easy, in fact, that the TRUMPF website says very little training is required and that “video tutorials will do the job.”

Also high on his list of priorities was safety. Creating a safe and comfortable work environment has always been of utmost importance to Kusack. To cater to those needs, the TruArc Weld 1000 includes an exhaust and dust collection system, safety screens with anti-glare protection and, of course, the inclusion of a cobot versus a traditional industrial robot that wouldn’t allow employees to come in close proximity.

The fleet of TRUMPF equipment at Kammetal is extensive, including this TruLaser 1030 fiber laser machine.

“From my operators’ standpoint, I like that it has built-in safety features – that was important to me,” he explains. “In addition to protections from dust and arc flash, I also like the fact that there is a partition for parallel production. There are a lot of other cobot welding cells out there, but often, they’re nothing more than a table and a welding gun.”

Kusack is referring to the fact that the TruArc Weld 1000 can be utilized as a one- or two-station operation, depending on the component and lot size. This means that Kusack and his team can process one larger component or smaller components in larger batches parallel to production.

“You can load up a part in the A area, put the door up and let the robot start welding,” Kusack explains. “Meanwhile, you can load up the B side and when the robot is ready, it will shift over and start welding. It really speeds up production because your load time is often far greater than your weld time.”

Considering Kammetal has only had the welding cell for a little more than a month, the team there hasn’t had the chance to weld many large parts, but the ability to use the A and B areas as a larger table was also a major selling point. At Kammetal, the goal is to be able to do one-offs, 10- to 20-piece jobs and up to thousands of pieces at a time.

“Since we’re a small company, we asked our press brake operator to load the robot,” Kusack says. “She was excited to interact with the cobot welder and in a safe way. So, she’s been running parts on it, and we’re cross-training other people to learn how to use the machine and how to load and change out the wire. Eventually, they’ll get involved in the programming, too.”

This TRUMPF sample part, created with the help of the TruArc Weld 1000, is a mild steel console made of 25-mm mild steel on 8-mm curved sheet that features five weld seams.

When that time comes, Kusack is confident in the cell’s ease of programming. Currently, his welding engineer is doing the bulk of the programming but says he can train staff in no time flat. He says programming takes anywhere from 10 to 30 min., depending on complexity, and that, in general, it’s amazing how quickly a new user can start making parts.

From the flatbed to the future

With Kammetal’s move from Brooklyn to Naugatuck not that long ago, Kusack was happy to invest in a self-contained module that could be picked up with a crane and easily moved. Relocating a company and all of its equipment can definitely be a challenge and not something anyone wants to do more than once.

“When the machine came in, we just picked it up off of the flatbed with our crane and brought it inside,” he says. “We craned it over and just plopped it down, leveled it and plugged it in. There were a couple little tweaks here and there with the sensors, but for the most part, it was pretty fast to get it installed.”

His desire for a welding cell that would be easy to transport could also be a side effect from the devastation Hurricane Sandy inflicted on his equipment in 2012. Fortunately, Kusack’s building was 4 ft. off the ground, but because of the 6 ft. of flooding, 21 in. of his equipment was still submerged.

Kammetal has expanded its customer base since its early days, but still works with artists on a regular basis. This aluminum and stainless steel frame was fabricated to be able to collapse and be re-installed as the art travels internationally.

“We had a lot of damage,” he recalls. “So, I took a trip to Connecticut, met with management there and explained that all of our equipment had been totally ruined. They worked with us to see us through that challenge, and that was huge.”

Kusack says the support he received post Hurricane Sandy truly drove home the idea that with TRUMPF, “you’re not just buying equipment; you’re buying into a partnership, too.” And it doesn’t hurt that the equipment is highly advanced, too, he adds.

“The TruArc Weld 1000 increases our capacity tremendously,” he concludes. “It enables more capacity and frees up our highly skilled welders to do more technical welding. With it on our shop floor, we’re incredibly optimistic about the future.”

Kammetal

TRUMPF Inc.

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