Stoke-on-Trent based subcontract fabricator, Hallmark Sheetmetal Co Ltd, has acquired a brand new Amada LC2012 C1 laser/punch CNC combination machine with integrated automation. It is not only the first of its kind in Europe it is the first to be installed anywhere outside Japan.
Interestingly, Hallmark Sheetmetal traded-in its existing Amada X1 laser profiling centre in exchange for the new C1 combination machine – a move that the company says reflects changing market conditions.
“Although the X1 laser is a fantastic machine, unfortunately it doesn’t ideally suit our marketplace at the moment,” says Hallmark’s managing director Paul Martin. “When we bought the machine in 2006 we hoped to diversify but it didn’t happen, and after I saw the new C1 combination machine at the EuroBLECH exhibition last October I just felt it would provide improved productivity for the type of contracts we handle.”
One of the principal reasons for this is the C1’s in-line MP-C1 automated load/unload system that offers Hallmark the ability to run unmanned day and night. Furthermore, the additional punching and forming capability provides the company with the potential to complete parts on a single machine.
“It’s no secret that punching is faster than laser cutting when it comes to the use of standard tooling to produce repeat features,” says Mr Martin. “For this reason we now punch as many features as we can on our new C1 to achieve better cost per part, while for aesthetic profiling we use the laser, or on apertures for which we have no tool.”
And there are other benefits that Hallmark now enjoys as a result of its new acquisition, such as reduced consumption of liquid nitrogen and an extremely compact footprint.
“Overall the C1 has been absolutely the right choice for us,” says Mr Martin. “Fortunately, the high residual value of the X1 laser combined with Amada’s used machine facility allowed us to trade-in the machine with little or no disruption to our business or cash flow.”
The LC-C1 punch/laser combination machine comes with a range of innovative features that include an energy saving single AC servo drive motor that provides 20 tonnes of variable punching stroke. Other benefits include: a quick change nozzle assembly; a quick change lens assembly; Amada’s AMNC windows-based, network-ready control; and a 49 station MPT turret for flexibility and rapid set-up. The MPT turret also allows the use of ‘drop-in’ style tapping tools from M2.5 up to M8 in size. Furthermore, lift-up stations eliminate material marking due to high dies, while a floating brush table ensures punched down-forms do not catch on dies.
According to Amada, such high level capability has helped the company sell four punch/laser combination machines in January and February 2009 as customers diversify and invest in products to boost efficiency and reduce cost per part.
“Since it was installed in February, our new C1 has been busy helping us tackle a new contract we recently secured from a blue chip customer,” explains Mr Martin. “The machine’s sheet size [the C1 is available in 1270 x 1270mm and 2000 x1270mm bed sizes] and functionality, particularly the three active die stations for enhanced forming capability, have provided the opportunity to improve our margin.”
Hallmark Sheetmetal has enjoyed both success and growth since its inception in 1996. Today the company employs 15 people who help it enjoy a position of strength serving specialist light gauge markets such as IT, telecommunications, electronics, white goods, heating and lighting.
Aside from punching and laser profiling, Hallmark offers forming, finishing and assembly along with associated design services if required, making it one of the most advanced fabrication facilities in the country. Fully integrated computerised systems allow real time tracking and monitoring of each component through the complete manufacturing process – just one of the factors that help the company boast ISO9001:2000 accreditation.
Rising to the challenge
Despite the current difficult marketplace, Hallmark Sheetmetal is fairing well with “stable to growing” the words chosen to describe its current business position.
“There are definitely contracts to be won by firms prepared to be flexible in the present economic situation,” he says. “We have managed to keep our new C1 very busy since it was installed processing 0.9-1.2mm thick parts (although we happily handle components up to 6mm) in batches typically around 100-250. I think many companies are beginning to realise that manufacturing in the UK is a good option, particularly as costs in China are escalating and Eastern Europe is struggling due to the unfavourable exchange rate.”
And yet Mr Martin warns that not all subcontract fabricators will be immune to the tough economic climate, stating that growth is difficult to achieve when margins are so tight, hence the need to be competitive through sustained productivity offered by technology and automation.
“It’s fair to say that unless you are right on your game, some might not make it,” he says. “However, at Hallmark Sheetmetal we have always invested wisely. I started work in this sector 35 years ago operating fly presses, so I’ve seen many step changes in technology. We believe that in order to retain a competitive edge in this difficult market we need to embrace the advances offered by machine tool manufacturers. To this end we have a strategy of sustained investment to provide long term commitment to our customers. Today we have a shop full of the latest Amada technology with our new C1 at its hub. In combination with our management and engineering skills it is the reason why I’m convinced we can get through these challenging times and enjoy the bounce when it comes.”