An Amada laser profiler boosts business for Irish subcontractor; accurate in-house tube bending pleases architectural steelworker; automotive subcontractor benefits from Trumpf technology. Machinery reports
County Durham-based subcontractor Robinson Engineering has installed a large Amada laser profiling machine from World Machinery (01746 780154) that has allowed the company to rapidly increase its business by offering faster and more flexible production, allowing it to diversify and expand its customer base.
Providing CNC laser cutting, CNC machining, welding and finishing services, the Amada X1 4.0 kW laser cutting machine has been installed to complement its existing 2 kW profiler. The new machine's larger bed size, pallet changer and increased power have immediately opened up opportunities to supply bigger parts, deliver longer production runs and allowed a faster turnaround of jobs.
Director David Robinson explains: "The Amada has more than doubled our laser cutting capacity, due to its faster cutting capability. This has enabled us to grow, taking on bigger jobs than weren't previously possible, and subsequently bring new customers.
Image: The Amada machine has more tan doubled Robinson Engineering's laser cutting capacity
"We can now run jobs in parallel, or share big jobs across both machines to ensure we meet our customers' demanding timescales.
"Critically, we have to look hard at operating costs and long-term capital returns. At the heart of the Amada X1 is a Mitsubishi cross-flow laser; as there is no requirement for the expensive turbo overhaul that is needed with most other laser designs, we expect longer term maintenance costs to be lower.
MAINTENANCE EXPECTED TO BE LOW
"In fact, maintenance promises to be low overall, so we expect to keep the machine working – and earning – for a larger proportion of time. The 2 kW machine paid for itself quite quickly, and, with steady growth, we expect the same to be true for the Amada."
The X1 can cut at up to 10 m/sec and is highly flexible, able to cut through 20 mm mild steel, 12 mm aluminium, 12 mm stainless steel and other materials, while maintaining a quality of finish that can satisfy the most demanding of clients. The Amada X1 is manufactured by Mitsubishi of Japan, machines for which it provides exclusive UK distribution and support.
The Amada X1 was also supplied with the latest Lantek Expert Cut CAD/CAM package (01684 585384), World Machinery's preferred software.
At architectural metalworking specialist Lee-Warren, an all-electric Unison tube bender (01723 582868), equipped with a claimed unique laser-controlled bend angle error correction system, has dramatically accelerated the production of prestige tubular parts, with throughput times reduced from two or more days to just a couple of hours. In addition, the tube bender is achieving the company's objective of 100% 'right-first-time' manufacturing.
Lee-Warren specialises in the production of large tubular finished metal parts for prestige building projects. Its work includes manufacturing decorative balustrades, staircases, bollards and walkways, as well as sheet metal components for aesthetic cladding purposes. The company is currently producing staircases and balustrades for several of the UK's highest-profile building projects, including a new education academy and a railway terminus redevelopment in London.
The Unison Breeze all-electric tube bending machine was installed in late 2010, with the main reasons being its bending accuracy, ease-of-use and energy efficiency. This particular machine is capable of bending stainless steel tubes of up to 76.2 mm diameter and features an extended bed to accommodate very long tube lengths. The company typically fabricates balustrade components – one of the main uses for the machine – from 2.5 m lengths of stainless or mild steel tubing and lengths up to 5 m are not uncommon.
Image: Fancy balustrades like this are manufactured with the help of Unison technology
The company previously subcontracted tube bending operations, and then cut and welded the parts together. This could take several days from start to finish, during which time Lee-Warren did not have complete control of the process. Inevitably, there was a degree of scrap, as parts that had not been bent to specification could not be re-bent or used for other purposes. The company produces a large proportion of its balustrade components in batch sizes of one and to completely custom specifications, demanding that every part has to be manufactured right first time.
Raw material in the form of metal tubing is first cut to length and then loaded onto the bending machine. The entire bending process is then handled automatically. According to Michael Higgs, Lee-Warren's designer: "The majority of our customers submit CAD drawings of the parts they require, often in the form of a PDF, and we extract the dimensions from these and input them manually to the tube bending machine. This task only takes a few minutes, thanks to Unison's easy-to-use software."
