Halifax-based Sidhil is one of Europe’s leading designers and manufacturers providing high quality healthcare solutions focused on the changing requirements of the acute, nursing home, GP and community environments with a history dating back to 1888. The latter is a growing market and it manufactured and sold over 10,000 of its popular Community Bed in 2014.
The growth in the Community market along with a rise in the support services offered by Sidhil has seen increased demand on its manufacturing operations, which is faced with the challenge of an extensive product range. Order sizes for the beds and furniture that Sidhil manufactures can range from 1 to 10 offs through to 500 off, and these challenges are compounded by the demands of its customers who expect rapid delivery to support clinical care: manufacturing need to react to these demands as the variety of products within the range generally precludes the stocking of finished items.
To ease these challenges Sidhil took delivery of its first BLM Tube Laser machine in 2006 “The justification process for this first BLM Tube Laser was extensive as it was new technology to us as we were operating in a traditional way, cutting lengths of tube, manual welding and assembly,” says Lynne Dixon, Sidhil’s Operations Director. “Once it was justified on paper we needed to deliver in reality. The efficiency of the BLM Tube Laser made that an easy process, with throughput efficiency increasing dramatically as we eliminated much of the double handling and secondary operations that had previously been undertaken. Efficiency also increased as we were able to redesign many components and manufacture from a single piece of tube, before we would have needed to weld three or four separate components.”
The versatility of this initial investment in laser tube cutting also gave Sidhil the opportunity to review and enhance the design of its products. This along with the accuracy of the laser cut parts also allowed the introduction of robot welding capability, that further added to manufacturing efficiency. “It is fair to say that the arrival of the BLM Tube Laser had a fundamental impact on our business and the efficiencies that it generated led to increased sales, specifically in our export markets. This growth in business eventually led to the first BLM Tube Laser working 24/7 and it was becoming a bottleneck and therefore also a business risk; if we had any problems with the machine deliveries would be impacted significantly. Therefore, the decision was taken to invest in a second tube laser , this time the justification was much simpler as the technology, within Sidhil, was now proven and the benefits were obvious. This second machine would allow additional flexibility to match production with the variable order profile that we have and precisely control lead times,” says Lynne Dixon.
With the arrival of this new BLM Tube Laser LT722D Sidhil was able to maximise the higher levels of automation, which would allow job changeovers to be completed in a matter of a few minutes, this ideally suited its manufacturing demands. This versatility also allowed Sidhil to change its shift patterns with one man now operating both machines, which operate 24 hours Monday to Friday with weekends available when required. The developments by BLM on its Tube Laser machines have enhanced performance considerably with 20 per cent higher productivity being the norm when compared to Sidhil’s original machine. This performance gain was quickly realised once the second machine was installed.
“We couldn’t believe how much quicker it was compared to our older machine,” says Lynne Dixon. “Previously we had a process time of 33 hours to produce enough tubular parts for a batch of 100 beds; this is now 25 hours, a near 25 per cent saving in cycle time. Not long after we had installed the machine, the operator came to me and exclaimed ‘I only went for a coffee and the floor was covered in parts!’ We could almost get rid of the original machine and still be ahead of production, but having both gives us process security in that we don’t need to fully utilise either machine. It also gives us huge scope for future growth.”
The LT722D laser tube cutting system is part of BLM Group’s family of CO2 laser systems that complement its fibre laser systems. The LT722D is easily capable of delivering productivity gains of 70 per cent or more compared to traditional machining processes; eliminating from the production cycle several machining operations including: sawing, deburring, drilling, milling, punching, notching etc. Also, as Sidhil have experienced, thanks to its fully automated, quick-changeover feature (a full changeover can take less than 2 minutes) it is equally efficient for small or large batch runs. The systems flexibility when combined with a capacity to cut sections up to 152mm, in lengths up to 6500 (optionally 8500mm) and fully automatic tube handling from bundle, including measuring, feeding, cutting and unloading make the LT722D highly efficient.
“For a machine capable of complex operations, programming is also simplified due to the BLM software. It is possible to take a new component from drawing to finished part in under 3 minutes, even with minimal experience on the machine. As Sidhil has discovered the move from traditional manufacturing processes to modern laser technology can have a business-changing impact on the performance of a business, making it more productive and efficient, almost overnight” says Paul Lake, Managing Director BLM Group UK.