Release date: 12th December 2005
RADAN SUPPORTS CONTINUED
EXPANSION AT CA GROUP
All too often, the implementation of advanced manufacturing technology can threaten the job security of shop floor workers. However, for CA Group the opposite has been true. The installation of its Radan advanced sheet metal CAD/CAM system has not only safeguarded existing jobs, but also opened the way for the company to expand its operations - supporting an increase in annual turnover of around 50% during each of the last two years.
Based in Evenwood, County Durham, CA Group has blossomed over the past 20 years from a modest commercial roofing company to one of the largest and most successful producers of architectural sheet metal work in the country today. Its products include everything from roofing and cladding systems to bespoke special products and guttering; all of which meet the highest building industry standards of quality, thermal insulation and fire resistance. Not surprisingly, the company counts household names such as B&Q and Prologis among its clients, and its systems have been specified at the heart of projects as varied as the Imaginarium - Bristol’s newly-completed planetarium - Canada Water Underground station in London and the refurbishment of Highbury College in Portsmouth.
According to Alan Brown, CA’s senior Radan operator: “Every job is different. Even guttering systems, which are based on standard profiles and components, all have to be designed specifically for the building they are going on.
“Before we installed our Radan system, everything was done by hand. It was a real tradesman build’ environment. Sheets would be marked out by literally drawing templates on the metal. Then various hand drilling and nibbling operations would follow; all before components could be folded into their finished shape.”
By the mid 1990s, CA Group had not only established a strong reputation for quality and service, but also for completing projects against the tightest of deadlines. Yet, its manually based methods were becoming a growing bottleneck as the company won more and more business.
“It was clear that we needed to harness the benefits of advanced design to manufacturing technology,” adds Brown. “We undertook a market evaluation in 1997, which led to the biggest investment in the company’s history up to that point - the purchase of a Trumpf 500 CNC punching machine and a Radan CAD/CAM system to support it.”
“Until then, I’d spent all my time on the shop floor,” he continues. “I’d never even touched a computer before. However, through a tailored user training programme, and subsequent support from Radan, we were quickly able to combine our wealth of in-house sheet metal expertise with the system’s speed and accuracy.”
The result was a transformation of CA Group’s capabilities, enabling it to significantly streamline its production operations. But rather than jeopardising jobs, the investment enabled the company to raise production to meet ongoing demand - and even increase headcount in some areas.
A measure of CA’s success can be gauged by its turnover growth from £2.2 million in 1983, to a figure of £70 million in the last 12 months. Throughout this period, investment in CAD/CAM technology has been maintained. Today, the organisation’s 3-seat Radan system comprises Radraft, Radan 3D design and Radpunch programming modules, which are all networked to the original Trumpf 500 and a newly-installed model 5000 CNC punch press from the same manufacturer.
“Even though many of our products include standard elements, no two installations are ever the same. It is still a drawing intensive operation,” notes Brown.
All CA Group’s products are manufactured from a range of mild steel, galvanised, aluminium and membrane (rubber coated) materials between 1.6 and 3 mm thick. A corresponding set of standard tooling is used for each. So, once the design of a component has been completed, the appropriate tools can be automatically selected to produce the required punching routine. In addition, commonly used system elements have been compiled into a library of symbols’, which include both the profile and associated tooling to produce it.
Most jobs are assembled on standard 3.05 x 1.0 metre or 3.05 x 1.64 metre sheets, using the Radan software’s nesting capability to maximise material utilisation. The system then produces fully defined CNC programmes at the touch of a button, ready for transfer to the selected Trumpf machine by DNC link.
Brown estimates that the Radan system provides at least a 75% time saving at the manufacturing stage, simply by avoiding all the hand operations that were previously required. Likewise, its speed of operation means that the company’s three Radan operators will normally produce around 900 new punching programmes each week.
Not that time saving is the system’s only benefit. Sustainability is a major issue in the building sector, with great emphasis placed on maximising buildings’ thermal insulation levels as a means of reducing overall CO2 emissions.
“As you can imagine, metal guttering systems on the outside of buildings represent a huge heat sink that can make a substantial difference to what’s known as alpha’ values,” says CA Group’s Marketing Manager, Paul Hanratty. “By using the design capabilities of the Radan system, Alan has developed a novel, yet highly effective method of reducing heat loss, which we have recently patented.”
“There are other, less obvious benefits too,” continues Brown. “For example, there’s always a risk of components being damaged in transit or on-site. With hand crafted products, the replacements will never be exactly the same as the originals, so could easily lead to downstream installation problems. However, now all we have to do is retrieve the appropriate machining programme and we know that the new parts will be identical to those being replaced.
“We also use the system’s capabilities to produce ornamental elements specified by clients or their architects. These will normally be created in Radan 3D, then unfolded on screen using company-standard bend allowances, to produce flat profiles that can be programmed in the normal way.”
Hanratty and Brown cite the production of guttering systems alone as a yardstick of the Radan system’s effectiveness. In 2003, CA Group manufactured around 86 km of guttering. Last year, that figure had grown by almost 13%, and this year it will increase again by a further 15%.
“The original Trumpf 500 has been operating consistently at about 17½ hours a day since it was installed back in 1997,” says Brown. “The addition of our latest Trumpf 5000 cements the Radan system at the heart of our operations. We simply could not achieve the throughput and maintain our ongoing levels of business growth without it.”
For further information, please call Kevin O’Connor at Radan Computational Ltd on:
+44 (0)1225 320320 or visit:
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