Aluminum Extruding Twist Makes UPS Vehicles Lighter
When UPS decided to put lighter-weight plastic-body trucks into production last year, it needed a fabricating solution that would allow them to get rid of the heavy steel frame and replace it with something lighter. That's where Fab Masters Company, Inc., a manufacturer of custom aluminum CNC-machined and fabricated parts, came into play.
The Marcellus, Mich., company substituted aluminum framing for the steel frame, resulting in 50 to 60 percent production savings. "We have been able to convince them to, instead of purchasing sheet and bending it, just use an aluminum extrusion that already has a bend in it so that it's much less of a processing cost," said Fab Masters Sales Manager Sam Cropsey.
Initially making about 100 parts for these prototyped trucks, designated CV-23, Fab Masters is working for an extruder who is working for the truck company, Utilimaster, a specialty commercial-vehicle builder in Indiana. Being three tiers down the line from UPS has made collaboration to come up with innovative ways to save money and weight a bit complicated.
"The difficult part has been getting collaboration, but once we talk to people about cost savings, they usually do listen," Cropsey said, adding that if the price of the trucks can be reduced, the "purse would open up" and more vehicles would be purchased.
About 1,900 vehicles have been ordered for production in the summer of 2013, and Fab Masters has been invited by the truck company to enter directly into the production line, making 20 to 30 of the parts for the vehicle. If the initial order of trucks are able to meet fuel efficiency reductions and cost savings, then another 10,000 vehicles per year are expected to be ordered by UPS, Cropsey said, adding that this would be a huge boost to Fab Masters.
"They're trying to take out as much steel as possible and replace it with aluminum because it's a third of the weight," Cropsey said. He added that Fab Masters has served the aluminum extrusion industry for over 28 years and that long-length extrusions for mostly trucks are the company's niche. "Right now, the rear bumper of the UPS truck is a steel weldment and we're looking at changing that to aluminum and save about 15 pounds. UPS is big on that because 15 pounds less per vehicle means 15 more pounds of packages it can carry."
As fuel prices continue to rise, there is a lot of pressure to take weight out of trucking vehicles, Cropsey said. Finding ways to make the trucks stronger and lighter has been Fab Masters' focus for this industry. The company also serves the military, medical/dental, telecommunications, and alternative energy industries.
Fab Masters recently purchased two 27-foot routers for long-length extrusion. "Some of the semi-trailers are very long, so we've found that our long-bed machines are very busy and we've added two new machines that more than double the length of our longest piece of equipment," Cropsey said. This will mean streamlined efficiency and cost savings for commercial vehicle work in particular. "We'll have less indexing. Imagine you have a 54-foot semi-trailer part, but you've only got a 12-foot CNC. You'd have to index that four or five times to get the whole part made," he said. "Now, with this 27-foot machine, we have the capacity to do that 54-foot part in just two clampings."
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