Environmental and lifestyle changes within the drinks industry have brought fresh challenges and increased business to Preston-based beer pump and cooler specialists K Coolers. The company was founded in 1979 to refurbish electric beer motors (pumps), working as second tier suppliers to the brewing industry. It’s success, which saw it deliver an 85 per cent repair yield on pumps, saw it being approached directly by the big brewers to look at providing a similar level of service for beer coolers located in pub cellars, as the repair yield on those from competitors was as low as 50 per cent.
Applying the same processes to refurbishing beer coolers as it used on the pumps, K Coolers raised the repair yield up to 85 per cent and the result was a significant increase in business that facilitated its relocation to its current 24 000 ft2 premises in 2006. Now established as a tier one supplier for refurbished products, K Coolers had to manage two major changes within the drinks industry, the first being environmental with the phasing out of certain refrigerants; along with the rise in popularity of ‘ice-cold’ beers and lagers. Both these required changes to the stainless steel coils that sit within the cooler, which in turn placed greater demands on K Coolers’ existing tube bending capacity. “The new R290 refrigerant required different tubes so all of these required replacing as a smaller bore was needed for the new gas to be effective,” says Lee Worden, Managing Director, K Coolers. “The standard 3.8 to 4.8 metre long coils used for standard beers and lagers also needed to increase to 10 metres in length to create ice-cold beer delivery, the knock on benefit being the elimination of under-counter chillers in pubs.”
To meet demand, and with K Coolers’, the decision was taken to invest in a BLM 4-Runner tube bending system fitted with a motorised coil feed. “Without investing in the BLM 4-Runner we would struggle to maintain throughput. The assistance we got, and continue to receive, from BLM both in the UK and in Italy, has been superb which meant that we were bending tube within a couple of days of the machine being put on the floor. The BLM 4-Runner will be used to produce the evaporator coils and other pipework for the refrigeration system on the new coolers, handling the increased demand with ease.” Capable of bending tube up to 12.7 mm diameter the 4-Runner initially straightens tube prior to it being processed, then it can achieve fixed and variable left- and right-hand radii to form three-dimensional serpentines, making it ideal for parts such as coils found in the refrigeration, air conditioning and household appliance sectors. These complex forms are easily created thanks to BLM’s VGP3D programming software, which enables all bends to be optimised in real time with full 3D simulation allowing production feasibility and potential collisions to be checked prior to parts being produced. It also assists in calculating production costs, especially useful in a sub-contract environment.
The 4-Runner has been designed with environmental considerations in mind, and is part of BLM’s All Electric range, which typically delivers 80 per cent energy savings over conventional hydraulic-based machines. It is also quieter and with no hydraulics, and therefore much cleaner operation of up to 11 axes is achieved. If required, the 4-Runner can be specified with end-forming modules.
“The changes in legislation and lifestyle brought new challenges in terms of a greater demand for coils and the arrival of the BLM 4-Runner has made a significant difference to our efficiency. Every element of the machine is an improvement on our previous bender, particularly programming which is much more straightforward,” says Lee Wordon. “While before its arrival we were struggling to keep pace, we now find ourselves with extra capacity, which will be used in part for the manufacture of new, rather than refurbished coolers, and in time, we may also offer it locally as a sub-contract capability.”
The high yield of K Coolers on its pumps and cooler refurbishment didn’t go un-noticed by the brewing industry, which is renowned for ‘sweating’ its assets and making items such as coolers last as long as possible. However, even with K Coolers’ expertise there is still a requirement to replace around 15- 20 per cent of coolers when they fail. This raised the question from its brewery customers. ‘can you produce new coolers?’. “This request came during the period of change in terms of refrigerants, but once the industry had standardised on R290 as the refrigerant for beer coolers, we produced a batch of 50 brand new coolers for test at one major brewer. These ran without problem and we have now been appointed as their preferred supplier for refurbished and new coolers.
“It was this change in legislation around refrigerants that made the development of the new coolers viable and with our 30 year’s of experience in refurbishment and the systems of checks and balances we have in place when testing old systems, along with the consistency of repairs; customers are reassured that they will get the optimum solution to their beer cooling requirements. With our four tiers of service for old coolers, ranging from a simple clean, through re-gassing, to complete re-build we offer major savings, and now with the new coolers a one-stop-shop for refurbish and new,” says Lee Worden.
Industry 4.0: innovative ideas that use technologies to improve quality and efficiency of production process and of all businesses. Evolution towards the industry of the future is not a subject for great companies only, but instead an innovation path about production process in all its aspects. BLM GROUP systems provide advanced solutions to face this important phase of change.
