Pennsylvania-based Precision Cut Industries (PCI) is one of those contract manufacturer success stories that everyone loves to hear about – the kind that begins with humble beginnings. For PCI, it all started in 1998 as a small laser cutting facility with a handful of customers. Eventually, the modest customer base blossomed to the roughly 250 customers PCI has today, resulting in facility expansion and the adoption of new cutting-edge technology.
“We get into a little bit of everything,” says Justin Kline, PCI plant manager, referring to the company’s clientele, which includes local, regional and national customers, the most regular of which are in the food and beverage, architectural, agricultural and energy industries. “We’re extremely diversified in the market segments that our customers are in.”
PCI uses CAD software and CNC machinery to create quality, precision parts for their customers. Working mainly with carbon and stainless steel and aluminum, the company’s name mostly refers to metal cutting, but the team there also does plenty of bending, punching, welding, machining and finishing.
The employees at PCI have proven their value to customers time and time again by finding solutions for technical, commercial and operational issues. For example, the team of engineers at PCI will follow specs on a project, but they will also seek out solutions to complete the work in a way that delivers the final product faster and at a lower cost.
While the company has grown over the years and expanded into more than just a laser cutting facility, there is one constant – in Kline’s two decades with the company, they’ve always had TRUMPF products. In fact, PCI has an impressive list of TRUMPF laser cutters, including a 3-kW, 4-kW and 6-kW TruLaser 3030, a 4-kW TruLaser 2030, a 3-kW TruMatic 2530, and a 2-kW, 3-kW and 6-kW TruLaser 1030.
“TRUMPF has been the sole laser manufacturer we’ve used,” he says. “We really value the long-term relationship and support they’ve given us. One of the main drivers of why we stay with them is seen when we look at their technology updates and what we’ve used up to this day.”
Adopting new tech
In May of this year, PCI brought in a new machine – a TruLaser 3040 with a 6-kW fiber optic power supply and 80-in.-by-160-in. cutting bed. Kline says the acquisition was, in part, the result of upgrades elsewhere in the shop, including a new press brake that gave the company 13 ft. of bending capacity.
“A lot of things culminated to present this opportunity,” he says of adopting the TruLaser 3040. “Our other lasers couldn’t cut longer than 10 ft. We were passing work off to other companies, so we looked at a laser that would allow us to cut the size of sheet that we are now able to bend, as well.”
Processing larger materials is great, but what about other factors, such as speed? The 3040 is cutting four times faster on certain materials than the machine it replaced, according to Kline.
“The technology that the 3040 uses with the cutting gases is much more focused,” he says, “so there is better utilization of the consumable gas.”
Kline has been around long enough to witness the transition from CO2 lasers dominating the market to fiber lasers taking over. And while CO2 definitely has its place in manufacturing today, Kline says utilizing the fiber disc technology in the new 3040 has helped them in numerous ways that CO2 couldn’t.
“Two things fiber provides over CO2 are lower operating costs and higher production speeds,” he says. “We can cut up to 1-in.-thick carbon steel, but 3/8 in. is our sweet spot.”
Two TRUMPF technicians came to PCI to install the new machine, get everyone trained on it and get it “up and running,” Kline says. However, prior to the implementation, PCI sent two of their employees to TRUMPF’s headquarters in Farmington, Conn., for a four-day operator’s training session on the new machine and the newest software.
Kline says they’ve evaluated other laser manufacturers in the past and recognize that they all have their “little niche,” but he says they keep coming back to the realization that with TRUMPF’s German engineering and eye for excellence, PCI will remain a loyal customer. Furthermore, the domestic support coming out of nearby Connecticut is just an added bonus.
“This seems like a more modernized version of what we had,” he says of the new machine. “It’s quieter and faster.”
Furthermore, Kline says the software that comes with the new machine is “very user friendly” and that they have zero problems navigating the screen layout. Anyone who knows how to use a smartphone, he says, is going to have no problem operating the touchscreen that controls any of the TruLaser models.
TRUMPF touts the TruLaser 3030 and 3040 fiber machines as “fast machines for all your cutting needs.” They are, of course, also marketed as flexible and cost-effective solutions. Part of that cost effectiveness is made possible through a new nozzle design that reduces nitrogen consumption by up to 60 percent.
PCI is using the 3040 for materials up to 1 in. thick, but the machine is also good for thin mild steel parts. And, with the built-in BrightLine fiber technology, parts are easy to remove. BrightLine is a “sophisticated combination of special optics,” according to TRUMPF, that is paired with flow-optimized BrightLine nozzles. Together, these features help the TruLaser fiber machines provide high-quality cutting edges that keep the parts from getting caught during removal, which results in time saved in completing a cut list.
Part of bringing in new technology includes gaining access to perks, such as TRUMPF’s collision protection, which keeps the cutting head moving productively without the starts and stops associated with the heads colliding with material. Furthermore, the TruLaser models are equipped with CoolLine, TRUMPF’s solution to issues related to mild steel becoming extremely hot during the cutting process. CoolLine technology prevents this overheating from occurring by spraying a water mist in a circle around the laser beam and onto the workpiece.
The ease of use and faster production qualities are certainly of interest, not just to PCI but to all manufacturers dealing with staffing shortages and the ongoing skills gap problem.
“We’re doing more with less,” Kline says, “and the labor shortages we are experiencing will make the new machine worth its weight in gold.”