Sheet metal laser-profiling and bending subcontractor, Accurate Laser Cutting, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, has invested £2.5 million to upgrade the services that it offers and to position the company for the next decade. Sales director Jon Till’s message to the fabricating market is, “We’re here to stay.”
One-fifth of the total was spent at the firm’s Rotherham facility, with the remainder invested at the main site in Oldbury, West Midlands. Two Bystronic Xpert CNC press brakes were installed in May 2015 and a month later, the company’s first fibre laser cutting machine was delivered, a 6 kW BySprint 4020 Fiber from the same supplier. This latest addition, one of the largest such machines in the UK, raises the maximum size of sheet that Accurate Laser Cutting can handle from 3 x 1.5 metres to 4 x 2 metres.
These three machines account for half of the latest investment in Oldbury. The remainder was spent on acquiring 15,000 sq ft of freehold factory and office space and a 199 kW biomass boiler with zero carbon footprint.
Mr Till commented, “For a 30-person company like ours to be prepared to commit more than half a year’s turnover to its future is indicative of the high level of confidence right across British manufacturing since it emerged from recession.
“Our company has grown quickly, with turnover up by 50 per cent since 2013 to a confident projection of £4.5 million this year (2015). A weekend shift was introduced at the end of 2013, so we are now a 24/7 operation.
“It has allowed us to offer customers a four-hour quotation service and a three-day standard turnaround, three times quicker than most of our competitors - or next day delivery for rush jobs.”
Technical director Steve Morgan added, “Our investments have proved a huge success, with overall production efficiencies increasing by 40 to 50 per cent in the last few years. In the case of the fibre laser, we are looking at a 300 per cent increase in cutting speed when processing thinner materials.
“In addition, the machine will cut 15 mm thick brass plate and 12 mm copper, compared with a maximum sheet thickness of 2 to 3 mm when processing those materials on our CO2 laser cutters.
“The fibre machine is therefore opening up new opportunities for us. Previously, we had to turn away much of this type of work, whereas now we are cutting thick reflective materials every week.
“Other companies might use waterjet or wire erosion machines to carry out those jobs, but they run slowly, so production cost per part is high. Fibre by contrast is fast and economical, helping to keep costs down for our customers.”
Bending of material is another important part of Accurate Laser Cutting’s service, with around three-quarters of throughput visiting one of the company’s press brakes and only one-quarter delivered flat. Fewer customers these days want to bend material, partly to eliminate the delay introduced by an extra operation.
Another consideration is the superior accuracies that the subcontractor can achieve, with ± 0.1 mm cutting tolerance routinely achieved and ± 0.25 degree when folding. The level of precision is highest when parallel processing a component, whereby a single cutting and bending program is prepared and the component is transferred between a Bystronic laser cutting machine and press brake, both of which run the same Bysoft software.
With this in mind, Accurate Laser Cutting decided to buy two Bystronic Xpert 7-axis CNC press brakes, one 320 tonne capacity machine capable of bending material four metres long and a 150-tonne / 3-metre model. Both have hydraulic crowning and are equipped with hydraulic quick-change top tooling, ensuring rapid set-up for economical small batch runs.
A performance database within the Bysoft control software allows bend allowance, springback angle and punch stroke to be calculated automatically according to the type and thickness of material being processed. Mr Till said, “It takes the black art out of press braking and removes the need for highly skilled operators, which are increasingly difficult to find.”
General fabricators are Accurate Laser Cutting’s main customers, so the firm rarely knows what jobs will come in next. It could be a thin gauge sign for a Nando’s restaurant frontage or a heavy chassis member for a JCB earthmover. To execute this diverse work, the subcontractor has relied on the versatility of Bystronic laser cutting equipment since 2008, when it purchased two machines powered by a 4.4 kW and 6 kW CO2 laser source respectively.
By 2012 a night shift had been added, so the company uprated both machines to more modern BySpeed 3015 CO2 models rated at 6 kW. Mr Morgan advises that increasing laser power from 4.4 to 6 kW results in a 20 per cent increase in productivity, while the better quality beam produces a more accurate cut across a range of materials. This is a significant advantage, as it does away with the need to remove burrs from the edges of some thicker components with an angle grinder, a finish which customers do not like.
Mild steel in the thickness range 5 to 25 mm accounts for 80 per cent of production currently, although the range of materials is likely to widen now that the fibre laser is on the shop floor. Accurate Laser Cutting targets mid-range contracts, batch size being generally within the range 1- to 100-off, with 30 or 40 a typical run.
Mr Till concluded, “We pride ourselves on the high level of service we provide, so customers keep coming back.
“Our employees also tend to stay a long time - some have been with the company since it was formed. Growth plans will see another five staff recruited over the Summer, bringing our headcount to 35.
"We are confident that our decision to invest in people and top-end machines will enable us to grow by penetrating new industries and offering our customers the very best in quality, service and price.”
Image: fibre laser cutting in action