26 March 2007

LVD Orion adds cost-effective laser capacity for Wallace McDowell.

When Wallace McDowall needed to expand its laser capacity it decided to try a new approach. Rather than simply adding a new shuttle table machine from its existing supplier it invested in a 4kW LVD Orion system. This gave a high level of performance with a 40% cost saving and provided a complementary capacity to its existing machines.

Wallace McDowall offers an all-round subcontracting service based around four lasers and a punch press. Customers include leading yellow goods manufacturers, agricultural equipment makers and a highly successful manufacturer of bespoke dog kennels. It even has an associate company that produces its own line of football goal posts. As MD Jim Wilson says, "If it's made of metal, we will make it".

Production covers everything from 0.5mm up to 20mm in batches varying from 5000-off to single components, and includes both flat blanks and fully fabricated and painted assemblies.

"Most of our work is in the 6 to 8mm range, with an average batch size of 50. But a big chunk of what we do is one-offs. It really is very diverse, but everything we manufacture starts its life on punch or the lasers. We have focused on using lasers because that is the market we tend to be in. They are flexible, accurate and give you a good finish that doesn't need deburring. The punch isn't much good once you get above around 4mm, but we do use it for form work too," says Jim.

The need to invest in a new laser was driven by the continuing growth of the company. Turnover has risen from £2.5 million five years ago when the company was the subject of a management buyout to more than £5.5 million now and it is still growing.

"We had always used the same supplier of laser machines, so it was a big move to go to another laser manufacturer, but things change and you have to look at what is available in the marketplace."

He says that as well as the price, the things that drew Jim to the LVD Orion were its simplicity and the fact that it was robustly built.

"It's the only laser we have without a pallet changer, and it doesn't have all the bells and whistles that you would get on a more expensive machine but we have those already if we need them," says Jim.

"Because of the lower capital cost the cost per part and depreciation are lower, so it is cheaper to run for the same charge out rate. You do lose a bit of time because you don't have the shuttle tables and have to change the sheet by hand, but the answer is to use it for the jobs it is most suited to."

In practice this tends to mean smaller, heavier gauge and more complicated components where the running times per sheet are longer. If the sheet is on the laser for an hour and a half then the ten minutes spent loading and unloading becomes less important. Whereas simpler, larger parts running at, say, five minutes a sheet would naturally be most suited to the shuttle table machines.

Wallace McDowall has taken a similar approach to its forming and invested in a compact LVD PPRM press brake to complement its existing capacity. The PPRM uses electric reluctance motor and hydraulic technology, which makes it very fast and accurate on small components.

"We were working two shifts and were stretched with the two machines we already had. These are 170-tonne and 130-tonne machines, but a lot of the work they were doing was 15-tonne work. It's nonsense having a great big machine doing those little components when we have plenty of big parts to keep them occupied; you are wasting time and power."

Both machines have so far proved to be efficient and reliable runners says Jim, and he is happy with the way they have added value to the business.

"You get a lot of performance for your money with the Orion and it is 40% cheaper than the type of machine we would have bought in the past. And it gives us the chance to see what an LVD machine can do, how reliable it is, and what the LVD service and backup are like. Price is important, but there is no point having any machine if it doesn't keep working. And if it does break down we need the engineer to be here as quickly as possible to have it back up and working as quickly as possible. That's one of the main criteria we have when we are selecting lasers now," he says.

"The reliability has been first class, and when we had a couple of minor problems the response was immediate. The Orion was running three shifts the week it was installed and has been working 120 hours a week for the past six months you can't ask for better than that."

Contact: Chris Phillips

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