16 May 2013

Fast marking cycles at superstar components

Superstar Components Ltd of Lincoln has just completed the transition to a new business model by shifting from outsourcing to the in-house manufacture of aftermarket bicycle parts. Complementing the company's newly installed turning, milling and polishing machinery is a TruMark Series 5000 fibre laser marking machine from TRUMPF. Used for branding applications such as the creation of high quality logos and graphics, the machine has cut unit costs for marking by several orders of magnitude.

Until recently, Superstar Components bought parts from factories around the world, typically Taiwan, retailing them direct to customers to save on costs. However, as company director Neil Wilkinson explains, times have changed.

“With growing demand the Far East has experienced rising prices and slower deliveries,” he says. “In combination with a lack of control over quality, we decided it was time to go in a different direction. We assessed the situation and considered that if we were using the same materials and similar machines, we could make aftermarket bicycle parts for the same cost as the Far East, if not less, and at better quality. Sure, there is the capital expenditure to bear in mind, but that’s an investment that should offer long term returns.”
Having sourced a dual-spindle turning centre and a 3/4-axis machining centre, Superstar Components set about selecting a laser marking machine.

“If you’re having parts made in the Far East it’s sometimes difficult to attain a finish that reflects high end products,” says Mr Wilkinson. “High definition, good quality graphics make an enormous difference to the customer perception of any product. It looks professional and it adds value.”

Superstar Components uses a local subcontractor for its laser cutting requirements and here the successful deployment of TRUMPF machinery provided a starting point in the search for a laser marking machine.

“We also researched a cheaper model supplied by a TRUMPF competitor, but the quality was truly awful,” says Mr Wilkinson. “The difference in performance and quality with the TRUMPF TruMark is extremely evident for anyone to see – and worth every penny.”

The TRUMPF TruMark Series 5000 is a fibre laser-based marking machine characterised by a combination of high power, high repetition rates and variably definable pulse duration and form. It is designed for tough applications with high power requirements and short cycle times. The vast majority of components at Superstar are manufactured either from aluminium or titanium, and the company's TruMark 5000 is fitted with an optional rotary axis to accommodate parts such as wheel rims. Other bicycle components processed include jockey wheels, pedals, hubs, bottom brackets, chain rings, stems and sprockets, to name but a few. In fact, almost everything machined at Superstar is subject to marking in some form.

“The unit cost for engraving using a machining centre is probably in the region of £3-4 per part, but using the laser the cost amounts to no more than pence,” explains Mr Wilkinson. “Cycle times are typically around 30 seconds – no sooner have you closed the door than the marking is complete. The programming is also very quick. We simply import the graphics as a DXF vector file and then it's just a matter of click and go."

Rims take a little longer, usually around 60 seconds, but this still represents good value for Superstar Components.

"We would get quoted £4 each to mark rims in Taiwan," says Mr Wilkinson. "Now, however, we can mark for a fraction of that price. Considering our last batch of rims was for 3000-off, the savings are significant and we will soon recoup our investment in the TRUMPF TruMark 5000. Overall, the shift to in-house manufacturing has resulted in shorter lead-times and even more price-competitive products."

Flexibility is paramount to success at Superstar Components. If the customer wants half black, half silver spokes, red hubs or white rims, it shall be done. And it's a formula that seems to be working. In just seven years since the company formed turnover has already topped £3 million. With in-house manufacturing fuelling the next stage in Superstar's evolution, it seems the potential for this progressive business knows no limits.

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