Is bigger always better?
February 7, 2006
H. Meeuwsen B.V., a fabricator in Yerseke, Netherlands, found that purchasing a laser that could handle parts up to 12 m long greatly enhanced its capabilities. It augmented this purchase with a tandem press brake. One side of the brake has an 8-m capacity; the other has a 4-m capacity. This gives the company the ability to bend 12-m parts, if necessary, or to run the two brakes simultaneously for smaller items. Subsequent growth in customer demand led the company to consider purchasing a second laser. A careful analysis revealed that the company could do just fine with a smaller laser, so it purchased a laser with a 3-m capacity.
One of the simplest ways to increase productivity in a metal fabrication shop is to purchase a new machine, usually the largest machine you can afford. But where do you go from there? Does every subsequent purchase have to be bigger and better? Sometimes, but not always. With a little research and planning, you might find that the optimal machine is not the biggest machine. The right machine might be less expensive than the biggest machine, and more important, it might do just as much to enhance the productivity of your entire shop. The key is analyzing all of the shop's processes and finding a machine that has a high level of capacity utilization that also maximizes your operation's throughput.
H. Meeuwsen B.V., a fabricator in Yerseke, Netherlands, has applied this principle for several years. After starting with a large sheet metal laser that became the cornerstone of its fabricating operations, the company made other equipment purchases that sent ripples of productivity across the shop floor. But it didn't always purchase the highest-capacity machine it could find.
Meeuwsen provides engineering, fabrication, and machine construction for a variety of industries, including architectural, food processing, chemical processing, utilities, and construction. Because food processing lines are a significant portion of its business, the company realized that if it could reduce or eliminate welds, which create hard-to-clean areas where bacteria grow, it could produce better products. And a good way to eliminate welds was to replace several components with fewer, larger components.
This required two steps—first, adopting a new way of designing food processing equipment, and second, finding the right laser for the job. This meant buying the largest laser possible. It selected a 6-kilowatt laser with a table capacity of 12 meters by 3 m. It cuts stainless steel up to 20 millimeters thick and mild steel up to 25 mm thick. Before long the laser was running nearly 24 hours per day, five to six days per week.
How Many Press Brakes Is That?With the capability to cut parts up to 12 m long, Meeuwsen set its sights on the next challenge: bending 12-m parts in a press brake. The company opted for a tandem press brake.
Although it appears to be two machines, looks can be deceiving. "It's really one machine," said Tony van der Have, a salesman for Meeuwsen. Although it has two sets of controls—one for each brake—a single controller is used when the two brakes are used in tandem to process long parts.
|H. Meeuwsen B.V., a fabricator in Yerseke, Netherlands, uses a tandem press brake for bending parts up to 12 m long. The brake's length allowed the company to redesign existing products and paved the way to break into new markets.|
It is considered to be one press brake, it looks like two press brakes, yet it actually has three sets of specifications. To the left is an 8-m, 1,000-ton machine, and to the right is a 4-m, 400-ton machine. Together they comprise a 12-m machine. For short workpieces, the two individual presses can process material up to 25 mm thick; for workpieces longer than 8 m, they can handle thicknesses up to 12 mm.
It's one machine, but it provides the productivity of two press brakes, depending on part length.
Driving Into New Markets. The capability to handle parts up to 12 m long helped Meeuwsen in two immediate ways. First, the company was able to supply components and finished products made from larger parts that had fewer welds, which advanced its competitive position in supplying equipment for the food processing industry. Second, the capability to process such large parts allowed it to break into manufacturing trailer components. It could fabricate thicker, longer, and higher-strength steels than before.
The company soon found itself thinking about purchasing a second laser. Meeuwsen considered more than mere capacity this time; it looked for the most cost-effective machine it could find for its needs. Accordingly, the company's second laser purchase wasn't a bigger machine, nor was it an equivalent machine. Meeuwsen realized that the most suitable laser would be a much smaller machine. Because Meeuwsen already had developed a rapport with LVD, the equipment-maker that provided the laser and the tandem press brake, it chose an LVD Axel series laser, a 4-kW laser with a capacity of 3 m by 1-1/2 m. It cuts mild steel up to 15 mm thick.
When the larger laser is cutting large or thick material, Meeuwsen relies on the smaller laser for cutting small, thin parts. The Axel laser is an ideal complement to the press brake. When the brake is processing parts up to 8 m long from the larger laser, the brake can simultaneously process parts from the smaller laser.
Meeuwsen also found another use for the smaller laser—cutting parts from the discarded skeletons from the larger laser. The skeletons can be saved for later processing on the larger laser, but this isn't really feasible considering that it is in use nearly all the time already.
H. Meeuwsen B.V., Kreeft 4, 4401 NZ Yerseke, Postbus 16, 4400 AA Yerseke, 0113-57-3878, fax 0113-57-3978, www.meeuwsen.nl
LVD Co. n.v., Nijverheidslaan 2, B-8560 Gullegem, Belgium, 32-56-43-0511, fax 32-56-43-2500, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.lvdgroup.com