The ability to handle all aspects of production in-house has also enabled Lee-Warren to further improve customer responsiveness. Michael Higgs adds that this is a key business advantage, "Building to demand is central to our business. The Unison machine helps us ensure that the right parts are delivered at the right time, but it also enables us to accommodate production changes – such as last-minute requests from architects, for example – in a very flexible manner. These attributes are vital to helping large building projects stay on schedule."
At Radshape Sheet Metal, Trumpf sheet metal manufacturing technology (01582 725335) has been installed to help cope with demand from Morgan Cars, for which it supplies parts for the company's 'bonded chassis' and more.
Radshape produced its first 200 bonded chassis for the Morgan Aero 8 in 1999 and the growing number of units helped to support it when the demand for Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars suffered in the 2009 recession. Today, however, Radshape's sales figures are setting new records and it supplies Morgan not only with chassis, but also other panels, grilles, bumpers, cowls, wind and side screens.
A specially built production cell at Radshape's Birmingham factory manufactures the Morgan bonded chassis. Crucial to the process are its Trumpf TruPunch 5000 and two TruBend 5130 press brakes.
Manufacturing tolerance on the chassis is 0.25 mm – this is even more rigorous than the 0.5 mm standard tolerance that is required by Morgan, in fact.
Radshape bonding engineer John Harper comments: "We've used Trumpf machines right from the start of this project. The chassis is self-jigging, there are no fixtures involved, so we have nothing to rely on but the accuracy of the machines.
"The TruTops CADCAM software has proved a particularly good investment for us. It's easy to use and has radically changed how we make the tub [the chassis assembly]. In the early days, we spent days working out the correct profile. Now we can do it in an hour or so."
Image: Trumpf technology is helping to support Radshape's bonded chassis manufacuring
PUNCH, FORM, BOND
The 2.5 mm aluminium chassis parts are punched, then formed on press brakes, and transferred into the bonding cell for wet-build and curing in the oven. "Originally, we were simply responsible for the chassis up to the bulkhead, but now we build up the front end, too, and install sound-deadening material," says Radshape managing director Keith Chadwick.
He adds: "Over the years, we have suggested around 600 ideas for improvement to customers and two out of three have been taken up." One of these was the development of the universal tub to replace left- or right-hand drive versions.
It's this high level of customer service that has proved such an important element in Radshape attracting more business from the prestige automotive sector. Its relationship with Bentley now accounts for 35% of Radshape's revenue, and this includes the stainless steel and electro-polished grille for the new Bentley Mulsanne, elements of which lock together like an egg box. This prestige component is produced on a Trumpf TruLaser 5030 to a manufacturing tolerance of ±0.05 mm.
Both John Harper of Morgan and Keith Chadwick of Radshape have worked their way up their corporate ladders through apprenticeships. The Radshape managing director continued to take on apprentices even when sales were not so buoyant and believes this depth of knowledge and experience gives Radshape an important edge in its dealings with OEMs. "How can anyone talk about how much a job will cost, if they don't know how to make it?" he asks.
Mr Chadwick names two apprentices, Jamie Sproson and Tom Gwynn, who have moved from the shopfloor to the sales office as commercial engineers. He says: "These lads have the experience to look at a drawing and point out, for example, that the design would present a problem and recommend solutions to resolve it, based on the knowledge they have attained during their apprenticeship."
LOOKING TO DIVERSIFY
In common with many UK automotive suppliers, Radshape is seeking to diversify to safeguard its business. Rail, aerospace, commercial vehicles and nuclear sectors are all playing their part, but it's another take on 'automotive' that is poised to boost growth in the coming years. Radshape is now making its mark on the radio-controlled race car market.
This initiative came from Radshape business development director Chris Dickinson and it has spawned a thriving new division of the company. RadshapeRC produces aftermarket metal spares on its Trumpf machines to strengthen, modify and enhance various brands of RC cars.
"We're the only company making metal parts and they have proved immensely popular with hobbyists," Mr Dickinson explains. "Within just four months, RadshapeRC trademarked spare parts are selling to 24 countries across the world and we've just developed our own, as yet unnamed, RC vehicle."
First published in Machinery, February 2012