As a UK manufacturer that exports globally, Ken Mills Engineering (KME) Ltd has come under increasing pressure from low cost foreign economies that are manufacturing cheaper and often inferior quality products. The pressure from foreign shores was alleviated when the manufacturer of material reclaimation systems, haylage packing systems, straw shredding and processing systems, balers and conveyors invested in an RUR2500p plasma cutting machine from Kerf Developments and an Amada 220 tonne press brake.
Prior to the installation of both machines, the Littleborough Company would buy steel box section and laser cut parts from external suppliers that would be internally fabricated, drilled and formed to complete standard and bespoke product lines. However, the high subcontract cutting costs, unreliable lead-times, inability to control the complete process and subsequent quality were key factors to the 50 employee business investing in the new machinery.
The two machines transformed the business, as KME Director, Mr Andy Mills recalls: “Our standard product lines were facing intense competition from Asian manufacturers, whilst our bespoke solutions were increasingly complicated to manufacture. The new machines instantly slashed our subcontract costs, labour requirements, streamlined our production and reduced our lead times as well as giving us the opportunity to design our products for manufacture. Essentially, the investment has given us a huge competitive edge over low cost foreign economies and customers will always see UK manufactured products as a premium brand.”
The Kerf RUR2500p plasma cutting machine was supplied with a 4 by 2m bed and a Lincoln Electric Spirit 150amp plasma unit. Capable of cutting material up to 20mm thick, the machine at the company on the Southern foothills of the Pennines was predominantly cutting stainless steel and mild steel sheets from 1 to 3mm thick. Recalling the arrival of the Kerf RUR2500p, Mr Mills continues: “We recognised a need for the machine and prior to installation we estimated 2-3 days use per week usage. Within a matter of weeks, we truly realised the potential of the Kerf machine and in no-time it was running up to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus during weekends. The ability to cut, chamfer and generate holes made many manual tasks obsolete. In the last few years, we have lost five staff through retirement and the productivity of the Kerf means that we didn’t need to replace these employees. In fact, we have become more productive than ever. The Kerf and Amada machines have improved our overall output as a business by at least 20%”
Taking the Kerf Benefits to Another Level
The Kerf RUR2500p proved a real game changer for KME, so the company recently upgraded by replacing the original machine with a new and larger RUR2500p. Replacing its predecessor, the new RUR2500p has an 8 by 2m bed and a more powerful and precise Lincoln Electric Spirit II plasma unit with the very latest Ultrasharp cutting technology.
Alluding to why the company replaced a machine that has delivered exceptional performance levels, Mr Mills continues: “Our components are primarily small to medium batches that are cut from single sheets, which rarely exceed the 4m bed length of the previous machine. We recognised that by increasing the bed length we could load one side of the machine whilst parts are being cut on the other end of the bed. This pendulum loading has effectively eliminated non-productive set-up times and reduced overall production times by an additional 50%.”
With customers ranging from small one-man businesses to large blue chip companies like Veolia, Sita, Biffa, Viridor, PHS, Coca-Cola and Kimberly Clark, quality and continuous improvement are key factors for KME. “The new Kerf RUR2500p has the very latest Ultrasharp cutting technology and this has improved the precision and surface finishes of the profiles and holes we cut. Additionally, there is less cleaning, no secondary hand finishing and there is less slag from the process.”
As well as offering precision levels in the +/-0.5mm range, the 275amp Lincoln Electric Spirit II plasma unit has the capacity to pierce and cut materials up to 35mm thick. Concluding on the benefits of the machine acquisitions, Mr Mills says: “The Kerf and Amada press brake combination is saving us upwards of £250,000 a year in subcontract costs. By purchasing more sheet material than the previous box section and also having complete control over the materials we need as well as integrating a design-for-manufacture ethos, we are saving an additional £150,000 a year in material. Added to this, there are fewer transport costs as we don’t deal with subcontractors.”
“From a customer perspective, our lead times for a machine have been cut from 8 weeks down to 4-6 weeks depending upon the customer specified machine. Furthermore, by implementing a design-for-manufacture philosophy, our machines are more aesthetically pleasing, more functional and also easier to use and maintain. For the customer, this gives a host of new reasons to buy machinery from KME. From our perspective, we have enhanced our brand, the product portfolio and we now have more unique selling points over our competitors,” concludes Mr Mills.