Uptime People

Aug. 1, 2006
Fabricating plate is their business; laser is how they do it - efficiently

Fabricating plate is their business; laser is how they do it - efficiently

David A. Belforte

They call themselves the “Uptime People,” offering “intelligent efficiency” to increase customers’ productivity. How do they do this? By stocking a massive inventory of steel plate and offering multiple services, including laser cutting and plasma and oxy-fuel burning, drilling, machining, breaking, rolling, and surface blasting. And by responding quickly and effectively to customer needs and delivery times.

With 12 lasers in operation, Port City Metal Services processes hundreds of orders a day for a very diverse customer base.
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The company is only 19-years old, starting as a two-man plate burning shop, Port City Plate Burning, located along the Arkansas River in Tulsa. It was taken over in 1996 by a young aeronautical engineer, Dave Carter, who decided that this industry was ripe for conversion to computer control that could revolutionize a rather stolid business. And he was right; 15 years later the company, Port City Metal Services (PCM)-now with 200 employees-may be the premier laser plate cutting shop in North America, competing for business all over the USA.

With 10 lasers running 5 two-shift days and 2 one-shift days per week, they are pushing out hundreds of orders a day for a very diverse customer base. They cut mostly steel, processing thousands of orders a month.

Troy Kuske, director of sales and marketing, doesn’t mince any words: PCM is a laser plate cutting company that offers other value-added services such as welding, rolling, drilling, and machining. He says the company, located in Northeast Oklahoma, serves a diverse customer base comprising manufacturers of cranes, trucks, heat exchangers, military vehicles, and more, on both regional and national levels. What it offers is a quality laser cut part, delivered on-time, at very competitive prices.

Port City relocated in 1996 to a 65-acre industrial complex previously owned by a large pressure vessel making company. With 750,000 square feet of floor space under one roof, they are well placed to handle large orders for large parts, without stretching plant facilities.

Laser cutting is divided into two groups: heavy plate - all steel grades for 5/8 inch up to 1.0 inch is processed on two 6.0kW laser powered Tanaka cutting machines, one that has a 240-foot bed and two laser gantries and another that is 140-feet long with one laser gantry. Because the lasers on these units are glycol cooled they are located in an unheated section of the shop. Six TRUMPF laser cutters, two 6050s and four 3050s are located in an adjacent heated section because they use water cooling for the lasers.

Port City keeps these laser cutters fully engaged, running 85-90 percent of each shift. They do this by managing the machine loads to ensure that customers get the best delivery schedules. Currently they are running on a two-week turnaround for repeat customers but they can, and do, expedite orders when needed.

In a third area is the latest unit, a Mazak Fabri-Gear, six-axis cutter powered by a 4kW CO2 laser, which Kuske says has revolutionized their business by opening new markets for multi-axis cutting, especially in the structural steel market where they can custom cut from I beam to tube and pipe 3D shapes. Business is so good for this technology that they are considering adding more six-axis capability.

So what is it that Port City does so well that enables the company to sell to a growing geographic market? Service, in one word; providing customers with the cost advantages of inventorying cut parts so that they can run lean manufacturing in their plants. This is counter to other laser shops who have worked to eliminate inventory in their facility. Also by stocking a massive amount of steel plate they are able to negotiate the most attractive material rates, which they can pass on to their customers.

PCM strives to be a lean manufacturer even though it counters this with a huge inventory. Admittedly much of the plate inventory stored on the vast grounds of the plant is material that has already been partially cut for customers. Port City has a unique inventory tracking system that allows the production manager to find a certain type and thickness of steel, send a fork lift truck to the correct sector of the storage area, retrieve the partially cut plate, and haul it to the pertinent cutting machine. By storing partially cut plate the company can maximize its profit potential by utilizing every available square inch of plate.

In fact, Kuske says laser cutting offers an additional benefit; they can get more than 100 percent utilization of a plate because they can use the inside diameter drop from one project for another. He attributes this effective material usage to a finely tuned nesting program they use and the effectiveness of the planners who layout the jobs. A staff of 15 does all the nesting and design of part orders. From their input the production manager schedules the work loads and assigns the inventoried material locations.

At Port City all jobs are estimated for laser cutting whether they are actually cut by laser, plasma, or oxy-fuel. By so doing, when an order is placed the production manager can decide how to produce the cut part. Most times they use laser because of the high-quality edges produced. So some customers receive laser cut parts and are totally unaware that this is the case.

Kitting is another service the company offers that sets it apart from the competition. It will deliver, clearly labeled, laser cut parts, packaged together in project kits, each ready for immediate fit up and welding. This is another example of the “intelligent efficiency” that is a hallmark of this company.

Port City is a major factor in the region to the point where the company has recently been purchased by Metals USA, a large national metal cutting company. So expect to see the effects of the Uptime People spreading across the heavy plate user industry.

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