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Unifabs invests in ‘state of the art’ Amada machines

Fast expanding firm focuses on enhancing its ‘design to delivery’ service

Posted on 11 Jan 2022 and read 1549 times
Unifabs invests in ‘state of the art’ Amada machinesNuneaton-based Unifabs has installed a new Amada Regius high-speed CNC fibre laser profiling centre with load/unload automation and storage. The company, which is targeting 25% growth in 2022, says the machine has already improved laser cutting speeds by up to 50% for certain components.

To further improve its ‘design to delivery’ offer for customers, Unifabs has also placed an order for a new Amada HRB-ATC, the first mid-range press brake in Amada’s range to feature automatic tool-change capability.

Established in 2007, Unifabs has grown into a £12 million turnover business employing 125 people. Supplying precision sheet-metal parts to an enviable customer base of blue-chip manufacturing companies across a host of industries.

Managing director Tom James said: “Our goal is to be much more than just a supplier of sheet-metal fabrications and parts. We want to be a manufacturing partner to our customers, supplying a start to finish service. Whether we are supplying sheet-metal components just in time to a manufacturing line, or controlling the entire production process on a contract manufacturing basis, we like to operate as an extension of our customers’ business.”

Unifabs has seen growth of around 65% over the past two years and today operates from a single site with five factories that total 52,000ft2 of manufacturing space.

Mr James continued: “We do not specialise in one particular sector, but particularly strong-performing industries right now include HVAC, catering equipment and construction. To ensure timely deliveries to our customers we continuously invest in the latest manufacturing technologies.”

A case in point centres on the company’s laser cutting capacity, which was recently struggling to keep pace with rising demand. Mr James explained: “Even though we have an Amada FOL-AJ 4kW fibre laser with AS LUL loading system and an Amada EML-3610NT punch-laser combination with MP loading system, we were still outsourcing a lot of laser cutting.”

To help improve lead times for its customers and regain control of its parts, Unifabs decided to invest in another laser cutter.

Maximising productivity

Mr James said: “We looked at different models, but along with the increased processing speed we really liked the automated set-up features on the Amada Regius, which we knew would help to reduce set-up/inspection time and maximise productivity.”

RegiusPictured left and below are parts produced on the Amada Regius. Automatic inspection on the Regius uses technology such as the Amada i-Nozzle Checker to assess nozzle damage and circularity.

If the nozzle requires changing (against a predetermined set of parameters), this will happen automatically via the machine’s 16-station nozzle changer, negating the need for subjective operator judgement. A further function of the i-Nozzle Checker is automatic alignment of the nozzle centre if or when required.

Installed in November 2021, the Amada Regius at Unifabs is primarily processing mild steel, galvanised steel and zintec from 1 to 8mm thick. The machine features an Amada ASLUL-3015 for the automatic loading and unloading of sheets and the storage of raw material, ensuring uninterrupted production runs and optimal machine usage. Typical batch sizes are in the region of 50 to 200. At present the company is running a double shift during the week, plus a weekend shift.

Mr James added: “The machine is very easy to use. It has several process monitoring systems that do much of the work for operators.”

Regius features Amada’s new i-Process Monitoring system, which checks the wavelength of reflected light in real time to provide a reliable indication of good or poor cuts. Automatic head collision recovery is a further function of i-Process Monitoring. Machines without this function simply stop and issue an alarm, wasting valuable time.

Mr James continued: “The Regius is a 6kW laser, whereas our other Amada laser capacity is 4kW. Combined with the more intelligent head movement, we find that any parts over 4mm thick are around 50% quicker to cut, shortening lead times for customers without any compromise in quality.

“It is a great step forward for Unifabs and our partners. The Regius is also more efficient and uses a lot less power than our Amada FOL laser cutter, such is the advance in technology.”

The high-specification Regius CNC fibre laser-profiling centre is not only the fastest in Amada’s portfolio, but the first to integrate a number of key technologies: linear drives in all axes; the company’s all-new laser integration system; and variable beam control technology.

Beyond laser cutting, Unifabs offers extensive sheet metal fabrication capabilities that include design, CNC punching, CNC bending, welding, powder coating and final assembly.

Automatic tool change

Bending is a core business function, which is why Unifabs has placed an order for a new Amada HRB-ATC. Adding to the company’s existing seven Amada CNC press brakes (HFE and HFP models), the HRB-ATC is the first at the company with automatic tool change (ATC) capability.

Mr James explained: “We manufacture a lot of samples, prototypes and small batch runs to help get components ready for serial production. We have 10 people in our CAD team, so a lot of our work comes from the product development side of our business.

“However, these parts often have long set-up times, so we are really hoping that the new press brake’s ATC capability will have a big impact on throughput in this area. We will program a prototype part offline using Amada software, send it to the new HRB-ATC and hopefully be folding metal within a few minutes.”

RegiusAmada’s HRB-ATC features a full size ATC, offering exactly the same number of tool storage racks as the company’s high-end HG-ATC press brake. It also comes with a package of Amada tools based on an assessment of the customer’s manufacturing requirements. Importantly, the HRB-ATC is completely compatible with Amada AFH standard tool sets. As a result, any existing customer using these tools can load them manually to the new machine if desired.

Direct customer benefits

“The new Amada investments support our growth strategy and mission to continue as a trusted contract manufacturing partner to our customers. While our customer service and communications set us apart from competitors, it’s our investment in new technology that can impact factors such as lead time, providing a direct benefit for clients.”

Of course, there are numerous industry challenges currently threatening to quell any potential gains, including labour shortages, but Unifabs has plans in place to overcome this issue.

Mr James said: “The retention of staff is challenging with so many companies seeking new employees. However, we are now a real Living Wage accredited manufacturer, so we pay above the minimum.

“Furthermore, from January we will be launching our Unifabs Academy in partnership with North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, with 10 youngsters starting a two-year bespoke apprenticeship to help support our growth trajectory.”

He concluded: “Alongside a number of good prospects for 2022, we will keep striving to maintain great relationships with our existing customers. We are targeting £15 million turnover in 2022, which will represent 25% growth.”