Creating a Business Case for Laser Inspection of Sheet Metal Components:
Century Manufacturing Co., Inc.
How does a five-decade-old, privately-owned New England sheet metal job shop remain competitive and profitable even during challenging economic times? According to Moe St. Germain, chief operating officer of Century Manufacturing Co., Inc., of Holliston, Massachusetts, “A fair price, on-time delivery and consistent product quality is the recipe. But having a tangible way to demonstrate the quality of each job to the customer is the secret ingredient.” To achieve this, St. Germain and his team rely on the Virtek® LaserQC® rapid inspection system that employs lasers to capture more than 500 data points per second and is accurate to within 0.05mm (0.002 inches). The system compares the finished product to a customer’s CAD file and produces a detailed report with all dimensions and deviations from tolerances.
Part Inspection that’s Completely Objective
Century installed the Virtek LaserQC in 2000 and uses it to perform first article inspections and in-process work for every job. “Some of our parts are so complicated, it can take several hours for an employee to inspect them using vernier calipers and micrometers. With manual inspection, accuracy depends on the person doing the measuring. With the Virtek LaserQC, it takes only a minute or two, and it’s completely objective – nothing ever touches the part.”
Return on Investment in Less than One Year
When companies grapple with the bottlenecks that manual inspection creates and strive to maximize green-light time on costly press brakes, punch presses and laser cutting systems, many of them realize a return on their investment in a Virtek LaserQC system in less than a year. “It’s great at catching errors caused by a broken punch or an operator using an incorrect punch,” said St. Germain. “And we include an inspection report with every job we ship.”
Quality Inspection as a Sales Tool
The Virtek LaserQC also serves as a sales tool with new customers. “Last month, we quoted 50 new jobs,” said St. Germain. “We invite potential customers into our shop and ask them to bring one of their parts. At the beginning of their visit, we scan the part using the Virtek LaserQC. Because the system is so fast, we’re able to reverse engineer the part and make it while they’re touring the shop; and by the time they’re ready to leave, we hand them their part. It’s a pretty powerful example of our capabilities.”
Century Manufacturing is a 100,000-square-foot immaculate facility located 25 miles from Boston, Massachusetts, that has been ISO certified for a decade. Among other things, the company performs sheet metal fabrication and stamping for biomedical and homeland security devices, telecommunications products and automotive applications.
The Virtek LaserQC has been scanning 30 to 50 parts a day for 11 years. “Aside from occasionally replacing the glass on which the parts lie because it gets scratched, we’ve never had to service the system. We just install updates to the software as they become available and the system runs itself.”
When asked how he would summarize quality control in the sheet metal industry today, he says, “With quality at the forefront of every customer’s mind, if a guy can’t create a business case for a system like this, he’s not going to be around for long.”