Minden manufacturer adds laser cutting system
July 5, 2014
What started as an innovation for improving its own production process has turned into a new line of business for Burns Machinery Inc.
Six months ago, the Minden-based maker of machinery for forging huge metal rings for aerospace and other industries purchased an advanced laser-beam cutting machine, one of only six such systems installed in North America and the only one located in the West.
The 33-year-old company made the million dollar investment to more efficiently produce motorcycle sprockets for one of its main customers and next-door neighbor — Dirt Tricks Inc., a 12-year-old maker of motor bike parts also founded by Greg Burns, president and chief executive officer of Burns Machinery.
"We'd been at the mercy of machine shops in California and it took four to six weeks," says Burns. "Now we can have them cut in two hours, and in 48 hours we have a finished product in hand."
That's allowed Burns Machinery to better control its inventory, make parts as soon as they are ordered and at lower cost. But the machine, which uses a 4,000-watt laser to make cuts as thin as a human hair, was only cranking about five days a month. So the company established a fiber laser division – online at nvlasercut.com – to cut metal for all kinds of customers, from agriculture to mining, says Ken Stokes, who heads the company's sales operations. To drum up business, Stokes has been knocking on doors and educating area manufacturers about the system and how it differs from traditional, CO2 laser cutters, which make cuts 20 times wider.
"Any metal sheet or plate that's cut to a two-dimensional profile can be more cheaply cut on a laser," says Stokes. "It's also letting people know they don't have to wait three weeks for work. Our turnaround is one to two days if we have metals."
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The division now has about 20 customers and the machine is working at about 60 percent capacity.
"We're picking up new contracts daily," says Burns. "We'll ultimately add a second shift and run two shifts, probably in less than two months."
About a quarter of Burns Machinery business is making custom-designed ring mills and ring sizers for customers such as Rolls-Royce Plc, Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.
"The balance is production machining, milling, lathe, grinding and now laser cutting," says Burns, who says the company has over the years accumulated about 16 CNC, or computer numerical control, machines.
Burns is also busy working with an informal group of local manufacturers to create a uniform process for finding and training workers to operate CNC machinery, a perennial headache for all of the companies.
"Finding people with the skills we need is a serious problem," says Burns. "I've had a great deal of trouble finding people so I've resorted to taking people with the right aptitude and training them in house. So we're working on putting together a consortium to pre-screen people and create a certification process."
Like the benefits of laser cutting, Burns says he hopes to get the word out on manufacturing jobs.
"People think they'll graduate from the University Of Nevada, Reno, with an engineering degree and get a job making $75,000," says Burns. "But there are jobs here already for people who can program CNC machines."