Focus SB robotic finishing solution

Sussex-based manufacturer of electrical accessories achieves a fine finish — automatically

Posted on 05 Nov 2018 and read 860 times
Focus SB robotic finishing solutionThere is something reassuring about the click of a quality switch, and St Leonards-based Focus SB has established a highly successful business by targeting the high-end market in hospitality, residential and heritage electrical-wiring accessories.

A ‘pioneer’ in the manufacture of high-quality electrical sockets and switch plates, it has maintained its success through innovation and investment, recently installing an Autopulit robot polishing, graining and brushing cell from Christchurch-based Ellesco Ltd ( to improve the production of switch rockers.

Focus SB has been manufacturing its standard and bespoke ranges of electrical-wiring accessories for over 40 years, during which time it has supplied many prestigious projects — including five-star hotels, exclusive residential developments and royal palaces.

Its products — particularly switches and faceplates — are mainly manufactured from three materials: brass and stainless steel, which can be brush-finished, polished, plated or painted; and clear acrylic plates that allow the décor to show through.

In 2016, chairman Roger Kemp invited Gary Stevens to join the company as managing director, with the challenge of ‘driving it forward.’

Ellesco Focus 3Mr Stevens said: “Breaking into the Chinese market was a major coup for the business.
Addressing an urgent supply-chain issue saw Mr Stevens travel to China; as a result, a whole new market was opened up to Focus SB, which is now the only UK-based manufacturer of electrical-wiring accessories with CQC approval (China’s equivalent of British Standards), allowing it to export to the lucrative and growing Chinese market for high-end fittings.

However, it did come with challenges that made us look at our manufacturing operations — and our productivity in particular.

“We tend to operate with relatively small batches, using lots of hand finishing techniques and skills that have been developed over many years.”

Attention turned to how to automate production, with the initial focus on the rockers that feature in both the light switches and wall sockets produced by Focus SB; and while these come in different sizes and forms, consistency is key. When two or more rockers sit side by side, any discrepancy is obvious.

Finishing options

The solution proposed by Ellesco for automating the laborious hand finishing processes was an Autopulit robot cell, with an ABB robot arm presenting parts to a single linishing belt, along with a double-ended spindle that can be equipped with Nylon web brushes, Scotch-Brite or polishing mops — together with tanks and guns to automatically apply the appropriate compounds and fluids.

This combination of equipment means that the cell can undertake grinding, linishing, polishing and graining; and to optimise productivity, it is also fitted with a twin-pallet system that can handle raw and finished parts without manual intervention.

One of the challenges facing Focus SB was the transfer of what was a highly labour-intensive process to the robot cell, taking into account the wide range of sizes and shapes of the switch rockers that it produces.

Two members of the Focus SB team went for training on the cell, to develop the skills required to manage it efficiently.

Ellesco Focus 2Mr Stevens said: “We decided to start with the smallest and most challenging rocker, with the view that everything after that would be straightforward, which it was; only small tweaks needed to be made to the software to create the accuracy of the profile we wanted.

“The cell has freed up the operators who used to do this work by hand, allowing them to learn new skills and take on more-interesting and rewarding work. Moving to automation hasn’t cost anyone their job.

“The investment in the Autopulit cell was driven by quality and productivity demands. We sell our products on the back of their quality, and customers paying for a premium product are — quite rightly — highly discerning.

“The automated cell from Ellesco has delivered what we needed and eliminated any concerns in the area of finishing; and while the initial process of transferring a highly skilled manual operation to a fully robot-controlled cell was a challenge, we are now processing all of our switch rockers on it.

“Moreover, we are producing them more consistently, in terms of quality — and faster.

“With the rockers now an established process within the robot cell, we can now look to expand its use on other products and components.”

While batch quantities are currently relatively low, they are increasing, so the time savings generated by automating the finishing operations have created much-needed additional capacity.

“Our flexibility in terms of both product design and manufacture sets us apart from other manufacturers in our sector, particularly as we are happy to make a one-off — especially for our heritage projects.

“The growth of the Chinese market, plus a number of other areas that — in addition to the UK domestic market — also use British standards, means that business is growing. The robot cell supplied by Ellesco will allow us to meet that demand more easily.”

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