All-electric tube bending

New machine allows furniture manufacturer to shorten lead times and boost output by 50%

Posted on 15 May 2017 and read 1622 times
All-electric tube bendingGresham Office Furniture has come a long way since being formed some 40 years ago, when typewriter engineer Ted Smith started producing desks in his garden shed.

Now, under the guidance of Julian Roebuck, who became managing director in 2008 after a management buy-out (MBO), the Bolton-based business operates out of a 200,000ft2 ‘state of the art’ factory that produces over 1,000 chairs alone every day.

The MBO at the height of the financial crash provided the opportunity to take a fresh look at the business, move it in a new direction and make changes designed to improve work-flow and efficiency.

As a result, operations manager David Openshaw reviewed the company’s tube-bending capability and subsequently bought an all-electric BLM E-Turn 52 from Ampthill-based BLM Group UK Ltd ( to complement two
existing BLM tube benders.

The changes instigated by Gresham saw the company win the prestigious Mixology North Manufacturer of the Year Award in 2016.

Mr Openshaw said: “Gresham was extremely successful before we implemented these changes, but with these new ideas, equipment and diversification into new markets — such as hospitality and corporate — as well as increasing export sales, we have achieved a 50% growth over the past seven or eight years. The company now has an annual turnover of about £30 million and 250 full-time employees.”

An advantage that Gresham has over its competitors is its reaction time to orders, with 10 days being a typical lead time.

BLM 2The introduction of the BLM E-Turn 52 makes a significant contribution to achieving the current levels of efficiency and flexibility, as Mr Openshaw confirms: “We are finding that the new electric tube bender increases output by around 50% compared to the older hydraulic machines that we installed over 16 years ago.

“Moreover, the only restriction we have in terms of achieving further gains is the inability of operators to keep up with the machine — but we do have an option for automated loading in the future.”

Mr Openshaw says that the efficiency of the E-Turn comes from the all-electric operation of its axes, which is energy-efficient and environment-friendly, as the machine only draws power when it is required.

This reduces the operating power requirement by around 50% and idle power by about 85%. Furthermore, the electric operation has a positive influence on bend accuracy and repeatability; once the machine is set, every bend is good, removing much of the requirement for highly skilled setter/operators.

Easy set-up

The E-Turn 52 installed at Gresham accommodates tube from 6 to 52mm in diameter, with a maximum wall thickness of 2mm. The electric operation of the machine’s axes means that no mechanical adjustment is needed during set-up, while the bends are better controlled and repeatable without manual intervention.

Moreover, the machine can undertake left- and right-hand bends with varying radii, and the option of integrating a load/unload capability can be done prior to or after machine installation.

Another aspect of Gresham’s business is the production of bespoke furniture, which invariably equates to small batch sizes. Mr Openshaw says: “This is where the speed and efficiency of the E-Turn really pay dividends.

BLM 3We have pre-set tooling, which BLM helped us with; using this and the BLM control software, we can set the E-Turn in around a minute — and the first-off part will be correct over 90% of the time. Setting is far easier and quicker than with our hydraulic machines.”

Gresham’s engineering supervisor Andy Smith says: “Throughout the installation of the E-Turn 52 and subsequent training, BLM worked with us to help develop solutions for our products. Getting programs into production is also simplified by the use of BLM’s VGP3D software.

“Its auto-simulation routines allow us to visualise the exact movements of the machine from the production office by simply inputting the bend co-ordinates, or directly importing them via BLM’s new B-Import software module from an STP or IGES CAD model, before sending the program out.

“Once it is downloaded to the machine control, we can carry out secondary checks for any possible collisions, using the touch-screen control.”

The level of success that Gresham is achieving means that it is out-growing its existing floor space, and plans are underway for further expansion. This may bring more investment, with the addition of a BLM laser tube machine that can be linked to the BLM E-Turn 52 in order to deliver even greater efficiency.

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