The industry of the future is based first on the use of modern production systems, with advanced technological solutions to meet the requests for integration, interconnection, automation, ease of use and remote control. All of them are subjects on which BLM GROUP has been developing on for years.
The feature of the “smart factory” is undoubtedly the IT connection among the production centralized control system and the other business entities: the warehouse to know the exact availability of material to be machined, the workshop to know the actual availability of production systems, possibly the business ERP. The entire factory of the future becomes a combination of interconnected elements that exchange data.
BLM GROUP fulfils this need with ProTube Enterprise, a MES (Manufacturing Execution System) able to integrate into factory management process communicating with the IT system, the warehouse and the production systems. With ProTube Enterprise multi-part and multi-technology job orders can be created and managed, production is planned by distributing work programs to the various workshop systems and production process is monitored in all its phases.
Communication among systems
BLM GROUP controls all tube machining process and makes the most of this opportunity, made of knowledge and experience, to optimize production process. When to realize a part, it is necessary to use several technologies, such as cutting and bending, downstream system (usually the tube bending machine) communicates with the upstream system (a Lasertube or a sawing machine) sending data about geometric changes that will apply to tube so that these can be considered during machining. The result is a correct part the first time.
It is now part of the famous concept All-In-One, characterizing the BLM GROUP offerings and that aims at a full automation of multi-technology management of components, from design to realization. Besides systems communicating among each other, the Artube CAD/CAM can process bent and cut components, automatically identify the various machining and generate machining programs for the systems involved.
Modern production systems have functions that free operator from complex operations and decisions. We could say that systems are becoming “smarter”, meaning that they are able to make automatic choices in a fast and efficient way.
The Active Tools of the BLM GROUP Lasertube systems are a good example of this evolution. Active Piercing, optimizes the piercing phase by checking parameters of laser beam in function of the information coming from sophisticated sensors in the work area. Active Scan monitors, with its cameras, the real section dimensions of the tube being machined and automatically adapts machining position to obtain the desired result also in presence of imperfect tubes. Active Speed automatically adjusts cutting parameters to the instantaneous speed to optimize cutting quality; operator is exempted from complex evaluations or choices that, without this functionality, would require a deep process knowledge.
In general, this concerns operations that require great expertise in using the Lasertube system, expertise that today BLM GROUP has passed to its systems by means of functions and automatisms that make the process more efficient and reliable.
Manufacturing process automation
Today, production process automation is available to all. BLM GROUP has been producing work islands for a very long time. These islands consist of bending and end-forming systems connected by robots in complex work sequences. Today, the possibility to connect different systems in a single automatized production cycle have increased in number and have better flexibility.
At Tube & Wire 2018 BLM Group showed a tube bending line from coil with a 3-RUNNER system, a SMART and an E-FORM, illustrative of these concepts, but also laser systems can be connected automatically to other processes. We think of the possibility of robotized loading of LT FREE system starting from a crate containing parts to be machined positioned at random or of robotized unloading of parts of a Lasertube system.
Another aspect specific of the industry of the future is the possibility to be connected to production processes in any situation and in any place, using the internet. BLM GROUP responds to this need with different services.
Operation of the system can be monitored from remote on your own mobile device using Syncro. Tool Designer is an effective instrument to quickly obtain via the web the drawings of the bending fixtures necessary to realize a specific bent part. E-training is the instrument by Web Conference through which it is possible to obtain dedicated training courses on specific subjects.
Tube processing starting from coil is a process offering various advantages, if there are production systems able to exploit them with automatic and complete processes.
Processing of tubes starting from coil offers important advantages: lower cost of raw material, less space to store it, simplified logistic management of semi-finished products and remarkable reduction of material scraps due to machining mode. For these reasons, processing from coil has become the standard in many sectors and BLM GROUP offers various solutions able to meet specific needs.
It is always about automatic systems able to carry out complete production processes that include straightening, facing, end-forming of the free end, bending and final cutting. Systems that neatly unload the finished part and that can therefore be easily integrated with other systems downstream for subsequent machining, typically end-forming of the unmachined end from previous processes, performed with an E-SHAPE or E-FORM system.
The distinguishing feature of these processes is the type of bend to be carried out, with or without mandrel. Bending without mandrel is carried out by the compact systems of the 4-RUNNER family that gather all the operations in a single machine tool, from straightening to bending. Bending with mandrel starting from coil, is not an easy subject to face. BLM GROUP proposes an integrated solution that joins the two systems in an automatic production cell able to carry out all machining operations, high quality bending with mandrel included. 3-RUNNER feeds the tube from coil, carries out straightening and end-forming at one end and cuts the tube, then the semi-finished part is neatly deposited on the automatic loader of the SMART that carries out bending with mandrel.
