Located in the spacious flatlands of St. Joseph, MI, Liberty Steel Fabricating Inc. rejects the notion of impossibility. That's because owner and founder Andrew Gantenbein embraces change as a business strategy: Converting risk into opportunity is what his manufacturing company does best.
"Rejecting but not fearing failure is an integral part of the evolution of this business," he says. "It's a part of my own evolution. It's how we've grown."
Touring the facility, with its myriad of machines as diversified and sophisticated as the finished parts waiting for shipment around them, a visitor appreciates Gantenbein's vision. Founded in 1998, the 2,200sqm (23,500sqft) facility has handled an average of over 800 different orders per month with an average lead-time of eight days per job. Impressively, the majority of the projects handled have been prototypes. Specializing in the medical, transportation, automotive, food, and aerospace industries, Liberty Steel's objective was to remain flexible and fast so it could handle any type of job without compromising overall efficiency.
To achieve this, Gantenbein sought technology that would simultaneously curb set-up time while expanding plant capabilities. A new laser-cutting system, a Bystronic 4.0Kw Bystar with shuttle table, was installed in December 2002 to remedy the previous system's excessive downtime. With this in mind, Gantenbein was concerned why so many users had to return their laser-cutting system's resonator back to the manufacturer for maintenance.
"This means that the resonator returned to you was not the original resonator you purchased with your system," he explains. "After a rebuild, you essentially have a resonator in your machine that has been used by another customer."
Gantenbein set out to make Bystronic's technology not only reliable but also repairable, so as in this case the laser's resonator could be maintained at the facility.
Processing materials up to 12" (up to 0.5") stainless steel and up to 10mm (0.375") aluminum, the Bystar with shuttle table has evolved into a powerful asset for the company. Following installation, operators were cutting 6mm (0.25") aluminum in eight- to 10-hour shifts around the clock to keep up with demand. Despite the highly reflective nature of aluminum, they were able to run the job lights out--and they did so effortlessly for years.
"We simply loaded up the machine and let the...