Codem Composites installed a previously-owned Blackman & White CNC machine for cutting carbon-fibre pre-impregnated with an epoxy resin for the motor sport and space sectors, but saw Coronavirus halt commissioning.

Explains managing director Kevin Doherty: “It hadn’t been fully commissioned, and we had post-processing issues with the software and interface. We didn’t want to invest several thousand pounds in software immediately, given the uncertainty brought about by Coronavirus. But when we got the call asking for help in cutting NHS scrubs, we approached Alphacam, which is part of the Hexagon group, to help us get the machine up and running.

“We have a good working relationship with Hexagon, as we’ve used one of their portable CMM arms for collecting surface geometry measurements of our products since 2018. We’d already discussed switching our CADCAM to products from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence’s production software portfolio when we need to review our existing licences, and are also in the early stages of looking at investing in an ERP system from them. Alphacam supported us by giving a free evaluation licence for us to cut the scrubs.”

The software gave them complete flexibility and speed of production, by optimising nests. “A full scrub comprises several components and comes in a variety of sizes, ranging from small to double XL. The tunic is made from a front, back, sleeves, collar, V at the front, and a couple of pockets. Trousers are a left- and right-leg, both front and back, two standard pockets on the side and a patch pocket on the back. To utilise the material properly and avoid waste, we may nest a number of left legs, for example, together with tunic fronts or collars and sleeves.”

Running at a capacity of around 500 full scrubs a week, the Blackman & White machine cuts components for a group of volunteers in Northamptonshire to put together. “Previously, they’d been cutting them by hand, so with us taking on the cutting they can now spend more time sewing.”

Doherty says Alphacam accurately interrogated the DXF file for each of the patterns and computed all permutations and variables.

He explains: “So rather than someone having to work everything out manually, such as what we were going to cut, how we were going to cut it, and what’s got to go where, we simply inputted which components we needed in which sizes, and Alphacam did the rest, including helping us with the correct cutting speeds and feed rates. The first cut parts came off the machine within 24 hours of installing the software.”

Managing director of Blackman & White Alex White says of the software: “It’s a highly cost effective and productive tool. We match it up with our machines regularly, when we’re assembling them, and offer it as part of an overall package for our customers.”

Blackman & White has been established for more than 50 years and promote itself as being the only UK manufacturer of multi-purpose industrial cutting equipment that can be used for routing, knife-cutting and laser cutting across a wide range of substrates.

White says many of its customers found the Covid-19 crisis meant there was no longer an immediate requirement for the products they were cutting and turned their hand to manufacturing PPE for the NHS.“We’ve been supporting our customers with opportunities for the right tooling and programs for their machines to be able to cut visors, gowns and scrubs.”

That even extends to publishing a variety of Alphacam files on its website for customers cutting NHS scrubs, which came about after White gave up his weekends to personally cut around 300 sets of PPE.

Although the company doesn’t undertake contract cutting, it has a Genesis-V model on show in the demonstration area of its factory in Maldon in Essex. The machine supports laser and knife cutting, and also carries a router for rigid and thin metals, along with wood.

While it would normally be used for cutting a variety of materials such as carbon fibre pre-preg composite, it was perfect for adapting to the needs of specialist PPE scrubs. “As I carried this work out personally, I learned to generate Alphacam files, which cut these components perfectly. We made these DXF files free on our website for anyone with spare capacity on their cutting machines to manufacture this much-needed PPE. Several customers are using them.”