A specialist in precision fabricated components for the earthmoving, construction and rail industries has marked its first venture into laser cutting by investing in a 6kW TRUMPF TruLaser 3030 fiber machine. The move has allowed Staffordshire-based Ecam Engineering Ltd to enter the market for different types of components, spurring growth of 20% in 2018, and introducing higher levels of cut quality and capacity.
Originally established in 1968, Ecam Engineering has half a century of experience in supplying steel welded fabrications to the UK's engineering sector. Based near Stoke-on-Trent, the ISO9001:2015 accredited company offers a complete engineering solution, manufacturing prototype components from customer design concepts through to supplying volume parts with production level drawings to daily schedules. The quality and reliability of the finished product is of paramount importance to both Ecam and its customers.
“Being able to act as a full service provider using in-house manufacturing resources helps to keep costs down and ensures we keep a close eye on quality,” explains the company’s managing director and owner, Phil Arme.
Of course, facilitating comprehensive in-house manufacture requires investment, something that the company has not shied away from in recent times. In fact, over the course of the past four years, Mr Arme estimates that Ecam has invested around £1 million in the latest manufacturing technologies. This strategy has served the 35-employee business well, growing 20% in 2017, with a further 20% expansion expected this year.
The latest machine to arrive at the company’s factory is a 6kW TRUMPF TruLaser 3030 fiber laser profiling centre, which is capable of cutting 25mm thick mild steel to an accuracy of 0.05mm.
“We quote for lots of different work here at Ecam, but the majority is for steel between 8mm and 20mm thick,” states Mr Arme. “We’ve been using plasma and oxy-gas profiling, but noticed more and more enquiries for a laser-cut finish. Not wanting to miss out on these opportunities, we did our due diligence and spoke with a number of laser profiling machine suppliers.”
Ecam shortlisted the most suitable candidates, visiting each one to perform material cutting trials.
“Some fibre laser machines are not the best at cutting steel up to 20mm thick, however, we were amazed by the trial at TRUMPF,” states Mr Arme. “Unlike at other places we visited, there was no tweaking involved, the machine just cut the material without any issues whatsoever. Moreover, the cut quality was by far the best we had seen.”
Duly installed in November 2017, the TruLaser 3030 fiber was supplied to Ecam Engineering with TRUMPF’s CoolLine and BrightLine technologies. The former is proving to be particularly vital.
The CoolLine option from TRUMPF helps to prevent problems when laser cutting material of inconsistent composition and surface quality, such as the thick, low-carbon steel processed at Ecam. Material like this can reach considerable temperatures near the point of cut, which in turn can impede the cutting process, especially where filigree shapes are involved. If the kerf overheats, it can even set off a self-burning reaction where material left in the cut burns and causes slag to stick to the rear surface of the sheet.
TRUMPF’s CoolLine device keeps temperatures constant by spraying a fine water mist around the point of cut. The evaporation of just 30ml of water per minute provides 1kW of cooling, and its use allows tighter parts nesting and narrower skeletons, resulting in better material utilisation. CoolLine can be quickly and easily retrofitted to a variety of TruLaser models.
“CoolLine really swung the purchase decision in favour of the TRUMPF machine,” says Mr Arme. “We take enormous pride in the quality of our parts. After all, every component we produce is effectively an advert for our company. In many instances we deliver direct to welding shops and assembly lines, so the parts need to be right.”
Ecam has set its new investment to work profiling steel sheet ranging from 3mm to 20mm thick. With many batches supplied in low-to-medium batch sizes, the flexibility of the machine is already proving pivotal. The company performs dynamic nesting on a weekly basis to help maximise efficiency.
Says Mr Arme: “As laser cutting is a new process for us, when the machine first arrived we envisaged running it perhaps two days a week maximum. However, by April the machine’s capacity was full. As a result, we estimate that our business will have grown 20% by the time we reach the end of 2018.”
Clearly, the investment strategy at Ecam is working extremely well, not only helping to increase revenue, but adding more quality, efficiency and capacity.
“Beforehand, profiling using plasma would require a certain amount of post-process machining, such as drilling to ensure the necessary hole tolerances were met,” explains Mr Arme. “Using the laser however, there is no such requirement, which means we have also created extra capacity in our machine shop.”
The final word goes to the support provided by the team of experts at TRUMPF in the UK.
“We had never used a laser cutting machine before, but the training, both at our own premises and at TRUMPF in Luton, was first class,” says Mr Arme. “In addition, the phone support has been excellent. I like the fact that you get priority if the machine has stopped. As a new user we made a few mistakes in the early months, but TRUMPF quickly made sure we got back on track.”