Since 1915, Midland Tank & Ironplate (MTI) has been producing sheet metal products for a wide range of industries making parts such as heat exchangers, prototype vehicle parts, door components and many architectural metalworking products including bespoke staging and lighting systems, and the wings for the ‘phoenix’ in the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics. Originally formed to help with the war effort, making process tanks, the technology offered by the company has changed out of all recognition with CAD/CAM and manufacturing management systems, ISO quality approvals, CNC punching and CNC laser cutting with automated loading and unloading as well as robot welding, assembly and painting services.
MTI’s laser cutting experience goes back 20 years, however, the company invested in its first Prima Power Platino® CO2 laser in 2007 and a second Platino® fiber laser in 2013. Both machines are fitted with Compact Tower integrated material handling and storage tower systems. Geoff Cox, Managing Director of MTI says, “We needed a bigger, faster and more powerful laser, which drove our investment in the 4kw Platino® CO2 machine with Prima Power Compact Tower. Automated handling is an essential part of the system as it enables us to work unmanned, running batches of material of up to 3 tons. We have CCTV cameras on each machine and a system which alerts the operator by phone should the machine stop out of hours. He can then return to the factory to correct the problem, which keeps production on track and minimises our labour costs.”
As part of the ongoing maintenance, Prima Power trained MTI engineers in maintenance procedures for the CO2 laser. “UK service has been very good and, with extra training, we now know how to take the optics apart and clean all the lenses and mirrors ourselves. This makes a big difference to the performance of the machine as the operator can recognise the signs of a falloff in cutting capability and carry out maintenance and adjustment himself, ensuring that we are always operating at peak levels, with minimum interruption to production.”
Geoff Cox realised the speed advantages he could get for thin material with a fiber laser. “The wavelength is about 1/10 of a CO2 laser and there are no problems associated with the distribution of the laser power, making it simple and robust. Both the pierce times and the cutting times are much faster than CO2 and the shorter wavelength makes it possible to cut brass and copper.” By combining its Radan programming system and e2i process management with the Platino® fiber laser, MTI is able to offer very short lead times. For a recent job, the customer required 20,000 parts at the rate of 1000 per day. MTI was able to deliver the first batch within 6 hours of the order.
Again the Compact Tower material handling and storage system makes a big difference to productivity. With up to 15 pallets in one tower, a range of different materials and finished sheets can be stored ready for processing or further operations. While the parts are being laser cut the Compact Tower positions the next sheet on the waiting sliding table. Once the first sheet is finished, the tables switch over, minimising idle time, cutting then restarts, and the completed sheet is stored in the tower. Geoff Cox says, “With the Platino® fiber we could choose which side we put the Compact Tower, which was important for our factory layout. Now we endeavour to process thick material on CO2 and thin material below about 6mm on the Platino® fiber. We can cut thick material on the fiber, but there is not necessarily any speed advantage.”
Because MTI offers its customers a complete service, investment in technology to reduce labour and increase flexibility is in line with its objectives. “Accuracy from the lasers ensures high quality parts, but it is also essential for successful assembly by our robot welders. Automated handling allows us to run out of hours, quickly change between jobs, and dilute costs with overnight running and, because the majority of parts go through the Prima Power machines, reliability is paramount. We like the service engineers and they respond quickly, involving experts from the Product Unit in Italy when necessary, to make sure any problems we have are resolved quickly and effectively.”
Image: Prima Power Platino fiber at MTI