Straightening, end-forming, bending and cutting, four operations in a single machine tool. 4-RUNNER is a system for bending and end-forming from coil, all electric, with end-forming module up to six passes, right-hand and left-hand bending in-process, including the possibility to have a variable radius and an orbital outer cut module, managed by controlled axes or by disc.
To fully meet all needs there are two different versions available: 4-RUNNER H1 and 4-RUNNER H3.
4-RUNNER H1 works with tubes of diameter up to 12.7 mm. In-process right-hand/left-hand bending, flexion, multi-radius or variable radius. Bending head dimensions are extremely reduced and make this system particularly suitable for producing complex components such as flat and 3D serpentines used in the automotive, cooling, air conditioning and heating sectors.
4-RUNNER H3 can machine tubes up to 22 mm diameter and it is particularly fit to produce components for fluid transport systems. Thanks to the possibility to carry out flexion or stretch bending, bending speed can be combined with the possibility to create very short sections and this makes the system very flexible and highly productive.
3-RUNNER + SMART
The bending process from coil with mandrel requires the integration of two different systems: 3-RUNNER that feeds the tube from coil, then carries out straightening, end-forming and cutting; SMART that carries out quality bending with mandrel. The automatic loader of the SMART allows to fully automatize the process that generates a part bent and formed at one end.
At Tube & Wire 2018 it will be possible to see another end-forming pass of the unmachined end by means of an E-SHAPE system.
3-RUNNER is the multi-function machining center that uses a tube from coil up to 28.7 mm diameter, carries out straightening, end-forming and cutting at length. 3-Runner implements the concepts already tried out on the 4-Runner system: coil straightening and managing system, end-forming unit with up to six passes, all-electric orbital cutting unit. At the end of machining, 3-RUNNER deposits the semi-finished part on the automatic loader of the SMART tube bending machine that carries out quality bending with mandrel and neatly unloads the finished part.
SMART is a bending system for tubes up to 28.6 mm, specifically suitable for integration into an automatized cell, thanks to the patented head swinging system that facilitates automatic loading and unloading operations. For the rest, it is a complete bending system, all-electric, able to carry out right-hand and left-hand bending in-process, multi-radius, with fixed or variable radius.
E-FORM by BLM GROUP is a system that can be configured up to 9 passes to carry out deformation, end-machining and rolling operations.
E-FORM is a powerful and versatile end-forming system for metal tube ends able to carry out many integrated machining operations such as end-machining, forming and rolling. The possibility to program over 9 passes, that can be 7 push passes and 2 revolving passes or 6 push passes and 3 revolving passes, ensures many configuration solutions and high versatility of the system. Programming is extremely simplified thanks to the implementation of VGP2D.
This system is part of the All-Electric series from BLM GROUP. All handling axes are electrically driven and NC controlled, therefore they ensure very high positioning accuracy and set-up times reduced to a minimum.
This system is characterised by various aspects starting from space on machine top that enables forming of complex parts therefore widening machine field of application.
The new vice clamping system with a force of 25 t, and a greater clamping strength, combined with the choice of single punch feed with a thrust force up to 10 t for a better quality of end-forming. The process is also more reliable and effective for machining thicker materials and stainless steel.
Cycle time optimization, also in case of single punch feed, is provided by handling the punches with a differentiated stroke for which two controlled axes are used. It is also possible to have punches with different lengths without any interference with the vice.
Tool stroke increase widens the machining possibilities on E-FORM making it possible to carry out forming at a greater distance from tube end.
Finally, the new all-electric differential rolling system with three controlled axes, can work on copper, aluminium and stainless steel tubes up to 30 mm long. Adjustment and handling of rollers is carried out by two electrical axes whereas another axis controls the contrast mandrel axial to the tube.
Using tube from coils, straightening, end-forming, bending and cutting – these are the specialities of the BLM GROUP 4-RUNNER family. "Family" is the keyword since the 4-RUNNER H3 for processing tubes up to 22mm in diameter is now joined by the 4-RUNNER H1, a system dedicated to complex processing on tubes of diameter up to 12.7mm.
The 4-RUNNER H1 is the all-electric, multi-radius and variable radius coil-fed bending system. It is capable of flexion, right-hand and left-hand in-process bending and can easily be integrated with a SMART system for complete and automatic bending with mandrel from a coil.
The focus on clearance, especially of the head and in the immediately upstream clamping zone, makes the 4-RUNNER H1 particularly suitable for making tricky parts, such as flat or 3D serpentines and small tubes, and in general for all parts that are simply impossible for everyone else.
The 4-RUNNER H1 has six controlled electric axes. All clamping and bending axes are electric, which means equipment calibration can be automated and made extremely simple.
