Advanced Sheetmetal Technologies has witnessed at various times the occasional fabricator in Australia or New Zealand forced to sell during hard times.
Sometimes this is due to a failed start-up, other times poor technology investment.
But despite sighting infrequent moments of gloom, the company’s national manager for sales and marketing, Andrew Bentrup, says overall it is clever investment in technology that is pulling many a company through.
“Management, of course, is a key influence in the stability and growth of a fabricator in the competitive sheet metal market, but ensuring the right equipment is in place is the major imperative,” said Andrew Bentrup.
“If there is one thing our manufacturers are learning, it’s that in the slightly more mature markets of the USA and Europe, many basic mistakes have been made and it’s worth identifying with some proven wisdom to ensure a good outcome.
“American contract manufacturer EPMP is an excellent example. Founded in 1984, it took only four years until the company was sold due to poor performance.
“But by 1992, the founding family re-acquired the entity which was a mere 5,000 square-foot facility with just six employees, old sheet metal fabricating equipment, and an ordinary reputation.”
Rapidly, success came with new equipment – turret punch presses, press brakes, shears, welders, etc. – and a new satellite 33,000 square-foot-manufacturing shop to augment the expanded 55,000 square-foot facility.
Today, EPMP’s 85 employees provide fabricated sheet metal products to a wide range of customers in such industries as lighting and electrical, HVAC, commercial construction, etc., through its two manufacturing facilities.
Global economy and automation
“Like many of our local companies, EPMP realised is was facing challenges from sheet metal fabricators offshore (and across the border in Mexico) and knew it had to automate.
“The company was looking to fully automate and had been looking for parts sorting automation for several years. With its traditional turret punch press supplier, an operator had to pull the parts out of the skeleton.
“At one point just the labour for the sorting operation was costing over US$200,000 per year due to double- and triple-handling of parts from punching to bending.”
“Like the circumstances that face many companies in this part of the world, EPMP needed to remove the non-value added steps of production from its processes.”
After looking closely at the automation lines of both companies, a equipment manufacturer that offered full automation integration was Finn-Power.
Integrating machinery to work together seamlessly from part to part and operation to operation has been resolved by Finn-Power’s night train material management flexible manufacturing system.
In addition to punching, shearing, and/or laser cutting, the night train allows the addition of robotic press brakes and an in-line panel bender to automate the bending process.
This system allows fabricators to bend only the parts needed for today’s production while allowing the parts to be bent in different sequences than they were punched to match assembly needs.
It not only significantly reduces the labour content, but also better utilises floor space by reducing work in process and the need to store and handle parts that are not needed immediately.
While automated bending was EPMP’s big need, during the process the company acquired additional work that necessitated additional punching capacity. In all, EPMP procured the following FMS components from Finn-Power:
- EBe servo electric Express Bender, with loading/unloading systems
- Two hydraulic press brakes with robots
- Two Shear Genius integrated punch/right angle shear combinations with loading, sorting and double wagon stacking system
- Night train material management system for holding blank sheets and for punched and fabricated parts to be automatically stacked on pallets and transferred to the material management system via the night train wagon and sent directly to the EBe bender or robotic press brakes
EBe servo electric express bender
The EBe servo electric express bender is a bending solution that is designed specifically for each fabricator’s production requirements to achieve maximum productivity and product quality, and repeatability.
The EBe servo electric express bender offers complete automation of the bending process. The bending operation cycle is fully automated from the loading of flat parts to unloading of the components.
The EBe bending cell has a maximum bending length of 2150mm and a maximum opening height of 200mm. The new construction features actuations of the bending blade movements (vertical and horizontal) by NC servo axes instead of hydraulic cylinders. Upper tool movements are also made by another NC servo axis.
EBe provides the high bending quality required in demanding applications. This is achieved through precise control of bending axes, fast and smooth bending, open programmability, and construction that is immune to variation in thermal conditions.
Robotic hydraulic press brakes
Two high-precision robotic press brakes provide solutions for parts that are too large or thick for the EBe.
Other features include:
- Provides unmanned bending at maximum speed
- Produces good consistent parts
- Eliminates 2-man operations for heavy components
- Can be integrated into Finn-Power’s flexible manufacturing system
Shear Genius and night train
When EPMP had to add punching capacity, the company chose the Shear Genius integrated turret punch/right angle shear combination from Finn-Power. With the Shear Genius concept, the objective is to provide one machine capable of transforming a full-sized sheet into punched parts.
These parts can be moved to secondary operations utilising the sorting and stacking automation into Night Train system and onto bending operations without being touched by human hands.
As loading, punching, and shearing of parts become automated, the result is finished parts with a dramatic reduction in scrap and manual labour while increasing profitability.
Shear Genius functions with sophisticated simplicity, able to perform demanding jobs with minimal set-up times and lights out operation. The Shear Genius increases material productivity through efficient and versatile nesting programs.
The level of automation can be customised through Finn-Power’s flexible modular solutions for raw material storage, loading, unloading, sorting and stacking. These features can be added later as budgets allow and production demands increase.
The Shear Genius eliminates wasteful skeletons and costly secondary operations such as deburring. Nibble edges on the part exteriors were eliminated through the use of the integrated right angle shear.
In fact, the same clamps that hold the sheet for punching also hold it for shearing. In essence, the Shear Genius allows the automated process to begin with a full-sized sheet of material and end with a punched part after automated loading, punching, forming, shearing, stacking and unloading – all in one operation thus allowing true single-piece flow able to be synchronised with customer’s take time.
When EPMP initially chose the Finn-Power automation, an initial goal was to reduce labour costs on bending and sorting.
However, other benefits the company has realised include:
- Reduced material costs – cost savings of at least 10%, and in some cases more depending on the part
- Higher steel utilisation – as high as 98% sheet utilization on some parts while programming with Finn-Power’s NC Express software
- Reduced lead times