sawing/ cutting
Custom made
Mid-States’ miter saw is a double-head machine that’s geared toward a production environment.
A manufacturer-customer team collaborates to develop a new saw design
BY Lauren Duensing

t’s difficult to find a needle in a haystack—as the “MythBusters” team proved during the show’s 2004 season, when, despite an assist from specially engineered machines, it took them a considerable amount of time to locate four needles hidden in 10 bales of hay.

Mid-States Aluminum Corp. has its own experience searching for something that’s exceptionally challenging to find. When the Fond du Lac, Wisconsin-based company wanted to purchase a new double miter saw, it reviewed its needs and compiled a comprehensive technical machine specification, which included a durable, safe, accurate and dependable machine that used similar components as its other saws.

“We did our research and went to different trade shows to see what companies were offering. Nothing met all our criteria,” says Jeff Shoulak, process engineer.

“We are an aluminum extruder, and we run thousands of different shapes,” he continues. “Some are intricate, some are thin wall, some are heavier. No two shapes are the same. What we needed was a miter saw that could clamp the part securely at the correct orientation without deforming it, while cutting accurately.”
Proposing a partnership
Mid-States has been a MetlSaw customer for over 25 years. Tom Kvech, a system engineer for the Benicia, California-based saw manufacturer, says, “They knew that if we designed something for them to do angles, we’d be able to offer all the things that they like in their other machines, including great support and on-the-shelf spare parts.”

“We started from the ground up,” adds Chad Hummel, design engineer at MetlSaw Systems. “We had their specs, and one of the requirements was to be able to accept a 25-foot-long extrusion. That’s kind of unheard of because most of the miter saws on the market are shorter.” The customer also required angle precision and automatic feed capability.

The new miter saw is a double-head machine “that’s geared toward a production environment, running day after day,” Hummel says, with a clamping system and recipe-based automation. It can accommodate 8-inch-square extrusion profiles and has a “120-degree range of motion,” from minus 30 degrees to positive 30 degrees. The machine can be fed material from the end or from the front “if running in an automatic cycle versus a manual cycle. We tried to make it as versatile as possible.”

The miter saw has a 120-degree range of motion for a variety of angle cuts.
Mid-States “recently underwent a very large expansion to increase our extrusion capacity,” Shoulak says. “As a result, we are able to extrude [sections] up to 25 feet in length, which then feed the saws. This miter saw will be fully integrated into the new automated extrusion line and material handling system.”

The “many new safety features” on the saw are recent MetlSaw innovations, Kvech says. “The entire saw is enclosed. We have safety interlock doors and pressure-sensitive edging on all the hoods, up and down. So if anything gets in there, it senses that it can’t close all the way and it opens back up.”

Jim Spannbauer, Mid-States president and CEO, stresses that safety was a priority for the new saw. “The full-length hood protects the operator from any flying debris—and it also cuts down on the noise. The saw won’t activate and start cutting until the hood comes all the way down and touches a tape sensor. The exit side is completely safety guarded as well. You can’t just reach in and grab the part after it’s cut; it has to come out on the conveyor.

“We have some older equipment in our shop that will be removed once this new saw is installed and functional,” he says. “It was No. 1 priority to make sure the new saw was clean and safe.”

Automate and adjust
Mid-States’ miter saw includes custom automation. It’s equipped with a recipe-based system where operators are “able to enter parameters into the machine, and the machine will be able to interpret those parameters and then move the clamping system by itself,” Hummel says, which will help minimize operator error.

“Variables, such as clamping pressure and feed rates, are critical to the quality of the part,” comments Shoulak. The new system “takes out the guesswork and the variability. We plan to create the recipes—the criteria for each individual cut part—in our engineering department and then upload those to the saw to make a cut list. The operator will go to the HMI, pull up the next part on the list, and the saw will automatically set the pressures and parameters.”

The collaborative effort has been crucial for this new product development project.
jim spannbauer, mid-states aluminum corp.
As the saw has taken shape, the team has constantly worked to refine its operation. Shoulak cites one example, where Spannbauer noticed that the bottom of the saw was open to the floor, which would allow any extra chips to fall directly on the floor. In response, MetlSaw redesigned the interior to keep everything contained, which makes for a cleaner shop environment.
Final approval
The saw is in the final stages of factory acceptance testing, a process that has needed adjustment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Kvech says. “Normally, the Mid-States team would come to our factory and we would do the [test] cutting here.” Instead, Mid-States has provided the necessary specs, and “we’ve set up a live YouTube channel with multi-camera angles and picture-in-picture to see the HMI and the machine cutting.”

Once installed, Shoulak says the saw will allow Mid-States to cut steeper angles that it currently machines with a vertical machining center, as well as perform parallel cuts. These new capabilities are expected to attract new business.

“This project has been successful because of two factors: Jeff’s efforts to identify our needs and clearly define a specification and MetlSaw’s consideration of those needs and development of a successful game plan to execute the new saw design,” Spannbauer says.

“It wasn’t just a one-way street. The collaborative effort—the give-and-take of ideas—has been crucial for this new product development project.”

And for MetlSaw, the engineering challenges on this saw have given the machinery builder ideas for the future. Several features developed on this miter saw project will be carried over to its current machines, says Kvech.

“We hope to roll this machine out in different models and varieties,” adds Hummel. “Maybe a single head instead of a double head or a shorter machine. But the base machine was designed for Mid-States.”

MetlSaw, Benicia, California, 707/746-6200,

Mid-States Aluminum Corp., Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, 920/922-7207,