With capacity limitations hampering its ability to meet the needs of its customers, Larsen Engineering recently upgraded its workshop with a suite of new equipment from Bystronic. The latest acquisitions are already proving their worth, opening up new opportunities for the business.

Established in 2000, Larsen Engineering is a diversified manufacturer of complex sheet metal componentry, primarily servicing customers in and around Albury & Wodonga, on the border between Victoria and New South Wales. With approximately 50 staff, the company operates from three manufacturing plants totalling around 5,000sqm, located in Baranduda in south-east Wodonga, and in Lavington in north Albury. Larsen provides specialised engineering solutions to a highly diverse client base, with infrastructure, agriculture and defence representing key markets.

Still very much a family company, General Manager Ben Larsen is the third generation of Larsens leading manufacturing in the region, with his father Tim overseeing operations as Director.

“We are a supply chain manufacturer supporting local industries,” says Ben. “We don’t necessarily focus on our own proprietary products, but we supply to all walks of life between Canberra and Wangaratta, with some other work in Melbourne and Sydney every now and again. Our main focus is on laser cutting, but we also have plasma cutting, powder-coating and so on.”

The company has always prided itself on maintaining a competitive edge by investing in the latest state-of-the-art manufacturing technology. This has also seen Larsen expanding the capabilities it can offer, providing a range of secondary services such as metal forming and bending, welding and fabrication, assembly, sand-blasting and powder-coating.

“We’ve been quite fortunate in maintaining five or six customers that are our bread and butter,” says Ben. “And we’ve supported these core customers by tailoring our new facilities and infrastructure to service their needs. We’ve grown as they’ve grown, and expanded into specific technologies to provide them with a better service, best supporting their development of products and services.”

Having established a strong customer base and a solid reputation, one problem for Larsen has been in maintaining its ability to stay on top of demand and fulfil the requirements of its clients. Around three years ago the company decided to replace one of its original machines with a new 6kW ByAutonom 3015 fibre (CO2) laser and a ByTrans Extended material loader from Bystronic. For a while this proved sufficient to meet demand. However, as Larsen’s customers grew accustomed to the reliability of service Larsen could now ensure, it wasn’t long before the same problems began to occur once again.

“Basically when we commissioned the ByAutonom 3015 CO2 laser in 2015, we were able to service our existing contracts really well,” says Ben. “As our servicability improved we quickly filled our capacity, causing us to loose our edge on the market once again.”

It was time to for the company to think about investing again.

System upgrade

“We’d been running at capacity with our two lasers for almost two years,” explains Ben. “Our team was working on two shifts with consistent weekend work. It was a very demanding period but our team managed to deliver on our customer’s requirements. So instead of adding another machine of the same calibre, our team investigated technologies that could futureproof our position and also grow our market share.”

Larsen ultimately decided on a 10kW ByStar Fiber 3015 fibre laser cutting system from Bystronic. The Bystar Fiber can handle a nominal sheet size of 3,000mm x 1,500mm, with a maximum simultaneous positioning speed of 169m per minute. The machine has been designed to offer maximum operating convenience with a transparent, intuitive process control via the ByVision Cutting user interface.

To complement the laser cutting system, Larsen also invested in two further machines from Bystronic: a ByTrans Extended automatic loading and unloading system, and a ByTower flexible storage tower. Ben explains: “Essentially we’ve doubled our laser capacity with the new machine. We also invested heavily in automation for materials loading and unloading and part-sorting.”

The ByTrans Extended allows faster job-processing by decreasing set-up times, enabling higher machine utilisation. It is a flexible system, suitable not just for storage/return transfer but also for large parts removal, as well as the preparation of plastic protective separators for placement between the metal sheets. The ByTrans Extended also has two cassettes, making the system more autonomous.

The ByTower enables regularly used materials to always be available by storing them directly next to the machine. Both raw material and processed sheets can be loaded or removed easily with a forklift truck. The shuttle table remains freely accessible and is automatically loaded and unloaded, further enhancing machine utilisation.

“So now we’ve got an additional eight cassettes,” adds Ben. “That makes it a total of 17 stations across three machines that we can pick and choose from, whether that’s for raw material or unloading of parts or unloading waste materials and so on.”

One additional positive factor regarding the installation of the new system has been the service and after-sales support from Bystronic Australia. For Ben, this was important as Larsen had in the past had problems with previous suppliers, to the extent that it was threatening to undermine the team’s confidence in expanding and acquiring new technology.

“Bystronic equipment is great, but you need that support behind you,” he explains. “If we needed a replacement part, we had previously had to order it from Europe. Now with Bystronic’s Melbourne sales and service branch we have direct access to inventory of consumables and components that can be despatched same day. Bystronic troubleshoots quickly, they’re available and they can get their service staff here quickly. The installation was also a relativly seamless process.”

Capacity gains

The new machinery has provided a big boost for Larsen. It has restored the company’s competitive edge, not just over local businesses providing similar services, but with manufacturers further afield in the big cities.

“The project has improved our lead times, which was our ultimate goal,” says Ben. “At full capacity we were failing to deliver five days turnaround for local customers, which meant we were loosing existing work to our cometitors from the metropolitan areas. Now we can essentially deliver in three or four days with capacity to service urgent orders such as components required for breakdowns.

“Essentially the new investment has enabled us to meet customer requirements. We’ve had some contracts that we literally couldn’t take because we didn’t have the capacity for them. So now we’ve been able to shore them up with our customers and provide them with security when it comes to reliability. They know they can get it and they don’t have to worry about how busy we are or if there are other jobs interfering with production schedule.”

That increased capacity has in turn extended across Larsen’s secondary capabilities, creating opportunities for the company to diversify its service offering. Larsen can now offer these secondary capabilities more widely across its customer base, where previously they had to be restricted to certain key clients.

“Our dedicated sandblasting and powder-coating facility has been extended to two shifts with the influx of work from the new machine,” says Ben. “Many secondary operations were restricted within the company, they weren’t open to the general market because they were servicing specific contracts with existing customers. Now we’ve been able to increase capacity everywhere, so now we can service general market rather than just being defined by a select amount of customers.”

While the new machinery investments are opening up exciting new possibilities for Larsen, they are also creating new employment opportunities. The company has already made some additions to its head count, with more likely to follow.

“We have already increased our workforce and transitioned many staff into higher-skilled positions in preparation for the projected growth.” Says Ben. “The project has created many full-time job opportunites, including six new full-time positions, not only for the laser department, but for the secondary operations which have grown as a result of the expansion.”

The company is also undergoing an extensive rebranding: “We have done a redevelopment of our logo to reflect a new chapter of Larsen, and modernised of all of our marketing materials and our website. We’ve also included a video to showcase the vision and philosophy behind our business.”

Given the positive direction the company is moving in, it seems inevitable that Larsen will eventually start to run up against a fresh set of limits on its capacity to meet demand. However, with the new Bystronic system, Ben is confident that in terms of laser cutting at least, that point is some way off.

“We have been successful in delivering a huge amount of capacity to the market,” he says. “It’s really incredible”

Bystronic Australia will be holding an Open House event on 29-30 November at its showroom in Cranbourne West, Victoria. The event will be a chance to meet the team at Bystronic, learn more about the machinery range, and network over food and drink. For more information visit the Bystronic website.