by Amy Bauer
Accubeam Laser Marking, Sarasota, FL, had its genesis within its sister business, the Florida Knife Company, when a single laser was purchased to mark specialty machine knives with logos, manufacturing data and product numbers.
Today, Accubeam’s lasers decorate everything from surgical instruments and medical implants to automotive and aerospace parts and even promotional items in a variety of media, including plastics. “We found using a laser was fast, efficient, economical and produced a mark that was superior not only in quality, but also in long-term durability,” said Brad Dunn, marketing and sales director.
Florida Knife began offering laser marking as a secondary service in 1999 to get as much value out of its new capital asset as possible. “The first laser we purchased was so fast, in fact, that it quickly began to sit idle for longer than you would ever want an asset to sit,” Dunn said. “That is where the idea for Accubeam was drawn. Many applications call for or could use a laser, but that doesn’t mean someone has the ability to fully utilize such an expensive asset or to carry the staff with optical engineering expertise needed to program and process parts in a job shop environment.”
In 2005, Accubeam was officially formed. It shares a 14,000-square-foot facility in Sarasota with Florida Knife and employs 15 people. Florida Knife is a family company founded in 1978, said Accubeam Vice President Tom Johanning Jr. His father, Tom Johanning Sr., also is active in the business.
Markets for marking
Accubeam serves a wide variety of industries: medical devices, aerospace, military, transportation and automotive, industrial, and promotional goods. Plastics cross all of these segments, Dunn said. The types of products vary greatly even within a single industry. “For example, in our medical industry segment we laser cut gaskets and fittings made from siliconized rubber and other soft materials, as well as mark surgical instruments and human implants with identification and serial data,” Dunn said.
Marking services range from light marking to deep engraving with paint filling. The types of marks also range widely, from alpha-numeric data, graphical logos and bar codes to 2D Data Matrix codes and UIDs, which are unique identification markings required by the Department of Defense for military property.
The company works with Delrin, PVC, polycarbonate and other plastic substrates. Laser marking is appealing because it can produce precise, detailed and uniform marks that won’t vary from part to part. Laser markings also don’t rely on chemicals or inks.
Accubeam has the ability to mark and engrave three-dimensionally or around a circumference with all of its laser types. Volumes range from marking on a single item to tens of thousands per purchase order. Accubeam also offers design services to ensure artwork is converted to appropriate file types.
The company’s growth has been steady. “If you look at the percentages over time, there hasn’t been a year where sales doubled, and there hasn’t been a year where sales declined,” Dunn stated. “It’s been a very steady increase in revenue over time.” He attributes this consistent growth to the company’s success in marketing its products in new and different industries. “Over time, we’ve added more and more capabilities,” he said. “That diversity has grown the business organically and sustained us through a lot of the ups and downs that you see with the economy.”
Accubeam’s customers come not only from Florida, but throughout the United States. Dunn said Accubeam serves different industries than Florida Knife, which manufactures industrial blades for the plastics industry, as well as for the paper and milling industries. The majority of Accubeam’s customers are in the medical, military and aerospace segments.
Technology and skills
Accubeam owns five lasers, and the optical sources include Yag, Co2 and fiber optic. Each is computer controlled and has different power ranges. All of Accubeam’s lasers are connected on the same computer network to share programs, files and data.
Dunn said in addition to the highly skilled technicians who operate the machines, the lasers themselves help ensure the right settings are being used for each new material. “You can put the material beneath the laser, and it will run through the settings to see what will work best,” he said. “Once you get those power settings and frequencies, the knowledge to tweak, perfect and hone comes down to the knowledge, skill and experience of the engineer.”
The average tenure of an Accubeam employee is 15 years, and the head engineer has been with the company for at least 20 years, Dunn said. “That level of knowledge allows us to take on challenging requirements that others just can’t get right,” he explained. “It’s rare when we are asked to do something we have never done or seen before.” To enhance employees’ knowledge in this fast-paced industry, Johanning said, information comes from a variety of sources, including trade shows, trade publications, customers and sales representatives.
