2 October 2008

Craft masters

Comprising of DC Developments (Engineering) and DC Marine, Norwich-based DC Group is one of those rare companies, which offers its customers that something extra. Having invested in the skills and state-of-the-art machinery to cover the complete engineering spectrum it provides a true one stop shop for its varied customer base.

From its extensive facilities in Ashwellthorpe, Norwich, the 35-strong precision engineering subcontract business, DC Group, offers an array of manufacturing services which have all been organically grown and supported with machine tool investment from the very best technology providers. A precision machine shop houses multi axis turning centres and high speed machining centres for complex cylindrical and prismatic components; equipped with a number of cam autos, a high volume turning shop provides smaller turned parts; the fabrication and welding workshop is equipped with two pressbrakes, a 100 tonne power press and a heavy-duty ring roller, as well as more than a dozen MIG and TIG and spot welding stations; and, a highly productive laser profiling shop which is extensively equipped with machines supplied by Mazak Laser.

As the Laser Department manager, Andy woods, explains: “It is unusual for a contract precision engineering company to have such a wide skills base, but we have been very careful with our investment strategy to ensure a balance of manufacturing capability that matches the needs of our customers’. For this business strategy to work successfully you have to purchase the most flexible, accurate and reliable machine tools available. That’s why we have invested in Mazak Laser’s profiling and multi axis laser machines.”

Having purchased its first laser, a Mazak Turbo-X48 fitted with a 1 kW CO2 laser, over a decade ago the company had plenty of evidence of the machine’s accuracy and longevity. Today, this machine profiles parts up to 8 mm thick in mild steel and 1.5 mm thick in stainless steel from industry standard 1250 by 2500 mm sheet material. As the demand for profiled parts grew from its customers this initial investment was followed by another Mazak Laser flat bed machine, a more powerful 2.5 kW Super Turbo-X48 Hi-Pro. Working from the same sheet stock material the newer laser can cut mild steel up to 15 mm thick, stainless steel up to 12 mm thick and aluminium up to 6 mm thick.

Says Andy Woods: “All of our workshops interact with each other keeping everyone busy and the marine business, which was originally established for the purpose of building luxury motor cruisers, had a growing demand for stainless steel tubular components thanks to a thriving marine leisure industry. The flat bed lasers could cope efficiently with the stainless steel marine fuel tanks (for which the company has CE Accreditation) and mirror polished deck fitting profiles, which we produce both as standard fittings for fleet craft as well as custom made to suit individual specifications. However, producing the various tubular above and below deck parts, such as handrails, steps and radar arches, was noticeably more labour intensive.”

A Mazak Laser 2 kW 6-axis Space Gear 48 has proven to be the ideal solution for the company. Not only does this multifunctional machine allow complex tube and hollow section parts to be cut efficiently and accurately, it also provides an overlap in capability for the profiling of sheet material, cutting mild steel up to 15 mm thick and stainless up to 3 mm thick. “This overlap is important to our business,” states Andy Woods, “as we don’t know what we will be cutting from one day to the next. We quote our laser profiling turnaround as three to four days, but in reality we achieve one to two days.” An impressive service made all the more incredible when you consider that the company will just as happily quote to profile one part as it would do if a customer wanted 200-off.

Not knowing what the machines will be processing from one day to the next certainly provides Andy Woods with a different challenge every day, but with a healthy stock of sheet material and the utmost confidence in the Mazak Laser machines he takes it all in his stride. “Small batches are the norm for us, so the flexibility of the Mazak lasers is vital. As an average batch size is just 10 or so parts with a tolerance of +/- 0.2 mm we need to be able to change the laser set up quickly. The accuracy required can be as tight as +/- 0.05 mm and from our experience we are confident the lasers will achieve this.”

Andy Woods points out that all three lasers eat through the jobs loaded onto them and the workshop is currently full to the brim. However, there are plans set in motion to address this. A larger facility has been secured locally and he has just begun working through the critical sequence of events that will have to be considered prior to the move. The extra room will increase operational efficiency even further and will provide additional space for more machine capacity.

As the company’s reputation for quality and precision engineering has spread so too has its customer base, and it is now regularly servicing orders from the North of Scotland and Ireland to the South of England. The prestigious customer list includes companies well known within the marine industry both nationally and internationally, as well as pharmaceutical, automated packaging equipment, agricultural and heavy goods vehicle recovery specialists. “The strength of this reputation rest squarely on the engineering skills of our staff, which in turn relies on the capability of the machines we use. Without doubt the machines from Mazak Laser uphold and strengthen this,” concludes Andy Woods.

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