Driving through rural America, if you’ve seen large grain storage facilities, you have also seen the products of Sweet Manufacturing Company of Springfield, Ohio. Sweet doesn’t make the grain bins; they make the bucket elevators and drag or belt conveyors that fill the bins. Sweet’s reputation for quality and innovation makes them a leader in bulk material handling equipment for agricultural products and industrial products, like aggregates. Sweet equipment is so popular it’s found in over 50 countries.
“Our export business is great, but it presents some unique challenges,” explains Alicia Sweet Hupp, President and CEO of Sweet Manufacturing. “The equipment we supply is erected in the field and English is not the first language of most countries we export to. We try to make our assembly instructions and drawings as ‘language agnostic’ as possible. It’s the ‘IKEA’ approach, where parts can be identified and assembly done using pictures more than words. It generally works well.”
Many individual parts, like frame angle, were identifiable by a key measurement (i.e. length), but that didn’t always work – sometimes field assemblers would just guess and grab the wrong part. “We wanted to find a better way to label each unique part, but we found that conventional labeling had several drawbacks,” says Sweet Hupp. “Then, Benjamin Steel asked us to come see their new 3D tube laser, and a ‘better way’ became pretty obvious.”
While demonstrating the capabilities of the 3D tube laser, the operator etched some alphanumeric characters in a demo tube. “When they saw that, the Sweet visitors got pretty excited and asked if it could etch angle iron,” recalls Tim Halloran, Benjamin Steel’s Production Manager. “We hadn’t tried that, but thought it would work. And it did. We gave Sweet some samples for galvanizing. All of their equipment lives outdoors, so it must be galvanized. They were concerned that the zinc coating would fill the etching and make the part number unreadable. Turned out that wasn’t a problem at all.”
But much of the angle Benjamin Steel processed for Sweet was run on Benjamin’s Ficep Angle Line, where holes and notches were punched and the piece was cut to length. Halloran explains, “Cost-wise it wouldn’t make sense to move that product to our tube laser to etch the part number, but we didn’t have to. Our Ficep line has a Marking Unit where we can mark parts without having to remove them from the machine. So our friends at Sweet now get their part number on nearly all the frame pieces we run for them.”
“We would not have expected our steel supplier to help solve our part identification problem,” says Sweet Hupp. “But honestly, they didn’t know we were having the problem. The lesson is to rely more on your suppliers to develop solutions with and for you. If you have a supplier the caliber of Benjamin Steel, you won’t believe how many problems they can help you solve.”