9 November 2006

Case study: Laser power puts Garrick back in the driving seat

When Garrick Engineering replaced its old laser, productivity, flexibility and reliability were key to their decision. After studying the different options available in the market they decided to step up to a 5kW LVD Axel laser with ultra-fast linear drives and two 3.0 x 1.5 m shuttle tables.

Peter Smith, Managing Director of Garrick Engineering, is passionate about British Manufacturing and is always looking for the competitive edge. "Our old LVD Helius laser had been excellent and given many years of reliable service," he said. We ran the machine for over 40,000 hours and it didn't miss a beat, but we knew that we needed more than just a like-for-like replacement."

"We were subcontracting too much work out and needed to get a lot faster to bring it back in house, and the high speed capability of this laser gives us that capacity. But it's not just that we are saving money by not subbing it out, we now have total control over how we plan our production what parts we put on sheet, how we nest them and so on. By doing it ourselves we may be able to get two or three more parts out of the same sheet and improve our material utilisation."

Garrick offers an all-round CNC fabrication and assembly service for sheet metal components and has developed a number of key niche markets, including display panels for street furniture, bakeware products and aircraft seating. The aircraft seating components include all the metalwork that goes to make up the structure of the seats. Garrick does around 3,500 to 4,000 different components, some of these parts, such as armrests, are extremely complicated with large numbers of holes to make them lighter, lots of different variants and complex profiles.

Garrick's market share in this sector is growing with recent orders for over 11,500 assemblies, delivered over five months and worth just under $2.0 million. To give an idea of the scale of the order, Garrick used around 1.7 million pop rivets on the job.

Such big business is globally competitive, so the pressure is always on to be more cost-effective and respond more quickly. Increasing productivity and flexibility are key to achieving this.

Part of the key to Garrick's success in this area has been the intelligent use of machines. "You have to get the balance right between putting holes in on the punch press and using the laser for profiling," says Peter.

If there are only five or ten holes to do, then he would put the whole job on the laser rather than spending an hour setting up the punch press. But at higher volumes it is much more cost-effective to put as many of the holes in as possible using the punch press and do the profiling using the laser.

In the past this has been a problem, as once the holes had been punched it was almost impossible for the laser subcontractor to pick up their position and make the profiling cuts in the right places. Garrick even tried punching tooling holes on the sheet for the subcontractor to locate on spigots, but that wasn't successful either. The consequence was that the subcontractor would end up doing the complete job on the laser which made it much more expensive than Peter felt it could be.

The LVD Axel laser has solved this problem using a feature called Laser Eye, which is mounted on the cutting head and can precisely detect the position of the sheet.

"The Laser Eye has been astonishing," says Peter. "You just put the sheet down and the laser knows where it is. Without this you couldn't put the holes in on the punching machine. I don't want the subcontractor to be putting holes in because I'm not short of punching capacity, and what might have cost £1 to be made complete on a laser I can make for 25 pence.

"And if I don't want the laser subbie putting holes in, there must be other companies out there that have punching but no laser that I could sell this profiling capability to. If you try to punch round a profile it would cost you more to clean up the edges than it would to send it here."

For now though, this thinking is purely academic as the machine is working round the clock on Garrick's own jobs.

"At the moment it's working flat out, 24 hours a day, six days a week. It really has become the heartbeat of the company," says Peter.

Contact: Matt Fowles

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