Investing In The Future

An Ontario-based fabricator invests in a large-format fiber laser to support the growing needs of the business and the future of the employees

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When a company invests in a large-format fiber laser cutting system with 12 kW of power and a 45-ft.-long bed, the conversation typically centers around the large-scale parts it’s processing or the underperforming equipment it replaced. But Stainless Steel Technology (SST), based in Sudbury, Ontario, is not your typical company and Brad Greasley is not your typical owner.

On paper, Greasley invested in the company’s new LVD Taurus 12-kW fiber laser cutting system for the expected reasons: The company had outgrown its 6-ft.-by-12-ft. CO2 laser machine as well as its 10-ft.-by-24-ft. waterjet machine. Fiber laser technology had been in Greasley’s sights for some time in part to better process stainless steel and aluminum, two of the three primary materials used at SST. The company was also looking to expand its offerings to extend cutting and forming services to local fabricators in the northern Ontario market. But, if you ask Greasley point blank why he invested in the Taurus, his answer might be a little more emotionally based.

tainless Steel Technology’s LVD Taurus fiber laser cutting machine features a bed measuring 45 ft. Available bed lengths start at 32 ft. and can be expanded in 13-ft. increments up to 137 ft.

“The company has provided for me and my family and all of the families that have worked here over the years, and I want to see the company continue to support families down the road with employment and good jobs,” he says. “Whether it’s replacing a piece of equipment or buying something new with totally different capabilities, it’s mandatory that we invest in ourselves and in our futures. At the end of the day, when I retire, I want to see the company carry on and see other young families become educated and talented and earn a living for their children. I think that’s a good thing. It’s good for our community, for Ontario and for Canada.”

Greasley admits that he is emotionally attached to SST, but for those that know his story, it should come as no surprise. He was a young man when the company got its start, and over the years, he has ushered it though its early growing pains, economic downturns and booms, facility expansions and upgrades, as well as the rise of technology on the shop floor. He purchased the balance of the company when his partner retired in 2015, and eventually, he knows that it will be passed on to new, capable hands.

“Not everyone would take the chance or risk of putting in a big laser like this one,” Greasley says of the Taurus. “While our investment was backed by economics, it’s not just about that. The decision was also backed with the passion we have for our work and for the legacy we’re building with this company.”

On the Taurus, parts can be cut on one section of the table while being offloaded on another, increasing overall machine productivity.

Major milestones

Today, SST is an ISO 9001-certified metal fabricator that specializes in a range of applications from small custom parts to massive fabrications, including pressure vessels, tanks, large-diameter ductwork, and just about anything else that is oversized and requires specialty metal fabrication. Customers receive the full scope of services, too, including engineering assistance, cutting, forming, machining and welding as well as the certifications and testing to back it up.

Recently, the company expanded to take on the production of large aluminum boats for the commercial sector where 35-ft.-long hull plates are cut with the new Taurus in one piece. And the company still produces stainless steel components for the restaurant industry, just as it did in the early days.

“The company was started by Tony Yaroshak, a gentleman that lived up the street from me who was welding thin stainless steel in his garage as a hobby,” Greasley explains. “One day in 1982, he asked me to give him a hand and so we started working together regularly. I was only 17 at the time. Two years later, we incorporated the company and rented out a small spot to do light fabrications like stainless steel countertops and fume hoods for restaurants, including the polishing and finishing work that was required. At first, it was just the two of us doing very light duty work, but as we got more customers, we grew to three, four and then eight employees.”

LVD’s Taurus comes with the option of a tilt cutting head for producing countersinks and beveled cuts.

For Greasley and Yaroshak, the next three decades together were exciting and successful and included a series of important milestones. First and foremost, Greasley graduated from college with a degree in metallurgical engineering to support their work and the growth of the business. The year was 1989 and computer programming was gaining momentum in a variety of industries, so Greasley applied the programming knowledge he’d gained from school at SST.

In 1990, Yaroshak and Greasley built their first facility, totaling 14,000 sq. ft. By 2000, it was time for another expansion into a new 25,000-sq.-ft. facility in the same industrial park where the company is currently based. In 2006, the company expanded again, adding another 25,000 sq. ft. to the shop. Today, the SST facility spans 65,000 sq. ft. with Greasley expecting to see it expand again sometime down the road.

Along the way, the two men also made a series of capital equipment milestones, starting in 1985 when Greasley attended a trade show in Toronto and saw his first laser cutting machine.

