It was 20 years ago that Alistair Bailey, having become disillusioned with working long hours for someone else’s business, made the break and formed JML Engineering Ltd to specialise in tube bending and tubular fabrications.
The new company grew by investing in several used hydraulic tube-bending machines — and key customers providing steady orders for security and safety products.
While these old hydraulic machines served the business well, their age and limitations became increasingly apparent, and with support for them from the manufacturers almost non-existent, so Mr Bailey decided 18 months ago that it was time to invest further in the business to improve its productivity and equipment reliability.
After researching the market, he concluded that switching from hydraulically operated benders to all-electric machines was the way to go; he subsequently installed an Elect 52 all-electric multi-stack tube bender from Ampthill-based BLM Group UK Ltd (www.blmgroup.com
Mr Bailey said: “Breakdowns on our hydraulic machines were increasingly becoming an issue, and this prompted our decision to go electric.
“The arrival of the BLM Elect 52 certainly eased the demands being placed on production due to the business growing rapidly — plus the machine handled the bending of smaller handrails with ease.”
Mr Bailey says a particular advantage of BLM all-electric Elect machines is the speed at which they can be set up — and the guarantee that bends will be consistent, without any need for adjustment from the start of a batch to the last tube being finished.
“The CNC system on the Elect machines manages all of the clamping and slide pressures to ensure consistency of the bend. Once the tools have been changed, the operator simply calls up the program, and the control takes care of the bending process.
“Now, we can complete the set-up in less than 15min — and know that the first tube will be within specification. Scrap is now a thing of the past, thanks to the uniformity of the process and the software in the control.”
The B-Tools software, which is part of the standard VGP3D 3-D graphic programming software provided in the BLM control, functions by taking the theoretical data of the part to be bent and automatically applying corrections from a database of materials and bending experience.
This programming software allows the user to either create a part program at the machine or import IGES and STEP files and automatically convert them into a bending program.
Collision detection is also part of the system, with VGP3D checking the feasibility of the part program to ensure that there is no risk of damage to the part, machine or tools.
Multi-stack tooling system
Health and safety is also improved, as operators have no reason to manually interact with the machine to make any adjustments; light guards and fencing offer further protection during production.
Other areas where the BLM machines offer distinct advantages include the multi-stack tooling system, which allows up to three sets of bending tools to be on the machine at any one time, further reducing set-up times.
Furthermore, the Push Bend capability allows both small and large radii to be bent on the same piece of tube; this was not possible with JML Engineering’s hydraulic machines.
The success of the BLM Elect 52 installed by Mr Bailey was such that it was soon followed (in February this year) by a larger Elect 80, which can bend tube up to 80mm in diameter.
He said: “At the time we had no requirement to bend tube of that diameter, but the extra capacity has given us new opportunities to expand our customer base.
“The capabilities of these two machines mean that we are well positioned to meet existing and future demands from customers.
“Moreover, we are now far more efficient with regard to both production and the environment; the all-electric machines use less power, and we no longer have the constant noise from the hydraulic pumps — or the oil leaks that went with them.”
The two all-electric Elect bending machines have replaced four older hydraulic machines, and there is no longer any need for highly skilled operators to run them.
“Finding people with the experience and knowledge to operate hydraulic benders efficiently is extremely difficult.
“We needed only a minimum of training on the BLM machines, and I am confident that just about any of our team can operate them and produce high-quality parts, which is what we have built our reputation on.
“The control and software are identical on both machines, so there is no problem switching from one to the other.”