This Solera project features prominently in the Savanna Bazaar outdoor mall in northeast Calgary. Picture: Solera.

Cost control is a critical consideration for any fabrication shop that hopes to be competitive in today’s market. One way to manage these costs is to bring in as much work as possible in-house so you don’t waste time on shipping costs and delivery delays. This is the approach Jay Singh, president of Solera Corp., has championed since buying the company 11 years ago.

Assembly to production

Based in Mississauga, Ontario, Solera is an architectural lighting manufacturer that designs and manufactures custom systems for its customers.

Singh was an employee of the company before purchasing it.

“Before the purchase, we were assemblers of lighting units,” Singh said. “The previous owner was not interested in continuing with the manufacturing process, but once I bought the business I immediately pointed him in that direction. “

Singh started the transformation with a saw, press brake and turret punch press.

“When you grow things you have to buy in volume to get a good price,” he said. “It can be difficult for a bespoke business like ours. “

Soon, Singh added two more punch presses and a vacuum forming machine for plastics to its 20,000 square feet. store.

“Before that, we were spending $ 200,000 a year on plastic,” he said. “It just didn’t make sense.”

With the growth of the LED market, Singh invested in a clean room to start producing LEDs in the facility.

Growth and change

Eventually, the growth of the business prompted Singh to move to a new 40,000 square foot building. installation, at which point he added a line of paint and updated his cutting practices.

Here we see an example of Solera products installed in Toronto – unique lighting designed and manufactured at the company’s facility in Mississauga.

“With the new facility, I decided it was time to ditch punching and invest in a laser,” he said. “The 6 kW fiber I bought replaced the three punch presses I had. I had to see the big picture. With the laser, I don’t have a tool setup, it doesn’t require an expert to handle it at all times, and there is no need for dies or sharpening tools.

It was important to Singh that he also control his costs associated with the cut. It meant managing the gas supply.

Solera uses aluminum in all of its products, so the laser would cut aluminum by 40 thousandths to ¾ of an inch. thick. It’s important to Singh that his team don’t do too much post-processing of parts, so he uses nitrogen to cut to ensure excellent edge quality with little to no oxidation.

Instead of purchasing bulk packs from a supplier, Singh invested in an on-site nitrogen generation system from CRU Air + Gas. The system consists of a BOGE low pressure compressor, air treatment, a Holtec pressure swing adsorption (PSA) nitrogen generator and a BOGE high pressure booster system.

“It’s about controlling costs,” he said. “Basically we run our laser 9-10 hours a day. Using so much nitrogen, a bulk delivery approach does not make sense.

Basics of nitrogen generation

The increased costs involved in the wholesale delivery of assist gas has encouraged stores like Solera to consider using shop air or generating assist gas in-house for laser cutting. . One of the main reasons for this is how the technology has developed over the past decade and the cost advantages over bulk.

The purity of on-site nitrogen production reached a stable level of 99.9995%, which is above grade 5.0 (99.999% pure). If you’re cutting thick materials that require a fade-free edge and trying to reduce post-processing, this level of purity can be a real boon. Obviously, working with thin gauge mild steel probably wouldn’t require this. But in a store like Solera, working with ¾-in. aluminum is a definite advantage.

So how does the process work? Solera’s system uses pressure swing adsorption (PSA) to generate nitrogen, a method that is becoming quite common. Each module has two pressure tanks filled with a carbon molecular sieve (CMS). The system passes purified compressed air through one of the vessels, whereby oxygen molecules in the air are adsorbed while circulating through the CMS. This adsorption process continues until the activated carbon is saturated with oxygen molecules as the nitrogen-rich stream flows to the receptor. The same process then begins in the second vessel as the saturated vessel regenerates.

The system is equipped to manage one to eight modules so that companies can increase their capacity as needed. The purity level, feed rate and nitrogen output can all be adjusted according to user needs.

“The way we size a system is that a manufacturer will give minimum purity and the required flow rate,” said Shannon de Souza, president of CRU Air + Gas. “When they give the flow, the manufacturer usually provides it as a nozzle size. When you switch to larger size nozzles, the gas consumption increases dramatically. We also need to know what kind of metal the customer is going to cut. Solera, for example, uses a lot of aluminum and a little bit of stainless steel. Oxidation of these metals is a problem because you get a different finish on these metals depending on the purity. What may be important in terms of purity for one customer will not be important for another. We had a client who uses air because he doesn’t care about oxidation. In this case, they are content with compressed air. As long as you have high quality dry air, for some companies the finish will be quite good and any oxidation is taken care of in post processing.

This facility is located in Buena Park, California.

With higher purity, you spend more to generate nitrogen, so the ROI of a generation system takes longer, but it is still attractive compared to bulk nitrogen. The object of the game is to achieve the ideal purity for your applications.

“With a given system, the higher the purity of the nitrogen you generate, the lower your flow rate,” said de Souza. Standard PSA nitrogen generation systems cannot operate above approximately 150 psig, so nitrogen pressure is increased after exiting the generator to meet the needs of the cut and material thickness. used. Higher pressure will give a sharper edge on a part.

Automate as needed

Solera has the same challenge as any other manufacturer today: finding experienced operators to operate their machines. Through automation, Solera doesn’t really try to reduce field staff, as it speeds up delivery to customers, keeps costs reasonable, and creates an environment where inexperienced people can be brought into the field and trained as needed. over time.

Another example is Singh’s most recent investment. Earlier this year, it introduced an Amada HRB series press brake with a patented automatic tool changer, which the company says can achieve even complex tool setups in four minutes or less.

“It’s a huge time saver for me,” Singh said. “We can produce the bend sequences offline while we do the nesting for the laser, and then when the parts arrive at the machine, the operator simply scans a barcode and the setup is loaded into the machine. And everything is precise; the bending is precise from the start and you can do four steps in one setup, which makes it much faster to bend.

“The time savings associated with the fact that operators don’t just have to change tools is a huge saving for us,” he continued. “But I also didn’t need a highly trained press brake operator on the machine at all times, which is helpful as they are hard to find. “

The relative ease of use of the automatic tool changer on the press brake and the laser allowed Singh to train his team of 30 people; each person can now operate a number of machines in the workshop according to their needs.

“It’s easier to hire people when you have these technologies,” he said. “And in the process, we control more costs. This is what keeps customers coming back by reducing costs and delivering quickly.

Editor-in-Chief Robert Colman can be reached at [email protected]

Solera Corp.,