"We used to cringe when we had a customer requirement for really flat parts," recalled Joe Arceneaux, manufacturing engineering manager at O'Neal Manufacturing Services (OMS) in Greensboro, N.C. That was before the plant executed a critical capital equipment investment, when it was anxiously competing to land an important long-term contract to produce construction machinery parts with a tight flatness spec.

OMS is one of the largest contract fabricators in the U.S., with 10 plants and 1,300 employees across the country. The Greensboro outlet of the family-owned operation is ISO-certified, with 139,300 m2 (1.5 million sq ft) of manufacturing space, and geared to function as a partner to customers wanting to re-shore, outsource, or accelerate development new products and/or prototypes.

The plant is located in an area with a concentration of construction equipment OEMs, so it is experienced at producing large assemblies and components for excavators, paving equipment, etc.

The contract requiring flat parts involved 10-mm-thick (0.39 in.), laser-cut HSLA steel with 65 ksi minimum yield (65,000 psi min. yield.) The parts measure about 1x2.1m (3x7 ft), and the customer requires 2 mm (0.07 in.) flatness over the entire length. "This tough material has a lot of inherent stress in it to start with, so even if it is as flat as the mill can make it – which would still not meet the customer requirement – there will be distortion from stress relief during laser cutting," Arceneaux explained.

"We had a gantry flattening press we used for prototyping these parts and it took 15 to 60 minutes per piece, often requiring hits from both sides, and the parts are large enough to make material handling an issue in the process," Arceneaux detailed.

He continued: "We had seen ARKU's technology in Germany, and the customer and others have the machines, so we knew we had to 'level' the playing field to win this business. After processing several orders of prototypes through ARKU's Cincinnati leveling center, we purchased a FlatMaster 88 from the company's shop floor for immediate delivery in the spring of 2013."