GREENFIELD, Ind -- Life was good at Indy Metalworks Inc, but there is always room for improvement.

Up-close view shows the ESAB cutting machine at work.
GREENFIELD, Ind. - Indy Metalworks, Inc. fabricates ductwork and other sheet metal components for sale to commercial and residential hvac contractors. Life was good, but there is always room for improvement. Steady demand for sheet metal components was there, but the work was rather tedious, not exactly high-tech or particularly speedy.

Since company president James Herrin and his partner, Lynn White, started the company in a two-car garage in 1995, Indy Metalworks has experienced steady, rapid growth. Within two years of its modest beginnings, the company moved its operations into a 13,000-sq.- ft. industrial plant. The company and its nine-member work force marked the first year of the millennium with total annual sales of $1.6 million and set a goal for $2 million in sales for 2001. To meet this goal, Indy Metalworks knew it would have to find a CNC cutting machine that could meet its growing production demands.

Herrin says the key to Indy Metalworks' growth has been meeting the demand for concentric diffusers - an efficient device that combines air supply and return functions in a single, ceiling-mounted unit. Commercial hvac contractors increasingly rely on concentric diffusers for warehouse and strip mall applications. According to Herrin, by April 2000, Indy Metalworks was receiving $25,000 to $50,000 in orders each month for concentric diffusers.

Matching the company's production to this demand became a challenge. "We were cutting all of the parts by hand," Herrin explains. "Using electric shears and tin snips to cut 26-to-20 gauge galvanized steel, it took three people an entire day to cut enough parts for 10 concentric diffusers."

Producing the foil-backed liners for the concentric diffusers required some painstaking handwork. "We had to cut a 13" x 16" rectangular opening within 1/4 inch of the sides of the liner," Herrin says. "It was difficult to do so without tearing the material."

Finished products include various connectors and a key item, concentric diffusers.

New mechanized gantry

Seeking a solution to this production bottleneck, Herrin contacted an area cutting equipment distributor, and learned that ESAB Cutting Systems had just introduced a new mechanized gantry cutting machine designed specifically for the hvac industry. Incorporated into the new Piecemaker 2 cutting system was ESAB's patented capability to combine thermal and non-thermal cutting heads on a single gantry-mounted carriage. The combination of waterjet and plasma cutting heads enables the machine to make high-speed plasma cuts in metal ductwork and precision waterjet cuts in virtually any material, including foil-backed fiberglass insulation.

Indy Metalworks purchased one of ESAB's first Piecemaker 2 cutting systems in September, 2000. "Initial set up of the machine took about one week," Herrin recalls. "They also sent someone to train me and another operator for two days."

Herrin was pleased with how quickly Indy Metalworks was able to put the new machine to work - and how well. "We began by using the plasma head at the 28-amp setting to cut parts from 4' x 10' galvanized sheets. We could cut up to 30 parts in about eight minutes," he says. "We could also cut material as thick as 3/8 inch."

Using the Piecemaker 2, a single operator now requires only three hours to produce enough parts for 10 concentric diffusers - the same work that previously required three people an entire day to complete by hand. The Piecemaker 2's waterjet capability virtually eliminates tearing as it cuts foil-backed liners for the concentric diffusers at a rate of 21 pieces in 12 minutes.

Herrin says the Piecemaker 2's standard Vision CNC control includes a pre-programmed library of common hvac parts, and custom parts programs can be added. "Basically you can do anything you want to do," Herrin explains. "We do a lot of specialized designs by working offline with the Shop Data software that came with the system, and then downloading the programs to the machine."

Indy Metalworks operates its Piece-maker 2 cutting machine 10 hours a day with little downtime. "It's been very durable - no problems," says Herrin. "It holds good tolerances. If you compare one part to another, you can't tell the difference. It's really built well," he adds.