BK Engineering in Heath and Reach, Leighton Buzzard, aims to offer its customers a complete service for high-quality sheet metal fabrications with a speedy turnaround. The company, which was bought by its present owners in an MBO two years ago, has now invested in an LVD Orion 3015Plus laser system with automated loading / unloading to further develop the service it offers.
As manufacturing director Don Cook explains, since the MBO, the directors have taken a close look at the focus of the company.
“We really looked at what our core market should be, so we try as far as we can to concentrate on customers within a 50-mile radius. This covers a lot of companies and when we look further afield delivery costs makes us less competitive,” he says.
The company believes that there is still a strong niche market for the small to medium batch work that it offers, especially at the high quality end and where a fast turnaround and on-time delivery are critical.
“Quality is important, price is important, but on-time delivery is the key as most people work to such tight deadlines on delivery, and they get passed down to us,” says Don.
Sales director Andy Gray adds, “In the past, customers would keep stocks of items and give you four to six weeks lead time; now a lot of them are operating JIT and ship-to-line and so delivery is paramount and there is no leeway to be late.”
With an LVD Global punch press and LVD PPEB press brake already in place, BK looked at how it could build on this to further enhance its service levels and ensure it remained competitive.
“We felt that, with our costs rising, and the constant pressure from customers to reduce costs, the only way to remain profitable was to invest in capital equipment,” says Don Cook. “We saw the laser, particularly with the ability to run lights out, as a way to increase output without the need to take on more labour or invest in additional tooling.”
He says that the Orion laser is very flexible in terms of the work it can produce and makes small batch working more cost-effective – both by reducing the amount of downtime for setup and by nesting parts onto the sheet for maximum material utilisation.
“We looked at maybe six different machines that were available in the UK and, having already established a good relationship with LVD, we looked at what they could offer first and weighed the other machines against that benchmark. LVD’s Orion came out best all round in terms of ease of setup, flexibility, value for money and the level of service that we knew LVD provided. It is also a very compact machine, with a small footprint for the capability it offers, and that suits us very well.”
The thickest material BK needs to cut is 10mm mild steel. The 4kW Orion can cut up to 20mm thick steel and on the 10mm material is very quick and cost-effective.
BK tends to process longer running jobs overnight and do the smaller batches during the day. The machine is attended during the day, but the operator does other work around the machine too, including second-operation work on other jobs.
“A lot of the orders we get now are schedule orders, with deliveries called off over a period of time. We can run three or four months’ worth overnight on the laser and that eases the pressure on the factory and enables us to maintain our delivery dates,” says Andy Gray.
The ability to make small batches and nest parts onto a sheet makes it simple to supply customers with kits of parts, which allows them to reduce their inventory. “Whereas in the past, if there were, say, ten parts in an assembly they would have to stock ten product lines and try to balance the stock; now we can supply a complete kit of ten parts in one box,” says Andy.
“The laser complements our punch press very well,” says Don. “Jobs with a lot of holes pierced in them are better off on the punching machine – it is a quicker operation. Anything with very fine detail, or lots of angles and in thick material is difficult to produce on the punching machine, but on the laser, if you can draw it, you can cut it.
“Having both machines means we can also be more effective with the punch by using it for what it does best – punching lots of parts or parts with a lot of holes – without having to keep changing the tooling for one or two-off parts that we would now do on the laser,” he says.
LVD CADMAN offline programming software for the laser, punch and press brake also helps to keep BK responsive, says Don.
“With LVD’s Art to Part programming philosophy you do all the engineering work before it hits the shop floor to make it as easy as you can to get it through production.”
One of the big changes at BK since the buyout is that it tries to provide a complete service, from design to painted fabricated part.
“Often, customers will come to us knowing what they want to achieve, but not how to do it. We give them the skills they don’t have, coming up with ideas, developing products and re-engineering parts to save them money. And as well as the sheet metal work, which is our core business, we also have CNC milling and turning machines and an in-house painting facility. If a company wants a fabrication that incorporates machined parts we can do the whole job for them in house. So we are not reliant on someone else’s quality or delivery,” says Don.
He says, “You have to differentiate between price and cost. Someone else may be 10% cheaper, but when you factor in on-time quick delivery, minimal defects, help with developing products and help with engineering cost out of the product – the true cost of our service will be better for them in the long term. For a company like us flexibility is absolutely paramount, and the LVD Orion adds to that flexibility.”