New customer mix comes with laser investment

Ranfar Steel diversifies with introduction of fibre laser

The old adage “the customer is always right” often helps push shops to try new technologies and expand their capabilities. Ranfar Steel Ltd. has benefited from such customer advice. When a client wanted to source more work from them, they knew it was time to invest in a fibre laser. The Courtice, Ont., shop has gained from the move, getting more work from existing customers while expanding its client base.

Key Equipment

Ranfar was founded in 2005, but President Randy Farmer has been involved in the fabricating industry in Durham Region since 1969 when he started sweeping floors in his future father-in-law’s shop.

“I started off building handrails, cutting them to size with a manual saw, and fixing chairs from local churches,” said Farmer. “From there I developed my skills and became a press brake operator. I taught myself how to weld, how to read drawings, and worked my way up to the role of general manager.”

Back then Farmer did a lot of heavy plate work for steel mills and became quite skilled on the press brake. Not surprisingly, when he launched Ranfar he equipped himself with a press brake. He also acquired a shear and started fabricating railway and telecommunication equipment. Gradually Farmer acquired more equipment and developed his team.

“We are heavy on equipment because in Durham Region there are a lot of shops that do assembly work but are not equipped for cutting and processing material,” said Farmer. “That’s where we can add value for our clients.”

For this reason, the variety of equipment in the shop almost outnumbers the employees. This includes two shears, two press brakes, a high-definition plasma table, two angle rollers, a plate roller, a high-production saw, and the new laser.

Laser Expansion

Most of Ranfar’s work is in hot-rolled steel, but the shop is now certified for welding aluminum—something it is doing a lot more since acquiring the laser.

Before Ranfar purchased the laser, thin-gauge parts were cut on the shear and other forms were cut with an ironworker. Meantime the workhorse in the shop for most steel cutting was a 6- by 12-ft. Hypertherm 260 HD plasma table, which can cut up to 2.5-in. steel plate.

“For most of the history of the company, we’ve done larger fabrication jobs that suited the plasma table perfectly,” said Farmer. “But we wanted to offer more services to existing customers. In fact, it was because of one customer that wanted to source more from us that we finally made the move to purchase the laser. A lot of companies don’t like to single-source their parts, but this customer really liked our dependability, so they encouraged us to go this route.”

The laser, purchased from Access Machinery, is a DURMA HD-F 3015 with a 5- by 10-ft. table, a 4-kW IPG laser, a Precitec F150 ProCutter cutting head, a rack-andpinion motion system, and DURMA’s Cloud online management system. The company’s general manager, Andy Yang, programs all parts in the office.

“We decided to go with the DURMA because it’s a good name and Access Machinery gave us a very competitive price,” said Farmer. “It was installed in May 2019 and was up and running in about two weeks. Access gave us all the training we needed, though there was more available. With our experience on the plasma table, Andy’s expertise with programming, and other team members’ experience on similar machines, it wasn’t a difficult transition to use it. My grandson Jacob runs the laser in the shop for halfdays five days a week as part of a high school co-op program and the tech is second nature to him, having used computers his whole life. The controls are fairly straightforward. I would say it took us about a month to feel completely comfortable with it and able to benefit fully from its capabilities.”

Client Variety

Farmer noted that having the laser has already changed the shop’s customer mix.

“We used to have a lot of business from a small group of consistent customers,” he said. “Now we have about double the number of customers and the work is spread more evenly among them, which reduces stress when one or two orders drop off.”

Since purchasing the laser, Ranfar has added two people to the shop floor and is looking for a third—a welder who can handle aluminum work.

“We now have two welders who can do aluminum work, but we want a third,” said Farmer. “Because if they can weld aluminum, they can weld any steel work we have without a problem.”

The aluminum welding the company is now doing has more precise specs than the plasma table could manage.

The finish the laser provides is also saving time for the shop.

“Steel and stainless steel come out of the laser very clean,” said Farmer. “Aluminum still needs a little finishing work, but it isn’t substantial.”

Farmer believes the shop is using its new laser at about 75 per cent capacity at this stage. This is part of the reason for the recent hires.

“We tend to cross-train most people on a number of machines, but we want to make sure that we have key people who only run the laser, the plasma, or the press brakes,” he said.

Having a third welder will help with requests for assembly work, which are growing with the increase in cutting and bending requests. Yang noted that one of the benefits with the laser is that they can etch directions onto parts to ensure that assemblies are made correctly.

“We’ve been able to etch on the part exactly where another piece has to sit when they are welded together,” Yang explained. “When you better understand the technology, it’s these little things that save time and increase efficiencies elsewhere.”

New Horizons

Farmer sees more change in the shop’s future. For instance, one of its two shears will likely be retired soon to make room for either a bigger fibre laser table or a laser tube cutter.

“We are adding two new cranes and we already have a pipe bender and angle roller,” said Farmer. “Considering requests we’re getting out in the market, that is a viable option.”

Until then the goal is to get the laser fully occupied. If work continues at the pace it has been recently, that shouldn’t take long.

Editor Robert Colman can be reached at
Ranfar Steel Ltd.,
Access Machinery,