A £655,000 investment in two state-of-the-art CNC laser cutting machines from Trumpf at the Birmingham facility of Savekers, an OEM that supplies its innovative range of architectural metalwork items to a host of industries, has introduced benefits that include an impressive reduction in cycle times of 50-60% on average.
Few can argue with Savekers pedigree. Following more than 100 years as an established specialist in quality manufacturing, the company (now in fourth generation family ownership) has grown to become a £4 million business employing 50 staff. Its architectural metalwork range includes: sliding door and window track products; retail systems; counters, cabinets and fittings; shelving systems; pedestrian guidance and barriers; balustrades and handrails; door furniture and window guards; hospitality and leisure products; protection screens; and disability products. Manufactured largely from tube, plate and sheet steel, all production operations with the exception of powder coating are conducted on-site at the firm’s 45,000 sq ft factory. Typically the company sells its products to shopfitters, building merchants and construction firms as well as working with architects for specification on projects.
“The market is very tight at the moment, as it is everywhere, which is why our new Trumpf investments are so important,” explains company Chairman Martin Saveker. “The new machines help us compete with higher end imports from competitors based in low cost economies, particularly in tandem with other factors such as inflation in the Far East, a weakening pound, 12-16 week lead-times and the rising cost of oil for transportation. It all means that many potential customers are looking to source from the UK once again. No one is in a better position to take advantage than Savekers and it’s one of the reasons why we are a member of the British Made for Quality campaign.”
Until recently Savekers had no laser cutting facility for tube and relied on an ageing waterjet profiling machine for its plate work. Mr Saveker knew things had to change.
“We had to improve productivity, which basically meant generating greater speed to make us more cost-competitive in order to address new markets,” he says. “We began by enquiring about a new tube laser as this would have the most significant impact on our business.”
Fortunately the company was successful in securing a £90,000 SFIE (Selective Finance for Investment in England) grant from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
Phil Langford, Grants Case Officer at Advantage West Midlands, says: "Savekers identified two laser cutting machines that would enable it to significantly reduce the batch element of the production process. The machines also speed up operations, providing additional capabilities the company previously didn't have.”
Savekers commenced its search by comparing the Trumpf TruLaser Tube 5000 with its main competitor, soon concluding that the flexibility of the former machine would be a huge advantage.
“While some batches are as high as 5000, it is fairly common for us to do 1-off jobs,” says Mr Saveker. “Sure enough the machine has a bundle feeder, but the ability to interrupt long runs and manually load small volumes is invaluable to our business.”
For laser cutting tubes and profiles, the Trumpf TruLaser Tube 5000 is a flexible, automatic, complete machining system. It can process tube up to 6500mm in length with wall thickness up to 6.4mm (mild steel). The machine is available with loading unit and part removal station.
The TruLaser Tube 5000 makes it possible to cut tubes and profiles into sections in a single set-up and to produce recesses and contours with the laser, an attribute exploited widely by Savekers for nearly all of its products.
“Whereas we previously bought pre-slotted tube we can now manufacture slots of the desired length and in the exact position required by each customer,” says Mr Saveker. “Previously we had to offer ‘universal’ versions of our slotted tubular products.”
Mr Saveker says that speed was the major consideration behind seeking new flat bed profiling capability. Having already decided to buy the Trumpf TruLaser Tube 5000, it made sense to talk to the same supplier about a flat bed partner machine. The preferred model soon emerged as the Trumpf TruLaser 2525.
“We can cut at 200mm/min using our existing waterjet facility, however the TruLaser 2525 can profile at 20,000mm/min for some jobs,” says Mr Saveker. With travels of 2500, 1250 and 115mm in X, Y and Z respectively, the Trumpf TruLaser 2525 can cut up 20mm thick mild steel, 15mm stainless steel and 10mm aluminium. Typical Trumpf innovation is applied in the form of an additional Y-axis integrated in the motion unit. Unlike the standard Y axis, it does not move the complete motion unit, only the cutting head. The intelligent application of a double axis greatly increases the dynamics and reaction time of the machine and, particularly on small part geometry, processing time can be reduced by up to 30%. “The second Y-axis works well for us because most of our details are small,” states Mr Saveker.
The majority of the flat material processed by Savekers is 1-6mm thick and because of the high finish demands of its customers (no oxide can be present on the cut edge), both the TruLaser 2525 and TruLaser Tube 5000 are run using nitrogen from Savekers’ in-house generating plant. However, in the near future the company is planning to add oxygen capability to allow it to process brass and thicker mild steel.
“Our new Trumpf machines have had a huge impact on our company,” states Mr Saveker. “They form an integral part of a major business review, where we have examined our existing product range, stock and customer base. “We’ve been static at £4 million turnover for the past 2-3 years but now we are looking to expand. The trend in recent years has been towards low volume, high value work, but this is now reversing and we’re going after volume jobs that were previously imported. As part of installing our new Trumpf machines we’ve had a major shop floor reorganisation so that we are better able to handle larger batches.”
The benefits provided by the company’s new Trumpf technology are far-reaching, particularly the TruLaser Tube 5000, where advantages to date have included: increased ability to design more intricate products; zero tooling requirements hence shorter lead-times; extensive de-stocking; the sale of old equipment used previously for second operations such as saws and presses; enhanced cut finish, which saves labour intensive benchwork; the ability to cut parts ‘on the fly’ from material that would conventionally be scrap; and impressive cycle time savings.
“We’ve easily cut 50-60% from cycle times,” states Mr Saveker. “The combination of tube and flat bed laser is proving very powerful and it’s putting us back into markets that we had previously lost.”
Mr Saveker also says that the machines are making the pain of massive material price hikes, more bearable. “Material prices have escalated 40-50% in the past nine months alone,” he reports. “Our investments are allowing us to absorb some of these increases through greater productivity.”
Another major factor of benefit to Savekers is the increase in available capacity.
“We have instant capacity available now,” says Mr Saveker. “While we currently run a single shift, we could easily add another or run through the night unmanned, monitoring the equipment on-line.”
This is providing Savekers with greater opportunity not only to progress core business, but to increase its ability to handle subcontract work. “Subcontracting is not our core business, but we do like to sell any spare capacity where possible,” he says. “There are particular opportunities on the Tube 5000 as there aren’t many machines of this specification in the UK. The precision cutting facility is ideal for businesses operating in or supplying the automotive industry, although its flexibility is again crucial as we can slot in urgent, low volume jobs when required.”
As part of Savekers ongoing strategic development it continues to look ahead at potential productivity improvements including CNC bending, laser welding and plating technology.
"Savekers now hold a unique position in UK metalwork manufacturing,” concludes Mr Saveker. “While our range of standard metalwork items extends to over 700, we are constantly evolving our bespoke design and manufacture service as part of our overall strategy to provide total solutions for our customers. Whether clients are looking for frames to fold and weld, wall bars with unique slots, or high volume precision cutting, our new Trumpf machines typify our strategy, offering the very latest in cutting edge technology.
Leadtimes and cost remain priorities for our clients and so we must ensure that we diversify and develop to provide support and solutions in a competitive market. We have seen a shift from imports back to UK based manufacturing which we are proud to be part of. Savekers can offer so much more than China and the Far East now – including rapid prototyping and small to large batches.”