Hawk Custom Sheet Metal is a diversified
custom sheet metal shop serving a variety of customers in central
Alberta. The Red Deer, Alta.-based shop’s customer base includes the
food processing, hotel and restaurant, oil and gas, agriculture,
commercial and industrial heating and ventilation, and custom
fabrication services industries.
Hawk invests fairly regularly in new technology. About two years ago, it installed its first fiber laser, a Bystronic BySprint 3kW fiber laser, and a second press brake. It has benefited from the speed and design capabilities of the laser. But as a visit to the shop attests, it’s the combination of technology and the know-how of the Hawk team that keeps the fabricator successful.
Hawk's laser operator Harley MacKnight at the controls of the Bystronic BySprint 3-kW fiber laser.
Hawk has been under the proprietorship
of Mel and Minnie Steer since June 1995. The company now employs 31
full-time employees in a 13,100-sq.-ft. shop, and it works with a
variety of materials, including mild steel, stainless steel, galvanized
steel, aluminum, and copper.
Beyond its investment in the fiber
laser, the shop is equipped with a ¼-in. by 12-ft. power shear; a
200-ton Bystronic CNC press brake; a 150-ton Bystronic CNC press brake; a
95-ton by 12-ft. power brake; a 25-ton Pullmax CNC punching machine; a
10-ft. by 14-gauge Cidan CNC folder; a tubing roller; and welding
machines for GTAW, GMAW, SMAW, and spot welding. The shop also has
various sheet metal rollers and formers, as well as a selection of
finishing grinders and polishers. Basically, any tool that could be used
to finish a part is on the shop floor.
The Pullmax CNC punching machine was the Steer’s first investment in a CNC machine. “The
laser has taken a lot of the work away from that machine,” said Mel
“The fiber laser is our second laser. It replaced a Bystronic
BySprint 2.2 kW CO2 laser that we had for six years.”
The biggest difference the Steers and their team have noticed with the fiber laser is the increase in speed.
“The speed difference is particularly
great in the lighter-gauge material,” said Randy Mullin, one of three
full-time programmers on the Hawk team. “Anything under a 1/4 inch is
much faster on the fiber. After that the speeds remain comparable to the
CO2 laser on materials thicker than a ¼ in. The majority of our work is
10 gauge and thinner so the increased speeds have been fantastic.”
quality of cut on aluminum has been higher on the fiber,” said Steer.
“Our utility bills have also been lower, and our consumable costs have
dropped. Other than the nozzles, there’s not much that needs to be
changed out on the fiber lasers. You don’t have to worry about the
alignment of mirrors, and you don’t have the extra laser gases or
There are also advantages in design parameters. Because they are able to get finer cuts on the fiber laser, the Hawk team has been able to be more creative with some of their designs. For instance, some garbage receptacles being cut during our visit to the shop floor were being designed to click and bolt together like a Meccano set. Cutting with a CO2 probably would have required the job be finished with a more time-consuming weld.
Mullin also noted that the difference in the controls was negligible.
“Press brake controls have changed much more than laser controls,” Mullin explained. “Programming is where we saw the most difference because we switched from Bystronic’s version 6 to version 7. That was completely different. In version 7, Bystronic has partnered with SolidWorks for their design software, and if you design using that software, it offers a direct interchange with their BySoft proprietary software. We don’t use that because we prefer to use Autodesk®’s Inventer™ because it works better for programming sheet metal parts. Because of this, importing takes longer, but the programming of the part takes less time.”
Like many custom shops, Hawk can’t take complete advantage of all the nesting capabilities of newer fiber laser controls. For instance, some shops will run a sheet only if they’ve got 80 per cent utilization of it. As Mullin noted, that’s just not realistic for Hawk’s diverse custom work. Sometimes the laser will run full sheets for a day or more, but just as often it is running parts for short-run projects.
“To increase our turnaround, we run whatever we can on a given sheet at a given time,” Mullin said. “And we will always nest into the smallest sheet that we can. The judgment of what we use and when is in the hands of our laser operator. Once a week he does an inventory so that he is aware of exactly what is available to him.”
The challenges created by the variety of
work the shop does also make it an interesting place to work. The
Steers have managed to keep a good, steady core of employees for quite
some time now. Mel and Minnie say that it’s partly because of that
variety of work the team is able to do on the job. When Canadian
Fabricating & Welding visited, several projects were underway – some
ductwork for HVAC (which accounts for about 50 per cent of the
company’s business, including doing installation work), the laser
cutting of garbage receptacles for a local community, and a stainless
steel fume hood for a kitchen.
The other important distinction in
the way that work is completed at the shop is that once cut parts come
off the laser, whoever takes that particular job is then responsible for
it until it is complete. That person marshals it through forming,
welding/assembly and finishing.
“I think it keeps everyone more
versatile here,” said Steer. “The laser is the only machine with a
designated operator. In fact, one of our welders even does some of our
Steer also thinks that the company’s continued investment in new technology keeps people interested.
equipment we have certainly makes a difference,” he explained. “As we
started acquiring more advanced CNC equipment, our guys really jumped
onboard with that. None of them had any experience with that type of
That investment is unlikely to slow down,
either. Mullin mentioned that the company is considering investing in a
new press brake that they will be able to program from the office,
something that wasn’t possible when they bought their first press brake,
and a technological advance they haven’t been able to take advantage of
“We could program for our other brakes in the office, but
transferring those files to the brakes themselves is more complicated
for us than just programming at the machines,” said Mullin. “Introducing
that technology to the shop floor will save our team a lot of time.”
What is most important for Mel and Minnie and their team right now, however, is that they remain busy and in demand.
As published by Canadian Metalworking, December 2016.
By: Rob Colman, Editor, Canadian Fabricating & Welding