“We saw this little laser cutting machine that was cutting 18-gauge material so slowly,” he recalls. “The quality of the cutting, however, was so good. I looked at the accuracy and I looked at that machine and I thought to myself, ‘one of these days, I’m going to have a laser cutting machine.’”

SST offers its diverse customer base more than 30 years of fabricating experience, producing parts for a variety of industries, including mining, pulp and paper, energy, transportation and more.

Fast-forward to 1998, and Greasley’s wish finally came true. It was a 6-ft.-by-12-ft. CO2 Cincinnati laser machine, “and it changed everything.”

“I had been laying out everything by hand, cutting parts using various hand tools like notchers, trying to get the shapes that we needed,” he says. “But all of a sudden, I had this tool where I could program parts on the computer to get exactly what I wanted. That investment, therefore, worked out really well and really changed the company and its visibility.”

Maturing technology

When fiber technology came onto the scene, Greasley was incredibly interested. But as with his first laser investment, he was willing to wait for the technology to mature and for the power levels to increase.

“When fiber lasers first came out, it was brand-new technology and the machines only came with 1 or 2 kW of power, so I wanted to sit back and watch the market advance,” he says. “At that time, we were doing a lot more industrial work with aluminum, but our CO2 laser wasn’t good at cutting 1/4-in., 1/2-in. or 3/4-in. aluminum, so we purchased the waterjet machine. We were also creating large parts, so if I had a large steel part, I would cut that on the waterjet’s bigger bed, too.”

Ensuring a stable future for the employees at SST is a big reason why the company invests in new machines and technology.

SST had also invested in a press brake with a tool changer from LVD, and during conversations with the equipment manufacturer, Greasley learned of its plans to release a large-format fiber laser. Fiber had come a long way in the power levels, thicknesses and range of materials it could cut, but most of the companies at that time were only offering shuttle tables.

“The problem was the amount of shop space that I was willing to give up,” Greasley explains. “LVD’s machine, however, offered the single bed and a machine design that would be a perfect fit for our facility and for our needs.”

It still took a couple years before SST was ready for the overall commitment, but the Taurus has been in the company’s shop since January. Its modular design, which starts with a 32-ft. bed, is available to be expanded in increments of 13 ft. up to a maximum of 137 ft. SST’s Taurus also features a 5-axis cutting head for countersinking and bevel cutting.

Working in synergy

Since its installation, the Taurus has been cutting all of SST’s carbon steel, stainless steel and aluminum, but Greasley is waiting to incorporate the 5-axis head into fabrication until his team is fully comfortable working on the machine. He says that programming the beveling and establishing all the cutting parameters comes with a learning curve. Once his team develops all the libraries, however, the machine will go into full fabrication mode.

“We have small parts, yes, but we fabricate a lot of large parts,” he says. “If I bevel on a large part, and it doesn’t work, then I have a lot of scrap. We need to get it down to a science. For now, we have a beveling machine, and we’ll stick with that until we’re ready, but that day is coming rapidly.”

Fortunately, the team at SST has a lot of experience and a lot of cross-talents. Many of the employees have been with the company long-term, which facilitates an environment where everyone works together in synergy. Greasley says the training that LVD provided prior to and during installation was instrumental to his team’s current successes with the new laser and that he’s looking forward to more.

The Taurus’ high-tech cutting head features faster zoom optics and motorized, infinitely variable adjustment of the focus diameter and focus position to deliver users with unmatched cutting performance and productivity.

“When they were on-site, they helped us work with all of the different materials that we deal with while training our team and making sure that the machine didn’t have any issues post-installation,” he says. “Once they knew that we were at a certain level of competence, they left.

“But now that we’ve had time with the machine, I want to them to come here or have my team go to LVD to go in-depth and get deep into the controls, every setting and every single feature,” he adds. “To go super in-depth too soon could be information overload. We wanted to take a breather and get that knowledge foundation down to then be ready to go to the next level.”

Greasley and the entire team at SST are passionate about the work they do and believe that equipment can play a big role in their drive to constantly do better. When Greasley saw that first laser machine in 1985, it sparked something in him. But clearly, that spark has gone beyond the investment of a machine that can cut 35-ft. aluminum boat hulls in one piece – it’s become the future for the next generation of manufacturers in Sudbury.

“It’s important to me because I have a lot of employees that have been with me for a long time, but I also have a lot of younger talent,” Greasley says. “I want to see those employees be able to retire here, if that’s what they want.”

LVD North America

Stainless Steel Technology

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