29 March 2008

Sorb squeezes maximum benefit from Prima laser cutting installation

SORB Engineers is a company that specialises in making the most of its resources. So when it decided to replace its two existing laser machines with a state-of-the-art automated laser cutting cell from Prima Industrie UK, it’s no surprise that the company should want to squeeze the maximum return from its investment. The result is a customised installation delivering faster and more accurate profiling, as well as a ‘lights out’ capability and 40% extra material capacity than standard.


Based in Marlow, Buckinghamshire for the last 42 years, SORB is a family-run company that specialises in precision sheet metal engineering and fabrication. It has established a strong reputation for quality and close attention to its customers’ requirements, which is why the company’s work can be found in the motor sport, medical, IT and communications sectors, in addition to more traditional markets such as machine building, architectural engineering and transportation.

“We pride ourselves on supplying excellent laser cutting and precision sheet metal services,” says production manager Andy Proniw. “It’s an approach that has been central to our continued business growth and is the reason we enjoy such a high proportion of repeat business. By providing a cost-effective and personal service to our customers, we tend to build close relations with many of them over many years.”

Versatility, flexibility and fast response are further factors in SORB’s success. In addition, the company offers CNC folding and MIG/TIG welding facilities on site, enabling it to function as a one stop shop for its customers.

“We have always recognised the benefits of utilising technology to maintain our competitive edge,” Proniw continues. “We invested in our first CNC laser cutting equipment back in 1994 and subsequently added a second, larger capacity machine from the same supplier in 1999.

“Our original machine, the first of its type to be installed in the UK, provided a substantial increase in productivity over our previous punch press equipment. Like all lasers, it did not require dedicated tooling and enabled us to tackle much more intricate profiling jobs than before. Its ability to produce high quality work in shorter lead times allowed us to grow business levels significantly and in turn, led to the justification of the second machine.

“A further nine years down the line and it was apparent that laser cutting technology had moved on – not only in cutting speed and precision, but also in terms of work handling capabilities. Our existing machines were coming to the end of their useful lives and we could see that – particularly in a compact operation such as ours – the ability to harness the full potential of modern workhandling systems would provide us with a number of benefits.”

After undertaking a thorough market investigation, managing director Mike Simpson selected a solution from Prima Industrie UK. At its heart is a 4 kW Platino laser machine capable of quickly and accurately profiling up to 25 mm mild steel, 15 mm stainless steel and 10 mm thick aluminium sheet. It also provides 0.03 mm cutting accuracy across its entire machining envelope of 3 metre by 1.5 metres, while its flying optics design and high dynamics enable head speeds of up to 140 m/min and accelerations of 12 m/s2 to be achieved.

“The Platino’s ability to pierce material in around 0.5 sec and cut at up to 6.5 m/min has substantially reduced cycle times and increased productivity, enabling us to reduce the effect of escalating raw material costs,” notes business development manager David Smart. “Similarly, its inherent accuracy and repeatability has allowed us to tackle a much wider range of products than we could with the previous equipment.”

The second key element in SORB’s new laser installation is a purpose designed 14-storey Prima TowerServer work handling system. The unit incorporates four additional pallet stations over the standard 10-storey model and has been custom engineered to fit snugly under the 5.3 metre high roof line at SORB’s premises. “There is a bolt at the top of the tower that is just 20 mm from the roof and thanks to the skill of the Prima engineers, we did not have to do any building modifications at all,” notes Simpson.

Productivity Benefits
According to Simpson, the TowerServer delivers a range of productivity benefits. “First and foremost, it gives us extra flexibility. Unlike our previous machines, which needed operator input at the start and finish of each cycle to unload processed parts and position a new sheet of raw material, the TowerServer enables the Platino to run unattended. Each of the 14 shelves has a capacity of
3 tonnes and incorporates an automatic loading and unloading system. By contrast, it might have taken three or four of us up to 10 minutes each time a large sheet of say 15 mm material was needed to be loaded on the previous machines. With the tower unit, it is not only both faster and a lot safer, but also allows us to employ our workforce more effectively on skilled manufacturing tasks.”
“Likewise, it enables us to handle the more complex, precision, prototyping and short lead time work during the day shift, while customers’ volume requirements can be processed throughout the night under ‘lights out’ conditions,” adds Smart.

Hand in hand with SORB’s new ability to run 24/7 is the increased material stockholding and accurate recording capabilities of the TowerServer unit, which effectively transform it into an automated stores. Proniw explains that by having deliveries of raw material loaded directly on to its pallets, the disruption and potential health and safety hazards associated with moving large sheets around a busy production shop have now been eliminated.

While the installation will keep running unattended until it runs out of material or has completed all of its jobs, an additional refinement built into its offline programming capabilities enables Simpson to remotely interrogate and control the new equipment from home.

“The automation has been fantastic, especially as Prima’s software allows me to update a production list remotely,” he adds. “I can be at home and change the order of sheets being processed or increase or decrease the quantity, all while the machine is cutting. Prima has been very responsive in tailoring the installation to our particular requirements. We have also received excellent support in terms of training and general hand-holding, enabling us to maximise the return on our investment. The equipment provides increased capacity and improved accuracy over the two machines it has replaced, while permitting us to utilise our workforce more effectively. We have found Prima to be a great company to work with. They have even offered to put me on their service engineers course, proving that they are really committed to ensuring we get the most out of our installation.”

When combined with the company’s close attention to detail, the new investment has enabled SORB to compete aggressively for an ever widening range of work. The real proof of the pudding is that the company has already recorded a dramatic increase in business during the past 12 months.

“But you won’t see any flash cars outside our company,” says Simpson. “All the money goes inside the building. Investment in the best technology has always been my philosophy and our latest purchase is already leading to more manufacturing and business opportunities.”

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