When subcontract profile cutting company Patrick Steel Ltd was looking at possible ways to expand its well established business, the Coventry company investigated the potential benefits of acquiring a plasma cutting machine to complement its existing cutting, grinding and fabrication capacity.
As a company established in 1986, Patrick Steel has the expertise, experience and industry insight that has seen the business continually grow for a generation. The company decided that the addition of a high definition plasma cutting machine, coupled with the four multi-headed flame cutting machines would have a positive impact on lead times and quality. In addition, it would open up the potential to explore new markets, particularly with thinner material, allowing customers a viable alternative to the more expensive laser and water-jet cutting. The future potential to offer a non-ferrous cutting service, including stainless steel and aluminium would be a further benefit.
The automotive, aerospace, construction, fabrication and general manufacturing subcontractor, fully investigated the potential benefits of a plasma cutting machine. Upon investigation, the clear benefits of adding plasma cutting to the existing flame cutting and grinding services were apparent. It was the recommendation of numerous independent steel profiling companies and service engineers that led the 12 employee company to Kerf Developments and its RUR2500 plasma cutting machine.
Commenting upon the acquisition, Patrick Steel's Joint Managing Director, Mr Jamie Bruce says: "Our flame cutting machines have the capacity to cut from 5 to 300mm thick steel plate. After an in-depth analysis of our actual cutting habits we deduced around 50% of material sold was 25mm thick and under - ideally suited for high definition plasma cutting. The Kerf machine will also enable us to drop below the 5mm lower limit of flame-cutting to thinner gauge material, further enhancing our product range. The benefits of plasma cutting were evident and based on our review of the market and recommendations, we opted for the Kerf RUR2500."
With a decision made, the Kerf RUR2500 was chosen and the new acquisition instantly delivered results. As Mr Bruce continues: "In general, flame cutting machines have a preheating period of 30 to 35 seconds prior to piercing whereas the plasma machine is almost instant, with a fully automated cutting procedure. This has made an immediate impact on our productivity. Furthermore, the Kerf machine has improved the quality and precision of our parts with the Kerf RUR2500 achieving a cut precision of ±0.25mm through most plate thicknesses in comparison to ±1.0mm achieved with flame cutting. In addition, the edge quality has also improved and customers are recognising this and often requesting a plasma-cut finish."
Patrick Steel has always been aware that plasma cutting was faster than flame cutting for parts up to 25mm and once the Kerf RUR2500 was installed and running the cutting speed advantage became apparent. The machine, with a 6m x 2m cutting bed proved itself to be 4.5 times faster than the flamecutting machines and in some instances up to 7 times faster. "The cutting speed is significantly faster and with no pre-heat time, the Kerf RUR2500 has been an excellent addition to our plant list. The setting-up of plates has also been improved and this also increases our throughput and capacity and decreases downtime.
The Lantek software and Burny control unit on the RUR2500 has contributed to throughput for Patrick Steel, as Mr Bruce continues: "The machine software has an automatic nesting feature that works on a database configuration. This improves the location and through-flow of repeat jobs from the office to the shop-floor. It also allows us to produce more parts from each plate by automatically utilising any remaining plate stock to produce components from any previous production run by digitally locating stock. This has further reduced our material costs. Furthermore, the control unit on the Kerf machine is very user friendly, easy to operate and enjoyable to use."
In the few short months since taking delivery of the Kerf RUR2500, Patrick Steel has improved productivity by 75% for almost 50% of its workload. Additionally, by moving this work to the more productive Kerf machine; Patrick Steel has also freed up capacity for its four flame cutting machines allowing them to seek out heavier work better suited to the flame-cutting process. The software on the Kerf machine has also expedited the workflow for Patrick Steel with lead times being further reduced.
From a quality perspective, customers are appreciating the better surface finishes and precision delivered by the Kerf RUR. Concluding on the acquisition, Mr Bruce says: "The Kerf purchase has been a revelation for our business. It has improved quality, throughput, productivity and also given us extra capacity on our alternate machines. The service and support from Kerf has been outstanding and we are extremely pleased with the plant purchase."
Patrick Steel April 2020
Founded in 2001, Kerf Developments have grown over the years to become the leading supplier of profile cutting machines in the UK and Ireland.
The company was originally formed to provide a repair and support service for customers operating a range of profile cutting machines. These machines were varied in size and capabilities. From small magic-eye gas cutting machines through to automated plasma and high pressure waterjet cutting solutions.
As the company’s reputation for repairing and in some cases upgrading older machinery spread – predominantly through word of mouth, additional engineers were employed to provide additional cover for the UK and Ireland.
It was a chance request from a customer who stated that his older machine had reached the end of its life and needed replacing that journeyed the Kerf team towards machine development. The customer asked Kerf and it’s engineers to design and build a new machine using their considerable experience of what were the “best” products available.
The first machine was built using a rail based design which helped to isolate delicate electronic systems from shock loading, particularly when loading and unloading large steel plates from the machine. The control system selected was from Burny which has proven itself to be very reliable in challenging industrial applications across the world.
Heavy duty downdraft cutting tables were selected and the plasma unit was a high definition system supplied by Hypertherm.
After the installation, news of the productivity and reliability that the new machine provided along with the quality and accuracy of the parts being cut spread, and further orders for similar machines came flooding in.
The simplistic design and choice of best in class products are still in use today with new machines utilising the current Burny control systems, INOVA electronic torch height controls, and with the latest best in class UltraSharp plasma systems supplied by Lincoln Electric.
The success of the company has been based on providing quality products at competitive prices and backing the equipment up with effective customer service and support be it for oxy-fuel, plasma or waterjet cutting technology.