Amada investment delivers surge in sales

The Amada Regius CNC fibre laser sheetmetal cutter at Unifabs in Nuneaton
The Amada Regius CNC fibre laser sheetmetal cutter at Unifabs in Nuneaton

Nuneaton-based Unifabs has installed a brand-new Amada Regius high-speed CNC fibre laser profiling centre with load/unload automation and storage along with Amada press brake technology in a bid to sustain increased growth. PES reports.

Sheetmetal fabrication, design and manufacturing specialist Unifabs, which is targeting 25% growth in 2022, says its latest Amada Regius fibre laser machine has already improved laser cutting speeds by 50% for certain parts. So to further improve its ‘design to delivery’ offer for customers, the company has also placed an order for a new Amada HRB-ATC, the first mid-range press brake in the machine builder’s portfolio to feature automatic tool change capability.

Founded in 2007, Unifabs has grown into a £12 million turnover business with 125 people. Supplying precision sheetmetal parts to a customer base of blue-chip manufacturing companies across a host of industries.

“Our goal is to be much more than just a supplier of sheetmetal fabrications and parts,” says managing director Tom James. “We want to be a manufacturing partner to our customers, supplying a start to finish service. Whether we’re supplying sheetmetal components just in time to a manufacturing line, or controlling the entire production process on a contract manufacturing basis, we 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.

“We don’t specialise in one particular sector, but strong performing industries right now include HVAC, catering equipment and construction,” comments Mr James. “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.

“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,” notes Mr James.

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

Maximising productivity

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

Automatic inspection on the Regius utilises 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 and when required.

Amada’s automated loading system
Amada’s automated loading system

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 AS LUL-3015 for the automatic loading and unloading of sheets and the storage of raw material, ensuring uninterrupted production runs and optimal machine utilisation. 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.

“The machine is very easy to use,” Mr James says. “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.

More power: faster parts

“The Regius is a 6kW laser, whereas our other Amada laser capacity is 4kW,” Mr James explains. “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’s 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 the laser specialist’s portfolio, but the first to integrate a number of key technologies including: linear drives in all axes; the company’s all-new laser integration system; and variable beam control technology.

Beyond laser cutting, Unifabs offers extensive sheetmetal 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 CNC press brakes (Amada HFE and HFP models), the HRB-ATC is the first at the company with automatic tool change capability.

“We manufacture a lot of samples, prototypes and small batch runs to help get components ready for serial production,” Mr James comments. “We have ten 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’re really hoping that the new press brake’s ATC capability will have a big impact on throughput in this area. We’ll program a prototype part offline using Amada software, send it to the new HRB-ATC and hopefully be folding metal within a few minutes.”

Amada’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. The machine 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.

Customer benefits

“The new Amada investments support our growth strategy and mission to continue as a trusted contract manufacturing partner to our customers,” Mr James asserts. “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.

“The retention of staff is challenging with so many companies seeking new employees,” Mr James says. “However, we’re now a real Living Wage accredited manufacturer, so we pay above the minimum. Furthermore, from January we’ll be launching our Unifabs Academy in partnership with North Warwickshire and South Leicestershire College, with ten youngsters starting a two-year bespoke apprenticeship to help support our growth trajectory.”

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



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