Problem-solving is an important skill as companies present Accubeam with new products and materials. For example, Dunn described a project involving aerospace parts for a defense contractor that would require marking on Teflon. Teflon engraving leaves a cavity that must be filled – in this case with enamel paint – in order to make the markings visible, he said.
“The mechanics of the engraving process are straightforward every time,” Dunn said. “Where we see uniqueness is in the types of material. Every so often, you’ll get a material that nobody’s had to mark before with a laser.”
Accubeam has a quality control process that it uses on all of its parts, guaranteeing customer satisfaction. “The relationship with the customer really plays into this,” Dunn said, “and it’s all about trust. We have trust in our customers that they are communicating all of their requirements and updating drawings, and they have trust in us that we are meeting those requirements, following the plans, adhering to the quality standards and communicating with them in a completely honest and courteous manner.”
The company provides UID Grading and Verification with any bar code mark. This is key in cases of bar codes, 2D Data Matrix codes, UID codes and QR codes, for example, that need to be scanned or viewed through a camera or other lens for traceability, Johanning said. Accubeam must ensure the codes are reading properly – using whatever type of reader the customer and/or end user will be – and that the quality is high.
“We provide a grading scale and report the quality of the mark,” Dunn said. This grading and verification process is done early in a production run to ensure the entire batch will meet the required standards.
Economies of scale
Accubeam is able to keep costs lower by taking advantage of efficiencies with its sister company. Sharing a facility reduces overhead expenses, such as utilities. There also is some overlap of administrative functions; for example, both Dunn and Johanning Jr. serve in their same roles at each company.
However, the two companies have completely segregated environments within the facility, with different equipment serving each. Dunn notes that all of Accubeam’s equipment has to be in air-controlled (air-conditioned) environments. Several of Accubeam’s newer offerings take advantage of its sister company’s successes. Accubeam provides vendor-managed inventory using a 12,000-square-foot facility directly across the street from its 14,000-square-foot main building.
Dunn said about a dozen companies currently contract with Accubeam for VMI services. Accubeam maintains the raw materials and parts for the companies and can ship the inventory on demand to clients’ customers, using their shipping documents, once it is marked. Dunn said Accubeam recently has put increased focus on marketing its VMI capabilities. “The process is seamless and invisible to the end customer and eliminates many logistical challenges and costs to our customers,” Dunn explained.
Accubeam also has begun marketing more heavily its regional pickup and delivery service, which originated with Florida Knife. The company offers weekly stops in Tampa, Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Largo and the Orlando area to pick up and deliver parts and components. Batching these deliveries – Florida Knife generally uses the service for picking up blades to sharpen – saves on delivery costs such as fuel and vehicle maintenance.
When it comes to selling these specialized offerings, as well as Accubeam’s capabilities overall, Dunn said the company uses an “all-of-the-above” approach. The company uses the ThomasNet online database; optimizes its website to capture more eyeballs during Google searches; attends tradeshows in a variety of sectors; creates direct-mail and direct-email campaigns; and even does some direct cold-calling from time to time.
“I think the only thing we haven’t done up to this point is paid advertising on Google,” Dunn said, “which is something we’ve talked about, but we haven’t tried yet.”
Accubeam’s primary focus in the short-term is to continue enhancing the scope of its services to existing customers. “In the past, that has meant adding new lasers, tooling and technologies into the process that drive down costs for us and our customers and improve service levels and quality,” Dunn said.
Long-term, the company is exploring more ways to increase its offerings to remain competitive in the rapidly changing marketplace. “Having a diversified customer base helps smooth out the ups and downs,” Dunn said, “but so does having an expanded service offering, such as adding pad printing and digital printing capabilities or possibly a focus on a comprehensive laser cutting and welding team.”
Johanning said the company is considering all options, particularly from the standpoint of which technologies could benefit both Accubeam and Florida Knife Company going forward, providing the most value and the most growth of the customer base.
“We believe to be successful with expanding into new services you must first be at the top of your game in what you currently do,” Dunn said. “That is where Accubeam is at today, and all options are on the table for us.”