24 hour production becomes a reality for County Antrim manufacturer

The installation of an impressive, fully automated, Prima Power sheetmetal processing system has recently been completed at Lisburn-based Warmflow Engineering Co Ltd, providing a complete lights-out production system for components used in the company’s range of domestic heating appliances.

Founded in 1968, Warmflow is Northern Ireland’s leading manufacturer of oil fired boilers with over 50 years’ experience heating homes across the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world.

However its engineering division, dedicated to subcontract work, has many strings to its bow, offering a range of design, manufacturing and fabrication solutions – predominantly in sheetmetal – and serving a range of demanding and diverse industries. The division is AS 9100 approved and holds ASME – Section H Manufacturing Pressure Vessels certification.

Warmflow needed the ability to run 24-hour production, increasing both production capacity and efficiency. System automation was also needed to help control labour costs and lessen the dependency on highly skilled individual machine operators, which are increasingly difficult to recruit. To design and implement a suitable solution, the company turned to Prima Power.

The system comprises two fully automatic machines, a Combi Genius 1530 and a Shear Genius 1530, both connected to a Night Train Genius material storage and distribution system, creating a highly productive and dynamic, Prima Power Flexible Manufacturing System that is able to run in full automation with minimal human intervention.

With a material sheet capacity of 1,500mm x 3,000mm and maximum thickness capability of 8mm, the Combi Genius 1530 is the latest Prima Power combined punch and laser machine which features a multi-station tooling turret – capable of a wide range of tasks from punching to processes such as engraving, roll forming, countersinking, tapping and indexable forming though the use of both single and multi-tools.

Fully servo-driven, this is combined with a high-performance fibre laser system directly on the machine for high-speed laser cutting as an integral part of the process.

The ability to conduct punching, forming and laser cutting activities on the same machine dramatically increases process flexibility and speed whilst eliminating the need for additional materials handling between two individual machines.

Dynamic performance

For Warmflow, the Combi Genius 1530 is equipped with Prima Power’s Intelligent Ram system, which permits the use of multi-tools in fixed, non-indexable turret positions through the ability to rotate the punch ram to the required position for the desired punch tool.

With indexable multi-tools, the ram also increases tool selection speed further by working in combination with the rotation of the index tool. Via this process, the number of individual tools that can be used in the machine is increased significantly permitting Warmflow to select a 20-station turret equipped with a variety of fixed and index stations, along with several multi-tool units. The machine is therefore always set up with the correct tooling for the parts to be processed.

The Combi Genius 1530 at Warmflow also features the dynamic performance pack, providing a punch force of 300kN and increasing the axis and index tool rotation speeds, along with a 1,000 hole per minute hit rate. Laser cutting is via a 3kW fibre laser system, fully manufactured by Prima’s sister company, Prima Electro and operating through the company’s own cutting head and optics systems.

Complementing this high performance and flexible machine is a Prima Power LSR loading and stacking robot for automatic material loading and unloading. The LSR utilises a series of shuttle tables for raw material stacks delivered via the Night Train system, material skeleton removal and for completed parts that are picked by the robot from the machine as they are processed and stacked in order on the table.

In conjunction with the Night Train system and Prima Power’s own Tulus processing software, which takes the material programs and production requirements from Warmflow’s ERP system, the machine is able to run in fully automatic, lights out mode and with total reliability and accurate, repeatable performance.

Additionally, connected to the line is the Shear Genius 1530, the sibling combination machine to the Combi Genius which provides high performance punching and forming, combined with a servo electric right-angle shear for fast and accurate part separation.

Also installed on the machine are the Intelligent Ram and the Dynamic Performance Pack, providing the same performance advantages as found on the Combi Genius. The Shear Genius is then fitted with a 1,000mm x 1,500mm, servo-electric, right-angle shear that quickly and accurately separates the completed parts.

Automation of the Shear Genius is achieved through an LD1530 loading device that picks the raw material sheets from the waiting stack, delivered from the Night Train system. The LD1530 uses a series of heavy-duty, programmable suction cups to pick the sheet, with additional devices employed to ensure proper separation and verification of the sheet thickness, prior to placement in the clamping area of the machine. The loading device is additionally complemented with a PSR picking and stacking robot system to remove and stack the various processed pieces from the machine.

Go with the flow

All Prima Power machinery automation systems are designed and programmed to work with the minimum amount of interference to the machine processing. New material sheets are picked and verified by the loading devices and then brought to the machine loading area where they wait ready for fast placement as the machine discharges the final processed parts and skeletons. The unloading devices work in the same manner.

At the core of the system, a modular and expandable Prima Power Night Train Genius material storage solution is installed with over 170 material cassettes, each with a sheet capacity of 1,500mm x 3,000mm and a load capability of up to 3,000kg.

Programming and controlling this advanced installation is an easy to use yet powerful suite of Prima Power software comprising the NC Express e3 Combi Premium system for the importing of part model and designs, part drafting, sheet nesting and post processing functions.

Information from the integral Industry 4.0 capabilities in all Prima Power machines is handled via the Tulus software, giving Warmflow all of the necessary data for machinery performance and production status. Tulus GUI software also features on the machine interfaces, allowing direct machine control, setup and tooling management via an intuitive and easy to operate, touchscreen system.

Delivering the goods

Stewart McLaughlin, manufacturing engineer at Warmflow was in no doubt that Prima Power could deliver on the project. “We have a longstanding relationship with Prima Power, developed over many years of working with them as a partner. This gave us confidence in terms of the equipment supplied, its performance and ongoing service and support,” he says.

“Additionally, the technology and features on the new machines and the ability to integrate these together into a fully automated, multi-process system with material storage that met our requirements was of course a critical factor.

“Technical support and backup was also hugely important. Prima Power have field engineering support very close by, with the ability to rapidly respond as and when needed, along with providing maintenance support and remote care, all of which is vital for a system in continual operation such as this.

“The new system has significantly increased production capacity due to its 24/7 running ability. The new technologies and features on the machines have also boosted efficiency and flexibility for processing a wide range of component designs. Product quality has also been improved thanks to new capabilities, such as the laser cutting capability on the Combi Genius.

“Overall, this has been a really positive experience that builds on an already strong relationship. Bringing such an advanced new line into operation, and adapting to the new capabilities does of course present new challenges, however all of these have been met and overcome by Prima Power promptly and effectively.”

Prima Power UK’s general manager Barry Rooney concurs: “This project was a significant investment that needed careful planning to ensure that all of Warmflow’s production requirements and capacity needs – both current and future – were met.

“As with many of our projects, we made a detailed analysis of part designs, materials, volumes and process options, along with the physical elements concerning the machine layout and building into which it would be installed.

“This then developed into the final configuration which, once agreed, was then manufactured and installed with detailed planning to bring the machinery into production, undertake training and make sure that the system performed exactly as required.

“Overall, this allowed us to determine the most suitable process technologies – punch/shear and punch/laser – and the specific configurations for these and the automation required for their output volumes.

“We also considered Warmflow’s range of material sizes and types in order to specify the storage system, along with the building constraints in which this was to fit, which in turn then influenced the final, overall specification,” he concludes.

Prima Power UK