February cover story: Blazing a new fibre trail

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DCIM100GOPROG0198146.

Ed Hill speaks to Yorkshire-based MBA Engineering, the exclusive UK agent for Kimla fibre laser cutting machines, designed to offer end users significant operating advantages.

The sheetmetal sector is a highly competitive one for subcontractors carrying out this form of metalworking, but in terms of production equipment available, the UK market is dominated by just a handful of machine brands.

As a consequence, any serious new entrant is bound to create interest amongst industry stakeholders and end users. Kimla flatbed fibre laser cutters have been represented in the UK by Yorkshire-based MBA Engineering since 2015.

These Polish designed and built machines are said to be some of the most efficient on the market, with cutting times claimed to be up to 50% faster than competitor models, a cutting accuracy of 0.03mm, all in a small footprint.

Bradley McBain, managing director at MBA Engineering, comments: “We were invited to go to Kimla as a prospective agent for them a few years ago. We really liked what we saw and immediately signed up to be partners. Since then we have brought a range of their fibre lasers to the UK market.”

Mr McBain should be able to recognise a good machine when he sees one. Since 2009, MBA has built its reputation on maintaining, servicing, refurbishing and selling second-hand Bystronic CO₂ lasers. When presented with the opportunity to sell the new Kimla fibre machines it was too good to miss.

“The subcontractors we sell to have very short lead-times and are carrying out contracts with very small margins, so a machine that delivers unrivalled levels of efficiency is key,” he says. “That was what we were looking for when we went to Kimla. We wanted to offer our clients a machine that we knew would give them an edge over their competitors.”

Product portfolio

In fact, Kimla makes a variety of metalworking production machines, including, machining centres, milling machines, waterjet cutters, routers, engravers, large area milling machines and 5-axis milling machines, all based around the founder of the company, Przemyslaw Kimla’s, own CNC system.

Mr McBain says: “Mr Kimla has a real passion for pushing the boundaries when it comes to technology. When the company decided they were going to build their own sheetmetal cutters using the latest fibre laser technology (from IPG Photonics), they wanted to build a machine that would maximise the laser’s potential. They had no previous experience building flatbed lasers, so they had no preconceptions. When Mr Kimla wanted to use linear drives that would accelerate the machine’s speeds to become faster, he was told they weren’t available by suppliers, so he just went ahead and made his own. Kimla’s mentality is not to accept the established industry norms.”

“Their attention to detail is demonstrated by Kimla’s approach to the whole production process and their control and software systems,” he continues. “For example, the operator can take a DXF file from an email on a PC connected to the laser, and instantly pull it into CAD/CAM. Then quickly get a price to the customer, and with the click of a button can start cutting. With another few clicks alterations can be easily made.

“We also like the fact that they make almost every part on their machines. That gives them complete control over their manufactured parts, which leads to an assurance that once parts are out of warranty prices will not become exorbitant; a philosophy we share.”

One MBA customer, Concept Metal Products, has now installed a second Kimla machine after being so impressed with its first. The company now owns a Kimla 10m x 2m Kimla Powercut 4kW Fibre machine and a Powercut LF2040 6kW machine.

Dean Barnard, general manager at Concept Metal Products says: “We were amazed by the performance of the Kimla machine. The efficiency and precision of the equipment is something we haven’t experienced before, while the cost savings have been far more significant than we anticipated.

“The obvious choice was to install a second system to further enhance our capacity and production capabilities. On top of the machine, the service we’ve received from MBA Engineering has been outstanding.”

Committed investment

To reinforce Kimla’s prominence in the UK, MBA is investing in a new showroom at its Wetherby headquarters.

Mr McBain says: “We are raising the profile of the Kimla brand and the new showroom will help us to demonstrate a commitment to the UK market and help show these machines in the best setting. We also want to provide a facility where clients can come for training and support and help with cutting application problems.”

This commitment by MBA also extends to giving the best service and support for Kimla fibre laser customers to minimise downtime. Mr McBain says that around 85% of operating problems should be resolved remotely by support engineers, either in the UK or back in Poland.

“We are always keen to be innovative when it comes to how we deliver support. Although we have the very best response times for our customers, we want to minimise having to get in a van and make a visit. Added to that, we want to empower our end users to make their own fixes, which is ideally what they want to do anyway. Our first response will always be to connect remotely to a customer’s machine to see if we can resolve any issues.”

However, given the reliability of Kimla machines so far, it seems calls on support will be minimal. MBA also believes customer Return on Investment (ROI) will be substantially shorter than other laser cutting machine brands.

Automation extras

Aside from laser machine sales and servicing, MBA Engineering also provides automated solutions to help its customers’ manufacturing facilities become more efficient. Last year the company became the UK agent for the German system builder Remmert Automation.

[caption id="attachment_28892" align="alignleft" width="280"] Bradley McBain[/caption]

“The partnership made sense because many of our customers are looking to introduce more automation,” Mr McBain explains. “Remmert make automated systems for a range of OEM machinery, not just lasers but also punches and other profiling equipment. They also produce storage systems and systems that move stock and material around. This means we can offer a range of these solutions to help fully automate production processes.

“Automation is now very important for efficiency in manufacturing, yet in the UK large automated systems are rare amongst subcontractors. We know companies in Poland which have systems supplying six or seven lasers, yet that is still unusual here. Fundamentally, fibre laser technology and automation are just about the basics of cost per part and trying to give customers maximum profitability.”

Forward with fibre

Undoubtedly the introduction of fibre laser cutting machines is having a big impact on the sheetmetal industry. They are cheaper to run, easier to maintain, can cut a wider variety of metals, and with evermore powerful kilowatts, they are beginning to cut the same thicknesses as CO₂ machines. So how will this affect MBA and its servicing and sales?

Mr McBain says: “With new technical developments happening all the time, it is difficult for subcontractors to keep up, but electricity consumption by CO₂ lasers is high and they have complicated mechanisms that means servicing can be costly. If you could make CO₂ as efficient as fibre they might have a long-term future, but I don’t think that is feasible.

“Having said that, we still believe there is a healthy market for good standard, second-hand CO₂ lasers. They are an ideal introduction for people going into laser production who don’t want to make a huge investment. And we don’t sell machines that we know won’t be beneficial to customers. It’s about building long-term relationships because in a year those customers could be in the market for a brand-new laser.”

So it looks as if Mr McBain is confident about the prospects for the laser cutting sector and the benefits its new Kimla machines provide for the industry.

Once people see Kimla machines in action they are very positive. Of course, when a customer goes to buy a new machine they look for all its performance features, but you also have to consider what happens after the purchase in terms of guarantees, servicing and cost of repair.

“We our building a reputation not only for Kimla, but also for the service and support we provide. It means we sell one of the most efficient new machines on the market, with a great ROI, great reliability, and even outside of warranty, low cost of repair.”

MBA Engineering https://mba-eng.co.uk

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