Machines inside Minus Forty warehouse

Cool running at Minus Forty commercial refrigeration technologies

As seen in Canadian Metal Working

Minus Forty Technologies Corp. designs and manufactures commercial freezers and cooler systems to showcase and store fresh and frozen goods. The Georgetown, Ont.-based company prides itself on its innovative designs and its dedication to building a reliable, long-lasting product. To do so profitably, the company is constantly considering how to improve production. Most recently it invested in new automated punch press technology to speed its fabricating processes.

Durable, Dependable

Minus Forty is now in its 27th year of operations serving customers primarily in North America. It is owned by company President and COO Debra McCullagh and founder and CEO Julian Attree.

“We started out producing a chest-style freezer merchandiser but gradually moved into more sophisticated products,” said Attree. “With the evolutions in the marketplace, one of our key strategies to deal with lower-cost product coming in from offshore is to focus on products that are more technologically advanced and challenging. For this reason, our main product line is vertical glass door freezer merchandisers. These cabinets are ventilated and frost-free.”

 

Although Minus Forty will create cooler systems for its key customers, its specialty is freezer merchandisers. Attree sees this as an important distinction.

 

“If a freezer cabinet fails, there will most likely be a cost to the user,” he explained. “If a cabinet fails, products stored in that will be lost. We build a premium product that is designed with a focus on durability and reliability. The value of this for our customers is what has brought us to where we are today. Someone who just sells soda doesn’t have that same concern.”

The company employs around 150 people, handling everything from engineering and development right through to sales and marketing. About 50 per cent of its team works in production.

It is easier for the Minus Forty team to make its fabricating process efficient because it both designs and manufactures its own product.

“We have a multipronged approach to managing costs in manufacturing,” said Attree. “Our products are engineered to make the manufacturing process as efficient as possible. We constantly look at how to continuously improve our operations processes on the shop floor, through lean training and a lean culture. We also work with our vendors, trying to optimize cost-effective components. We differentiate ourselves a little more by how much effort we put into the process side of our business.”

Virtually all of Minus Forty’s metal fabricating is done in-house. The factory’s main assembly line runs a single shift five days a week, but the fabricating schedule is often extended.

“Last year we were running our metal fabrication department three shifts, seven days a week,” said Attree. By adding new punching capacity, the company’s been able to cut that back.

Minus Forty typically works in light-gauge steel (prepainted cold roll) and some aluminum. “The heaviest gauge we run in normal production is 12 gauge,” said Attree.

Punch Technology Upgrades

The system Minus Forty purchased recently was a TRUMPF TruPunch 5000 punch press equipped with a STOPA material handling system, a SheetMaster loader, and an integrated shear that cuts up skeletons as they come off the table.

Backlash-free drives on the punch enable high axis acceleration during production, and the high rotation speed of the C axis enables fast tapping as well as the productive processing of complex contours. The hydraulic drive allows the company to punch with up to 1,600 strokes per minute and mark parts with 2,800 SPM. The punching head, meanwhile, can rotate 360 degrees for any tool. The machine holds up to 90 tools.

The technology gives the operator added security as well. For instance, the punch’s smart load function helps with sheet alignment. A sensor in the clamps detects when they do not grip the sheet correctly. If this is the case, the machine table, including sheet, moves.

Before the tool change, smart punch monitoring checks whether a hole was actually punched into the sheet. In this way, the machine detects at an early stage when punches are broken and can pass this information on to the operator.

If a finished part does not fall through the part removal flap as expected, a sensor detects this and the error can be rectified quickly.

These sensors, the hands-free processing of finished sheets with the shear, and the multitower material handling system means that, once Minus Forty’s operators are fully comfortable with the machine, it should be able to run lights-out for extended periods.

“All of this technology allows you more uptime,” said Attree.

Minus Forty has two conventional TRUMPF CNC brakes, including this TruBend 7036 that is designed for the quick processing of small parts. Company CEO and founder Julian Attree believes that in the future this process could be automated, freeing up staff for other work.

Currently the shop still runs two TRUMPF TruPunch 2020s, the first of which the company bought 13 years ago.

“Thirteen years is a long time when you are talking about the evolution of technology,” said Attree. “One of those machines will be taken out of commission soon.” Canadian Fabricating & Welding visited Minus Forty in early August. Installation of the integrated punch/storage/shear started in December and took about four months.

“It’s still very early in the game for us with this system,” said Attree. “Our team has done a great job in grasping and learning this technology. They were sent to TRUMPF for training and they’ve done a great job with the machine since. But I believe it will be another four to six months before we’re… really able to get the level of benefits from the equipment we think we’ll get. It’s a process, and there’s no substitute for that learning process. It’s just time and experience.”

Time Savings

The immediate benefits have been quite obvious.

“With our older equipment, we have to remove a pallet, bring another pallet down, and load it into the machine,” said Attree. “It could take 20 minutes to do that. Also, we have dual carts for stacking parts on the new machine. You fill up a pallet and that has to be removed. That could take 10 minutes as well, but because there are dual carts, when one cart is full, there is already another one ready to go so it can continue to run. That is a huge difference.

“We also save time with tool changes,” Attree continued. “Often with the 2020s we have to realign the rail with new tools. So if you are changing a program to another part, between putting new material in and changing the tools, that changeover could take 35 to 40 minutes. Now the tool changes are almost instantaneous.”

Attree believes that, in time, Minus Forty will be able to program two to three days’ worth of work to run lights-out.

The integrated shear is the first of its kind in Canada. It cuts the skeleton into thin strips that fall into a bin that can eventually be carted away, eliminating one other touch point for the operators.

Minus Forty has room enough for a second punch to be connected to the storage system, which the company plans to add when necessary.

The Future of Bending

The majority of parts then go to forming. The company has two conventional TRUMPF CNC brakes and a Salvagnini P4 panel bender it has had for about five years.

“For smaller parts, one of the things we’re doing now is looking at how we can introduce a higher level of automation, and somehow tie that to the material handling system,” said Attree. “Over the past two years some interesting options have become available. The capabilities have come a long way, and the costs are certainly coming down to a point where they are cost-effective. They are coming to a point where they can benefit our processes, improving efficiency, reducing costs, and improving quality. Those are our driving factors. Five years ago those benefits weren’t there.”

For Attree, it’s important that with all the automation the company has added they have not had to downsize their team.

“It’s allowed us to use our human resources in better ways, having our employees do jobs that are more enjoyable and less repetitive. The ideal is that the jobs people don’t want to do are the jobs you want to be able to automate.”

The investments Minus Forty has made over the past few years are certainly paying dividends. The company has seen double-digit growth every year for the past five years. With a solid client list that has grown to depend on its durable product, and a knowledgeable and long-serving design and engineering team in-house, the future looks bright as well.

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