|Keep the Change
Three companies offer advice and reflect on new manufacturing capabilities following the purchase of new machinery
by Megan Headley
Blowing out the candles on his birthday cake, the fabricator silently made a wish. When it came time to open the gifts from friends and family, he discovered his wish had come true. There in the corner with a large bow on top was … a brand new cutting line! Okay, adding a piece of machinery to your facility isn’t quite this simple. According to many fabricators, just making the decision to purchase a specific piece of machinery can be a process that takes months of research and a great deal of legwork. And once it’s installed, it’s not just a matter of pressing the “start” button—it requires hands-on training and, most likely, repeated calls for assistance. One of the biggest assets in purchasing a new piece of equipment can be talking to other individuals who have recently gone through the process and who are willing to openly share the advantages and the challenges of the equipment and the purchasing process.
Why Change Anyway?
Wolverine Glass of Grandville, Mich., recently installed a new CNC machine from CMS North America Inc. based in Caledonia, Mich.
“Well, we actually bought two,” says Jay Vaughan, sales manager. “A CNC edger and a CNC cutter that was a replacement for one we’d had a long time.”
Vaughan says his company decided to purchase the edger to help it “stay ahead.”
“We’re losing so much work to overseas that we had to expand into different areas and it allowed us to open some different doors that we couldn’t go through [before purchasing it].”
For Chris Mammen, president of Mammen Glass and Mirror Inc. in Irving, Texas, increasing capacity was the goal when his company purchased a Z. Bavelloni VT 1301 vertical drilling and milling machine for glass.
“We wanted to increase efficiency, capacity quality and accuracy,” says Mammen. “Particularly with the VT 1301, that allowed us to automate some fabrications that we were doing by hand such as notching shower doors … so that improved the quality of those since [now] they are done by computer and not by hand.”
He adds, “We can do more of them in a shorter amount of time.”
Mammen Glass purchased the VT 1301 in November 2005. In July 2006, a Z. Bavelloni Gemy 14 flat polishing and mitering machine for glass was installed.
“The decision to purchase the flat polisher was due strictly to increase capacity; we’re already running two flat polishing machines and demand was increasing,” says
Robert G. Brown, president and owner of Brown’s Glass and Granite of York, Pa., has only recently installed a new cutting table from Bottero.
“When I sat down and figured it out … it made sense in saving us time and labor,” says Brown.
While he and his employees are still getting the hang of some of the time-saving features, he feels confident that he will soon see results.
Brown knew from the start that the machine he wanted had to be compact and able to fit into the space available in his facility.
“I’m limited on space,” says Brown. “I wanted a small table.”
He also knew in advance what capabilities the equipment would need in order to make the company more efficient.
“One of the things I wanted to make sure of was that whatever I bought would cut out squares, do patterns,” says Brown.
For Brown, taking that thought to reality took a bit of legwork. He began his search in February 2006 and spent several months doing research on potential equipment.
He explains, “I talked to a couple of different guys over the phone, I visited two different glass shops that had cutting tables—one by one manufacturer and one by another—I did a little research, talked …”
He decided that the Bottero machine best met his needs.
“It has the capability to create patterns. It has a laser, and I can throw a template up on the table and it will create that pattern.”
In addition, timing turned out to be everything. Brown says that he hadn’t planned to make a purchase until after he attended a trade show so he’d have some hands-on time with different machines. However, the more research he did, the more sure of his decision he became. Finally, during the summer of 2006, Bottero had a machine that was on its way to the United States and Brown jumped on it.
In a different sense, convenience and timing was also important in Vaughan’s decision to purchase equipment. Although he says he looked at several different manufacturers, he ultimately decided on CMS because its headquarters in Grand Rapids, Mich., was local for Wolverine Glass.
“Number one, we liked the look and quality of [the machine] and number two, it was the relative closeness of the service. We can call and they’ll have a service guy over here in an hour,” says Vaughan. “There’s a lot of cost savings for that.”
Like Brown, Mammen also had his machinery imported from Europe. He says that his VT 1301 was actually the first to be installed in the United States.
“We had seen the original prototype at glasstec in Düsseldorf,” says Mammen. “When they were ready to bring one to the States they knew we were interested.”
Once the lengthy research is done, a quick installation can be a big plus in the favor of the machinery installation.
“The most common [question from customers] is probably ‘how long will the installation take and how soon can I start selling product?’” says David Mackey, vice president of sales for Bottero.
Vaughan purchased his CNC edger during the summer of 2005, and it was straight to work.
“It was running probably within a week. I think it took us longer to get it off the vehicle [than to get it working],” jokes Vaughan.
However, he adds that he had plenty of help in getting started on the new machine. He explains that some of the training came before the machinery had arrived, when employees began to learn about the software and operation of the equipment. Then when the machinery arrived, there was more hands-on learning provided by the CMS technician.
“It was like a two- or three-day class,” says Vaughan.
He adds that it was helpful to have an individual on staff who had studied computers and was familiar with the equipment.
Mammen says that help with installation and training is “very standard with all these machines.”
He adds, “You’re responsible for getting it off the truck … then they set it up.”
Since his VT 1301 was the first of its kind to be installed in the States, setting it up became a learning experience for the local technician. A technician from Italy was flown to the plant to assist with training.
“With this particular machine we interfaced with Italy a lot more than we usually do, since this was the first one … they’ve actually flown a technician to our shop twice in the past year to add the capabilities that we [requested],” says
Mammen acknowledges that, at least when working with Bavelloni, it’s unusual to have technicians coming from overseas to offer training.
“On the polisher we got a U.S. technician, it was a real standard situation,” he says.
