A world market leader in the production of customised stainless and carbon steel profiles, Montanstahl has opted for Cutlite Penta laser technology. Here is what Davide Bompiano, Plant Manager of the Cold Drawing Division, told us.
Hi Davide, thank you for your time. We know the Montanstahl of today as a leading company in the metal profile sector. Can you briefly tell us about its history?
Montanstahl has been in the market for over 40 years. We manufacture products for a variety of sectors, from pharmaceuticals to aeronautics, from chemicals to nuclear power. We also partner with architects for building projects, such as the Geneva Theatre or Frankfurt Airport, for which we have supplied curtain wall products.
Compared to the early years, we also specialise in niche markets, where quality matters more than quantity. This resulted in us developing ever more advanced skills, since there is less competition in niches in terms of numbers, but the technological expertise required is very high indeed.
We have, therefore, focused on upholding high standards of innovation and meeting customer demand while continuing to evolve with increasingly customised products. Today, the company employs approximately 400 people, 250 of whom work in Switzerland and the remainder in production departments in Germany and America. We also have sales offices in several countries around the world.
At the core of our growth is our commitment to expanding production capacity by, for example, establishing a cold forming department and a laser welding department.
What types of materials do you deal with?
We process mainly stainless steel and carbon steel. A small portion of manufacturing is allocated to what we call ‘standard’ products, those for which there is continuous demand in the mass market and which we like to have in stock in order to respond promptly to customers who require them.
The bulk of our production is focused on customisation. The customer submits a sketch of what they would like and we proceed with a feasibility study and the creation of the required product. What sets us apart is our high degree of customisation, which is why we are always on the lookout for new technologies to be ahead of customer needs in terms of cutting-edge products.
This is also why we decided on lasers for welding and subsequently added laser cutting machines. Compared to extrusions, laser-cut and laser-welded products have more precise tolerances and significantly better surfaces. In addition, complex geometries can be produced and even very small radii can be machined. No other technology comes close to achieving these results.
How did you get to know about Cutlite Penta?
We used to work with a machine from another supplier. Once their technicians came to carry out routine maintenance and one of our in-house technicians spotted some very thick laser-cut samples. Digging deeper, the name Cutlite Penta came up. We then got in touch immediately because, as I said, it is essential for us to provide ever more innovative products, and the power of the Cutlite Penta machines ‘intrigued’ us.
What do you consider to be the strengths of Cutlite Penta technology?
Well, our purchase is still quite fresh to talk in any detail about the strengths of the machine. What I can say at the moment is that we were impressed by its laser cutting power. It is an added value that meets our needs in providing very advanced, specialist products.
So, even the possibility of cutting thick pieces, too?
That’s right. Previously we used to reach laser cuts of 25-26 millimetres. Now that we have purchased a Cutlite Penta machine, we are already doing tests on 41 millimetres of stainless steel and 50 millimetres of carbon.
This is a huge saving in time and cost, as previously these products had to be purchased externally, perhaps cut by waterjet, and then underwent further processing in-house. With external suppliers you sometimes run the risk of sacrificing flexibility and dynamism, since you are tied to the supplier’s timetable, whereas for us it is important to react to the customer promptly.
Here, we have the advantage of having a generous stock of products available at all times, something that few companies can guarantee, as they prefer to work only following an order. We can meet demand for stock in a week where a competitor would take four or five months.
Who do you work with regarding customised products?
That depends on the sector and the type of product. In the case of structural products for architecture, we interface with architects, the builder, or the engineer. It is, therefore, important to be able to turn requirements into functional and aesthetically pleasing products.
How has your sector changed over the years?
Well, I can tell you that when I started working here in Switzerland we had 24 employees, now there are 240. Before there were, I think, two sheds, now in Switzerland there are 15 sheds with about 85,000 square metres of roofed area.
This evolution took place by moving from the mass market to niche markets and investing in cutting-edge technology such as lasers. Of course, the human factor also matters – a certain mindset is required to continue innovating and understanding trends in the sector.
For example, appearance is also crucial today. The product must, of course, first and foremost be functional and of high quality, but aesthetics also matters. Especially so in the case of structural works, architects require a whole range of machining and specifications that are purely cosmetic. With Frankfurt Station, for example, aesthetics was crucial.
It is about providing the customer with an almost tailor-made product, conceived to meet the demands of a customer-designer. This requires very high degrees of customisation that we can only guarantee by means of a laser.
Davide Bompiano, Plant Manager at the Cold Drawing Division.