By placing bets on laser cutting, bending and sawing capacity, a processor seeks to avoid losing streaks
By Corinna Petry

he cyclical nature of America’s economy can take a toll on metal processors and distributors, especially when they are ill prepared for a dramatic change in fortunes. Prices plunge, and warehouses are left with too much material that needs to be written down. Or a pandemic stops work at thousands of construction sites for months at a time, which may mean the silencing of structural tube cutting machines.

Ways to push back against the inevitable ups and downs include diversifying the customer base, so that no one customer canceling orders will cause a giant loss, and diversifying one’s processing capabilities. Invest in bending equipment in the Southeast or a laser cutting system in the Great Plains, or both.

These are the strategies employed by Boyd Metals, which helped the company bring work inside that was once outsourced, thereby saving money for Boyd and Boyd’s customers. Because so many pieces of equipment are new, the company is also landing new business with clients that demand tight tolerances and shorter lead times.

Headquartered in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Boyd Metals has additional service centers in Little Rock, Arkansas; Oklahoma City; Joplin, Missouri; and Tyler, Texas. It sells carbon and stainless steels, aluminum, red metals and other industrial goods.

Audie Dennis, vice president and general manager of the Joplin service center, says that three of Boyd’s five locations (Fort Smith, Joplin and Oklahoma City) purchased three Prima Power Laser Genius 20240 model, 6000-watt laser cutting systems in late 2019 and 2020.

The Joplin, Missouri, service center installed a new Accurpress 435014 hydraulic press brake in December 2020.
“Joplin just installed a new Accurpress 435014 hydraulic press brake in December 2020.  The brake is a 350-ton, 14-foot unit with Elite CNC 6-axis gauge, which allows us to make the most complex parts,” Dennis says.

Joplin also has one of the three Prima Power lasers that Boyd Metals purchased. The table capacities on all three lasers are 80 by 160 inches. “In Joplin’s case, both the laser and the press brake have allowed us to bring in house an existing base of work that prior to this we have had to outsource,” he says.

Close-up of a Prima Power Laser Genius 20240 model
Top, close-up of a Prima Power Laser Genius 20240 model, 6000-watt laser in Joplin, Missouri; below, a wide view of the Joplin laser cutting system. Boyd Metals has purchased new equipment in order to quickly respond to customer requirements and build new business opportunities.
Joplin laser cutting system
The Prima Power lasers are equipped “with the latest technology to ensure the most consistent cuts and most accurate tolerances possible,” Dennis notes. “We can cut up to 1 inch thick on carbon, stainless, copper and brass and 11/4 inches thick on aluminum. All are equipped with Compaq servers to help ensure the machines run at maximum efficiency and that automation can move us from job to job quickly.”
Richard Schultz, vice president and general manager of the Oklahoma City service center, says the oil and gas industry is predominant in the region. The Energy Information Administration estimated in a Dec. 8 forecast that average annual U.S. crude oil production is likely to fall from 12.2 million barrels per day in 2019 to 11.3 million barrels in 2020 and 11.1 million barrels a day in 2021.
Petroleum products, which already faced declining demand, were “crushed by the pandemic,” acknowledges Schultz, which meant the company was “scrambling to keep the laser busy.” But it did find new markets—metal building parts, heavy equipment parts, farm implements and some oilfield equipment.
the customers love the quality. it’s another arrow in our quiver.
richard schultz, boyd metals
One example he cites is laser cutting “parts that go into containment systems for environmental spills. We also have bending capabilities here. So we laser cut and then it moves to the press brake to form.

“The customers love the quality,” Schultz says. “It’s better than our regular high-definition plasma cutter. It’s able to hold much tighter tolerances, particularly on thicker plate over 1/2 inch. Customers are tickled with it. It’s another arrow in our quiver.”

Ramping up
Over in Tyler, Texas, Vice President and General Manager Ronny Testa says his shop runs a high-definition plasma cutting table, two automated production saws, a tight tolerance bar saw and a 110-ton ironworker. The Tyler team recently installed a 350-ton, 16-foot Accurpress brake.
“We are working with mechanical contractors, metal building companies and OEMs, doing everything from energy-related equipment to agricultural equipment parts,” Testa says. One relatively new customer is a recycler of plastics. “They are burning and separating the oil from plastics. It’s a patented product for them and we are ramping up with them as they grow. We make parts to form heat containment systems.”

Also on the energy front, “there is a lot of bid work for solar projects,” says Testa, predicting, “We are going to see solar farms as part of the infrastructure stimulus plan [legislators] are talking about.”

Boyd Metals cross training
Boyd Metals looks inside first for people who can operate new equipmnt. Cross training of workers is also paramount.
Filling a niche
The Fort Smith service center also installed a new Prima Power laser system. According to Steve Harvey, vice president and general manager, “The industries we serve are varied; we support manufacturers in the food process industry and energy. Energy took a hit but we do have work in the pipeline when that rebounds.

“The laser is meeting our expectations so we are able to fill a niche. There are a lot of laser machines in our market but we are able to help with overflow. We are fulfilling customer needs and putting out a good product.”

Harvey’s team also installed is a semiautomatic 25-inch vertical saw with miter capability. “We are doing a lot for customers that are supporting transportation and logistics. Amazon, UPS and FedEx all need warehouse infrastructure like conveyors for package handling. We are also doing general construction and metal buildings,” says Harvey.

Cross training
With so much new equipment, skilled workers are crucial. “We are big believers in promoting from within,” says Dennis. “We look inside first for people who can operate new equipment. It’s a reward for them. With our new brake, we took someone from the warehouse. When we got our laser, we took an experienced employee to run it.

“In Oklahoma City,” he continues, “we repurposed our guys who run CNC machines to run high-definition plasma tables and now they also run the laser. We had an existing employee with experience with press brakes who helped us. We do send our people out for training, and they pick it up really quickly.

“One thing we have done differently is send key salespeople to training with the actual equipment operators,” Dennis notes. “They know virtually everything about the capabilities of the machine and when they talk to customers, they have that knowledge. We want our salespeople as knowledgeable about the customers’ own business as they are.”

One of the keys to Boyd Metals’ success, according to Dennis, “is we are not focused on a single industry. At Boyd, we work hard to not be too dependent. In Joplin, for example, no one customer makes up more than a few percentage points of our total business. We sell to food processing, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, and many more industries. The parts we make end up among a wide variety of customers.

“We do kitting for some customers. Before, we outsourced that and lead times became long,” he says. “Now, we are able to do that in house and reduce costs across the board and shorten lead times. One of the kits we assemble has 70 to 80 parts in it, and we even build special crates to protect the parts from damage. It’s value added and cements our relationship with that customer.”

Each piece of new equipment allows Boyd Metals “to stay on the front edge of technology,” says Dennis. Right now, “lights-out operation capability is there for all of the laser machines. You put the sheets on there, process the parts and they are on another skid.

“As the costs of human capital rise, automation is the answer. The Compaq server on the laser is a small step in that direction. We are actively looking at ways to automate both in processing and in our overall warehouse operations in the coming years.”

Boyd Metals, Fort Smith, Arkansas, 800/323-8806,