Training was also a hands-on process for Mammen Glass employees. The technician stayed for several days, training employees with real glass on the shop floor and even staying through until production had begun successfully.
“Depending upon the machinery, [training] can take from one day to three weeks,” says Jack van Meerbeeck, president of Z. Bavelloni USA Inc.
He adds that on-site training is standard with any new equipment, and that technicians are always available to instruct companies on how to operate the software and the equipment.
“We have a very experienced and large technical staff … right now about ten [technicians],” notes van Meerbeeck. He adds, “Of course we have our after-sales service people and we have a help desk phone line at all times.”
One week of software and basic operations training is standard for CMS.
“One week of machine setup and applications training follow the installation of the machines,” says Kristen Green with CMS.
The company also offers troubleshooting, maintenance and safety training following installation. Green adds that 24-hour phone support is also available.
For Brown, it quite literally took him longer to get the machine into the building than it did to set up.
“The machine actually showed up a week before it was supposed to and I had no crane available,” he recalls.
Luck was with him again as he had a friend who was able to help him out. From that point, it took a technician two days to have the machine up and running.
“We got the machine in the building and set in place, then [the Bottero technician] came in and leveled everything and hooked up the air to it and the electric and got it running,” says Brown.
The rest of the technician’s work was in providing hands-on training to the employees of Brown’s Glass.
“Most all of the purchases include installation of the machinery and training of staff with the purchase price,” says Mackey, most of the training is hands-on. “[It includes] how to use the equipment; if it’s computer-controlled, how to use the computer, as well.”
Up and Running
Setting up a piece of machinery isn’t as simple as reading the directions and pushing the start button. These fabricators have faced some challenges and asked many questions with regards to their new machinery.
Vaughan says that the small challenges haven’t been cause for worry since assistance is just a short drive away.
“There were some minor issues, but because they [the technical support] were so close we could get in a car and
drive over there and say what’s going on here,” says Vaughan.
He adds that the only challenges he’s had so far have been with the software.
Software has been a challenge for Brown as well.
“We bought an optimizer with it, we’re still learning that,” he says.
He notes that because he and his employees are still learning the software, they haven’t become as efficient yet as he hopes to soon be.
Mammen agrees that other companies shouldn’t expect to be up to a new level of efficiency immediately.
“When we started it up it didn’t do some things we expected it to do,” he says. “It was challenging not to have those capabilities from day one.”
Although Mammen Glass employees were trained on the basics, they’re still in the process of learning all of the machine’s operating capabilities.
Finding parts can be another common challenge.
Brown says that he got around that problem early by finding a local company that supplies the parts he’ll need.
Mammen says that most of the parts he needs are available locally, although a replacement had to be shipped from overseas for the first part that failed.
“We had a special bearing that failed that was no longer available so we had to do a retrofit. They sent parts and walked us through it,” explains
Parts availability is one of Vaughan’s primary concerns when it comes to purchasing new machinery. That concern comes from years in the business and several bad experiences. He recalls another machinery purchase at an earlier job, when he was with a company whose line went down for four days. The company had to wait for parts to arrive from Austria.
“That was the only piece of equipment in the plant making insulating units … we had to go back to making them by hand,” he says. “Every hour the thing is down is money [lost].”
He adds, “Parts and service can be difficult if you’re not careful.”
The same thing happened during another job, he shares. The company had bought a piece of machinery from a company based in Italy. The machine broke down one day in August—that’s when Vaughan discovered that businesses in Italy are generally closed in August for vacation.
If I Had It to Do All Over Again
Vaughan says that researching the purchasing decision is the biggest piece of advice he can offer other companies.
“Do your research,” says Vaughan. “I’m telling you that’s the thing you’ve got to do.”
“Go visit a demo site … it’s very important,” urges van Meerbeeck.
“Go and see recent installations of new equipment,” adds Mackey.
Mammen agrees, and adds that researching doesn’t just mean reading the brochure sent over by the machinery manufacturer.
“I always tell people to talk to current owners of the machine—but not just the ones that the vendor tells you about,” says Mammen. “Use your network. That’s why it’s important to go to the trade shows, read the magazines and network.”
Vaughan adds that a lot of his research came from past experiences, such as his parts-availability mishaps at other companies.
“Make sure you can live with the services and availability,” Vaughan advises. “Parts availability is a huge part of any piece of equipment, so that’s really what I think you are buying more than the equipment.”
Mammen also acknowledges that the drawbacks of a bad installation will prove to be lessons for the future.
“I have learned a couple things when using a new vendor,” he says. He recommends that, when buying a machine from a company you’ve never worked with previously, negotiate terms into the contract such as late installation fees, warranties, etc. to protect yourself.
And although it’s not a possibility for every company, Mammen advises that having a first-of-its-kind machine has had benefits that outweigh the drawbacks.
“There’s competitive advantage of course; my competition here locally doesn’t have this machine,” he says. “The other advantage is that we’re getting capabilities added to suit our particular needs. When they standardize this machine that might not be available,” says
He says that the arrangement has been a win-win for both Mammen Glass and
“We helped them learn what features are needed in this market because we’ve discovered, and they’ve discovered, the requirements are different here than in Europe.”
Since a piece of equipment is a significant investment, fabricators will want to research the return on their investment. In some cases, it may be possible to work with the machinery manufacturer to research if and when investment in new machinery will pay for itself, and the amount of time it will take to recoup the money put into the equipment.
“I would suggest asking your sales representative for a payback analysis,” says van
Brown agrees that research is critical but, as mentioned, it all comes down to plunging in, making the purchase and hoping for the best.
“So far, so good, knock on wood,” says Brown.
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