As times change, so does our need for safer, more readily available and environmentally friendly means of transport. The Automotive sector has seen this shift and is constantly developing new vehicles with increasingly complex; but overall less components. The advantages are that less material, manufacture and handling are required, resulting in cheaper and more refined end products. We work closely with vehicle manufacturers within this sector to ensure future vehicles will be safe, affordable and sustainable for many years to come.
A prime example of this is a current project we are processing for the automotive sector. This project began relatively modestly but has since grown by a large percentage as a result of an increased demand for the final product. The two individual parts in this project, which we can process on all three of our Flatbed Trumpf Laser machines, use a very specific grade of metal designed especially for the automotive sector to be as strong as possible, whilst also extremely lightweight. By utilising our own in house compressed air, we remain highly competitive without sacrificing on cut quality or cutting speeds.
One of the issues faced at the beginning of this project was how to ensure that the laser cut parts were made available to go into press without adding extra time or handling to an already strict schedule. We worked alongside our customer to put in place a constant rotation of specially designed pallets to hold parts in the orientation required by the next stage of manufacture, direct from the laser machine. By implementing a check off by our Quality department before any packaging began, we guaranteed that all pallets supplied would be in the same orientation as the first customer buy off. This was vital due to a high run rate of pressing, processed automatically by our customer and it eradicated any need for timely human intervention.
As a company that specialises in Laser Cutting, We are one of many, particularly within the West Midlands, offering services to a plethora of sectors and customers across the globe. By working to our strengths and making constant improvements; including new procedures, checking fixtures and investment in the latest technologies, we have become one of the leading suppliers to the automotive, yellow goods and construction sectors
Our Marketing guru asked me to write an article on what our customers want from us. I’ve been thinking about this and initially a post on LinkedIn sprung to mind by a competitor of ours (who shall remain anonymous) in the laser cutting industry. The post went along the lines of:
You can have it quick
You can have it right
You can have it cheap
But you can’t have it quickly, cheaply and right!
Could We Order Products & Services Like Shopping on Amazon?
I guess like us he knew that what customers want is to have it yesterday, cheaply and cut correctly. And who can blame them? When we’re used to same day delivery from Amazon for virtually any item then it can be frustrating to be told that you will have to wait a bit longer and that it might be a bit more expensive then what you originally thought and that we won’t always get it right!
Also, most laser cutting websites, including GF Laser’s, promote quick turnaround and this is one of the major benefits of laser cutting when compared to say traditional pressed parts.
So, can we meet customer expectations? Could laser cutting ever be as simple as ordering something from Amazon? Now some companies have started on this route with online estimating tools and ordering but with limited success. Unless it’s a really simple part then there are too many factors open to interpretation.
At GF Laser we have made some progress in these areas:
Now, as for the last one well that’s a bit trickier. No-one wants to make less money and it’s in the interests of all our customers that we make a profit. So how do we remain competitive in an increasing crowded marketplace and competition from overseas?
Truth is, we’re still working on that one! We review our prices against our peers and we use the latest nesting technology to ensure that the material is used as efficiently as possible. I would say we’re also very cheap if you want 10,000 parts but producing 1 part at the same piece part cost as 10,000 is currently more challenging.
Trumpf (The manufacturers of our lasers not the American President) are making a lot of progress in the factory of the future where automation is key. Repetitive tasks can be carried out by a machine to achieve zero rejection working at high speed. Material is tracked by cameras so that it’s automatically routed to the next available laser increasing productivity tenfold. Scrap parts are automatically detected and removed from Production.
Employees will then become system engineers rather than laser operators and their role will be making sure that all the necessary computers are working correctly and are properly maintained rather than physically operating the laser.
It should then be possible to produce one part as cheaply as producing 10,000 parts. I think we’ll get there and in the next 10 years we’ll see a massive shift to this type of factory as the cost of operating a connected factory comes down.
So, yes you can have it quickly, cheaply and right. Just not as cheaply as you might want just yet!
At the time of writing the Country waits with bated breath for the next chapter in the Brexit saga. In common with most business owners I’m conscious of how Brexit will affect our business and whether it will affect our plans for 2019.
Whilst we don’t export directly to mainland Europe, many of our customers do, so the potential impact on sales cannot be underestimated. The other side of the Brexit coin for the GF Laser management team, is a potential boom as companies purchase more goods from the UK rather than overseas. This is a possible opportunity for UK manufacturers to claw back some of the work that has moved overseas in the last few decades. The pro’s & Cons of Brexit are covered in this article by The Engineer
Will Brexit Affect Engineering Employment?
Another potential issue for us to consider in 2019 is the recruitment of staff, we have many employees here that were born outside of the UK. They have made a valuable contribution to the success of our business with a strong work ethic and possession of skills that are not readily available in the UK.
The skills shortage in the UK is a matter that is talked about almost as much as Brexit. If we are unable to draw on a pool of human resource that includes all EU nationals this will be a major challenge.
The Right Government Funding
In my opinion the government needs to do more to talk to local businesses about the skills they require and how best they can be funded. Rather than rely on colleges perhaps offering training grants for existing staff that include compensation for lost production would help increase the skill set. We also need to think about this training strategies over a 10 year period rather than a quick fix that makes a good soundbite for political gain.
Firstly, grants should be available that cover 100% of the cost not just a proportion. Secondly, the procedure for grants should be simplified to avoid the need for consultants who have to interpret the requirements from local authorities. These two reasons I believe put off many companies from accessing grants as they are too busy running their businesses to spend days and days filling in forms or dealing with consultants.
Flexibility in a rapidly changing world
As with most business owners in the low margin manufacturing environment I will be looking at how to increase productivity. Purchasing new faster more efficient machinery is always tempting, however, with all the machine manufacturers based in the EU a dramatic slump in the pound could reduce our appetite for capital investment in 2019 as capital equipment prices increase.
I suspect more than any other time in GF Laser’s 12 year history our yearly objectives will need to remain flexible until the Brexit picture becomes a little clearer. Hopefully, the politicians can put their political ambitions to one side to present a united front to the European Union so we can negotiate a deal that is the best interests of the United Kingdom.
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This image shows two different designs for decorative Christmas baubles. These 0.5mm thick pieces, which have been Laser cut using Nitrogen gas on our large format Fibre laser from Brass sheets directly from customer supplied cad files, will become an addition to a public displayed Christmas tree later this year. Jingle bells Jingle bells!!
This image shows our customers free issue box section lengths banded and ready for collection. Each 1540mm long length is fixed directly onto the cutting table of our 7040 production 5 axis laser to have the 3 slots cut in. These sections are then used in the reinforcement of super energy efficient doors and windows in both domestic, and commercial environments.
“We, here at GF Laser Ltd, are delighted to announce the arrival of our new Amada HFE 3i press brake. Our third Amada press brake machine features a press capacity of 220 tonnes, coupled with a bend length of 4 metres which means we are now able to offer an even greater level of service to all of our customers. The state of the art 19”, 3 dimensional touch screen controls enable our fully trained operators to process parts quickly with a consistently high level of accuracy and repeatability.”