Evolving from a small blacksmiths to a 1.5 acre site, John Thorburn & Sons Ltd has grown beyond recognition during its 70 year history. The family run business that specialises in the construction, agriculture and commercial steel-working sectors has always invested in the latest technology to underpin its continuous growth. This investment has now seen the Scottish company invest in an UltraSharp plasma cutting machine from Rochdale based Kerf Developments.
Employing over 50 staff that operate a variety of turning and milling centres as well as punching, pressing, fabricating and guillotine equipment, the modern-day business primarily manufactures, fabricates and erects agricultural buildings and structures. To manufacture the numerous components that constitute a complete steel building structure, Duns based John Thorburn & Sons relied upon its guillotine, punching, steel working and fabricating equipment until the arrival of a Kerf RUR2500 plasma cutting machine.
Commenting on why the company bought the Kerf RUR2500, Managing Director Mr John Thorburn says: "We recognised that our method of cropping, punching and drilling plates was cumbersome, time consuming and slowing down our throughput. All our jobs had to be handled and re-worked on a variety of different machines to arrive at a finished part. Additionally, we had to stock a large range of steel bar widths and thicknesses and this was taking a lot of floor space. Kerf has instantly eliminated all of these issues."
John Thorburn & Sons investigated the various options and it arrived at the conclusion that Kerf Developments had the most suitable solution for its needs. The Berwickshire business specified the RUR2500 with a 6m by 2m bed, so it could comfortably fit 4m by 2m by 20mm thick plate on the machine. This size cutting bed enables the company to use the nesting facility on the Kerf machine to cut up to 50 stanchion base plates in a single setup.
Raising the Bar on Profitability
The stanchion base plates that are required in considerable batches for the assembly of agricultural buildings were previously cut from 400mm by 20mm thick steel bar that was 6,400mm long. By purchasing 4m by 2m by 20mm thick plates instead of bar, the company instantly reduced material costs by over 30%. In fact, Mr Thorburn has calculated the change from bar to plate has taken stanchion material costs from £15 to less than £10 per unit. Furthermore, the nesting software supplied with the RUR2500 machine enables John Thorburn & Sons to set up a plate and instantly cut a batch of parts, further maximising material utilisation and reducing costs.
"The material savings have been significant for us, but this is just a by-product of the Kerf plasma. We bought the machine to streamline productivity and it's certainly done that. Stanchion plates used to require manual cropping, punching and drilling. This prolonged process would require several machines and it was a full-time job for our staff. The production time used to be almost 20 minutes per plate; the Kerf plasma has reduced this to less than 2 minutes. That is a massive cycle time saving, which is enhanced by the fact that our staff can set the Kerf machine up and then carry-on with welding jobs."
Taking the setting up and nesting process a set further, the 6m bed enables John Thorburn & Sons to set up a range of plate sizes, meaning a complete inventory of parts for a project can be processed in a single set-up. The 275 amp machine is powered by the Lincoln Electric Spirit plasma unit and by utilising Kerf's Ultrasharp technology, the customer can cut profiles, holes and slots with impeccable precision levels and edge finishes.
The ability of the Ultrasharp system to cut precision holes from the 20mm thick steel plates has cut cycle times on the end plates the company produces for steel building rafters. As Mr Thorburn recalls: "Some end plates would need up to 12 holes per plate with different location points and diameters. This would require each plate to be cut, have the first hole punched or drilled and then the second hole and so on. This process would see each plate handled multiple times, slowing the production cycle. Each plate used to take upwards of 30 minutes to produce, the Kerf RUR2500 now does each plate in less than 3 minutes. This means a batch of plates that would take 3 days to produce can now be made on the Kerf machine in a few hours."
As well as achieving the desired impact on production times and throughput, John Thorburn and Sons has also been making savings on its gas consumption. As Mr Thorburn continues: "We were using high volumes of oxygen and acetylene for manual fabrication work. This cost of £600 per month has been eliminated and whilst the Kerf plasma has consumable costs, they are nominal compared to what we were spending previously. "
Kerf Takes The Business Forward
As a result of acquiring the Kerf UltraSharp plasma machine, the Scottish company has streamlined production, reduced steel stockholding, freed machine tool and labour capacity and reduced material and consumable costs. As a result of releasing this extra capacity, the company has now started offering subcontract cutting services as well as targeting a wider variety of work in its core market segments. As Mr Thorburn continues: "We are now taking on work such as cattle handling parts, steel flanges, grain handling, cattle feeding systems and much more. The RUR2500 has made a huge difference to our business and as we move forward, the Kerf machine will propel us into new market segments with our new capabilities. We're delighted with the machine; it's done everything we wanted and much more."
John Thorburn & Sons - April 2021
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.