Washington Metalworks Ltd, a subcontract fabrication specialist based in Tyne & Wear, has installed two Trumpf TruLaser 5030 high specification CNC laser profiling centres with TruFlow 5000 (5kW) resonators and integrated automation. Representing the first TRUMPF installation of its kind in the UK, Washington Metalworks has replaced less powerful, 10-year-old technology to quadruple productivity and position the company amongst the elite of the laser cutting subcontractors.
Supplying numerous industries that include railway, yellow goods, automotive and power generation, the privately owned Washington Metalworks has grown to generate annual turnover in the region of £7.5 million from more than 80 live accounts that are currently on the books. Part of the reason for its success is a planned programme of continuous investment in the latest manufacturing technologies.
The most recent area of the company’s 90,000 sq ft plant to receive funding is its laser cutting facility, where three 10-year-old manually-loaded laser cutters (1.5kW, 2.5kW, 3.5kW) have been replaced with two TruLaser 5030 automated models, the first Trumpf technology on site. The machines are linked to a LiftMaster Linear automated load/unload system and TruStore sheet storage unit.
“We realised that in order to move the business forward and compete, we had to invest,” says joint managing director Steve Tate, who along with business partner Ron Barella, provide the engineering expertise and business management that have underpinned the business since its inception 25 years ago.
The Washington Metalworks team scrutinised all of the leading vendors of laser profiling machinery before opting for the 5kW Trumpf models, which feature a single head cutting strategy and optional nozzle changer to minimise non-productive time on the 3m x 1.5m bed. Maximum axis speeds (simultaneous) are approximately 300m/min.
“Although we selected powerful machines, it was the speed of the technology in cut that provided the differentiating factor,” says Mr Tate. “For instance, one particular job that previously took 1 hour 28 minutes to complete, can now be done in just 23 minutes – a productivity increase of around 400%. What’s more, we had many recommendations from within the industry regarding Trumpf technology, while Trumpf also provided an uptime guarantee that other vendors were unable or unwilling to match.”
With the commissioning process completed in March 2009, Washington Metalworks was immediately able to both reduce its direct labour input for laser cutting and reduce costly nightshift working.
“The automation aspect has been a real winner for us,” says Washington Metalworks Chairman Elect Mr Barella. “For instance, using our old manually loaded lasers, changing from 3mm mild steel to 8mm stainless steel would take around 30 minutes, now we can do it in just 3 minutes. Overall the installation has given us the opportunity to be genuinely competitive for laser cutting work, whereas previously we didn’t have a chance. As a result, new orders are beginning to arrive.”
Today, laser cutting work at Washington Metalworks can vary from 0.9 up to 25mm thick in a variety of materials. Jobs range from thin gauge hoods for fork lift trucks through to heavy duty road plates to cover bridge expansion joints. Batch sizes vary from 1-offs up to 1000.
“One of our main USPs is our flexibility,” explains Mr Barella. “We are able to adjust production schedules to suit the dynamics of our customers. We are happy to either fulfil a ‘drumbeat’ schedule week after week, or respond to emergency deliveries if required. Our new Trumpf machines allow us to offer a fast track service.”
The future does indeed look very bright for Washington Metalworks, where Mr Tate and Mr Barella expect turnover to hit the £10 million mark within three years. Planning permission for a factory extension has been approved recently, while the company will continue to recruit apprentices at a rate of around five every year – all of its employees are time-served sheet metalworkers. Aside from laser cutting, additional services provided include design, punching, bending, welding, powder coating, inspection, delivery and installation.