Strong business growth at Blaze Neon, one of the UK's largest manufacturers of signs for retail shopfronts, banks and offices, has prompted the installation of a second flatbed laser profiler and two new CNC press brakes at its Broadstairs factory within the past 18 months. All machines were supplied by Bystronic UK.
Established in 1981 and now employing over 300 staff at its factories in Broadstairs and Birmingham, which also incorporates Cygnia Maintenance, Blaze is a long-time user of plant from Bystronic, having purchased a larger laser profiler at the end of the 1990s and a water jet cutting machine in 2007.
Managing Director Clive Knight said, "We decided to opt for machines from this Swiss manufacturer as, 14 years ago, they were the only supplier of top quality sheet metalworking equipment prepared to equip a CO2 laser cutting centre with extraction, filtration and ducting to allow us to profile perspex safely.
"The machine proved reliable in operation and continues to do so, which encouraged us to standardise on this supplier for practically all of our sheet metal processing plant.
"We think they are well produced machines and the manufacturer keeps up to date with modern sheet metalworking technology, which allows us to stay competitive.
"Having the extra equipment means we normally complete our production during day shifts, seven days a week, so expensive night shifts are avoided."
The original Bystar 4020 laser cutting machine accepts 4-metre by 2-metre sheet whereas the latest machine, a Bysprint 3015, has a capacity of 3 metres by 1.5 metres. A second bed at the rear allows a new sheet to be set up while the previous one is in the machining area.
The rationale for installing the machine was to provide extra capacity and back-up for the Bystar. This is important for Blaze, as a majority of its work is laser-cut and turnaround of one week and sometimes less has to be maintained within the production shop. There is a trend among steel sheet suppliers to standardise on 3-metre material, which encouraged the company to opt for the smaller Bysprint.
One of the operators responsible for laser profiling at Broadstairs advised, "The new machine is around 15 per cent faster than the original model, due to its smaller moving elements and modern drives.
"We mainly cut aluminium and stainless steel up to 3 mm thick and perspex up to 5 mm. However, brass and occasionally copper are also profiled. The Bystronic control contains parameters for cutting all of these materials using optimum conditions."
Interestingly, this operator is Blaze's only remaining employee with experience of operating the pantograph laser cutter that the Bystar replaced. Very advanced for its time, it required a paper template to allow a line-follower to trace the profile.
However, humidity tended to distort the paper and with customers demanding increasingly higher quality signs, requiring a tolerance of ±0.5 mm to be held, accuracy became difficult to hold. In addition, the lower power laser resulted in a cutting speed one-tenth that of the Bystar's, so the machine struggled to keep up as production quantities grew.
Blaze's metal shop supervisor commented, "Some degree of CNC profiling resilience was introduced with the installation of a ByJet Pro 3015 water jet cutting machine, the first and only one we have on site.
At the same time, it allowed us to manufacture our own mild steel bases for totem signs we make for Sainsbury's, Yamaha and other well-known firms. Previously, the 25 mm thick bases were bought in, but if a customer pulled forward the delivery date, it was difficult for us to respond as production was out of our hands."
Having 3 metre by 1.5 metre water jet profiling capacity in-house also allowed the sign manufacturer to expand the scope of its manufacture to include glass, brick and tile items, as well as to cut softer materials like perspex and foamex when required.
Features of the machine include twin cutting heads which double production output, automatic adjustment of cutting head height, 84 m/min simultaneous positioning and a shuttle table for loading and unloading material at the same time. The Waterjet can be programmed by the same Bysoft programming software as the two laser machines, making transfer of work seamless.
In May this year (2013), Blaze turned its attention to metal bending capacity. Against a backdrop of increasingly tight tolerances and more long-term contracts for banks, notably Lloyds TSB, Metro and the Halifax, the manufacturer decided to install two Bystronic press brakes. They are an Xact 100 for bending material up to 3 metres long and an Xact 160 capable of processing 4-metre sheet, mainly aluminium and stainless steel. Model numbers denote pressing force in tonnes.
Existing equipment on site was starting to fold sheet either over- or under-square, due to general wear and the old method of bottoming out the top wedge-shaped tool, or punch, into the 90-degree V of the lower die plate. Blaze's metal shop supervisor said that the Bystronic press brakes use air bending to produce much more accurate folds, whether at 90 degrees or at intermediate angles for sloping facades, all using the same die set. Consistency of bending from batch to batch avoids the need occasionally to fit-up panels if they are slightly out of alignment.
During air bending, accurate CNC control over ram position allows the upper tool to press the workpiece into the bottom tool opening by exactly the right amount, without bottoming. Bend angle is controlled by the program, which specifies how deeply the punch should enter the die.
To avoid variance along the bend length due to the frame deflecting, hydraulic crowning automatically applies compensation pressure in the middle of the machine to ensure the angle is precisely the same throughout the whole bend length. The 2D control enables easy program entry, graphical visualisation of the part and simulation of the bending process, including collision monitoring and ensuring that the operator bends the part in the correct sequence.
Bystronic UK Limited
6 Wayside Business Park
Wilsons Lane, Coventry, CV6 6NY
David Larcombe, Managing Director
Web site: www.bystronic.com
Blaze Neon, 5 Patricia Way, Pysons Road
Broadstairs Kent, CT10 2XZ
Tel: +44 (0)1843 601 075
Fax: +44 (0)1843 867 924
Clive Knight, Managing Director
Web site: www.blaze-signs.com
Release no: 1003(CS)