The torque control on the clamp ensures safe and repeatable gripping. Once identified, the correct calibration parameters can be saved and retrieved for future use on the same tools, with important advantages in terms of tooling time.
For feeding from coil, the 4-RUNNER H1 is equipped with a new coiler provided with a motor controlled in both directions and a clutch for idle operation with controls inserted directly by the part program.
Orbital cutting, both internal (4RIPC) and external (4RC) on 4-RUNNER H1 is entirely electric. Two brushless motors control the rotation and the movement of the cutting wheel guaranteeing process accuracy and repeatability with no need for manual adjustments.
Like all BLM GROUP bending systems, the 4-RUNNER H1 also implements the powerful VGP3D programming software package. Three-dimensional graphics show the part gradually as the coordinates are entered, allowing a simple and immediate checking of programming correctness. This is followed by simulation, which is an extremely important feature of VGP3D, to verify the entire working cycle, including checking for potential collisions.
As part of its ongoing programme of replacing machines deemed to have reached a natural end of life, Worcester, Bosch Group, has introduced its first BLM 4-RUNNER tube processing system. The new machine is delivering cycle time savings of between 25 and 30 per cent compared to the machine it replaced, as well as delivering significant environmental benefits to the company.
As one of the world’s leading manufacturers of domestic heating and hot water appliances, one of Worcester’s, key targets is energy efficiency, as demanded by its customers. As a result it has a corporate policy of ensuring that any machine tool purchases reflect that energy/environmental remit. Previously, the tube processing at Worcester had been carried out by hydraulic powered machinery. The switch to the BLM 4-RUNNER, with its all-electric, servo controlled operation provided a major step forward in environmental terms, with the added advantages of improved quality and consistency as well has reduced cycle times.
“It is part of our long term vision to replace all of our old hydraulic BLM Planet machines with modern all-electric, servo driven, tube processing systems. The 4-RUNNER’S servo control is important for a number of reasons, such as improved accuracy of bends, consistency and cycle times, but of equal, if not greater importance was the fact that they are far more energy efficient compared to hydraulic machines, and this was key to our purchasing decision,” says Chris Packer, Group Leader – Manufacturing, Worcester, Bosch Group.
The BLM 4-RUNNER is a modular-based machine that can be configured to include de-coiling, straightening, end-forming, bending, cutting off and unloading, the machine at Worcester is fully configured in this way delivering finished components from coiled copper tube up to 22 mm diameter. The bending capability of the 4-RUNNER allows left and right hand bends to be formed as well as fixed and variable radii bends in single and 3D planes. The machine is also capable of completing compression and draw bending techniques. For end-forming the BLM 4-RUNNER features a multi-station end-forming unit with either four or six ram-type forming stations or four ram stations and one rotary station. A variety of cutting devices can also be specified depending on the material being processed, these include internal or external orbital swarfless cutters, or conventional sawblades.
One of the key benefits of the BLM 4-RUNNER’S all-electric system is its consistency of bend, with hydraulic bending the bend is more variable, but with servo-driven positioning every bend is the same. “The variations that we find on our hydraulic benders have been totally eliminated since the switch to the 4-RUNNER,” says Rob Crane, Production Engineer, Worcester, Bosch Group. “We are finding that bend quality and repeatability are superior across the spread of parts that we are producing, when you then add in a typical cycle time saving of 30 per cent, we are seeing a night and day difference in the technology with the 4-RUNNER massively ahead of its predecessor.”
From a shopfloor perspective the environmental gains of switching from hydraulic to all-electric are also winning approval at Worcester, Bosch Group. Production Leader, Adam Timms adds: “The total lack of hydraulic oil makes it much easier to maintain the quality of the working environment. The cleaner working environment also makes it much easier to maintain our Five S, total productive maintenance (TPM) and planned maintenance initiatives (PMI).” The step up from the previous machine and control technology was significant as there was about a 20 year gap in control technology alone. “It took us a short while to get to grips with the new control system, but we quickly realised that we had to forget all that we knew from the old system and embrace the user-friendliness of the new control. In addition, the machine design makes setting much easier, for example, we have all of the tooling we need to process 13 mm tube in a single set-up and, as we become more familiar with the machine, and setting will be quicker than before.”
Another area in which BLM has improved the tube processing capabilities is the cutting off module of the 4-RUNNER. This setting is now controlled via the CNC on the 4-RUNNER with any of the setter/operators able to quickly set up the cut off cycle. This is proving to be a major time saver. “The success of the BLM 4-RUNNER here at our Worcester manufacturing plant, both in terms of productivity and energy efficiency has resulted in that same machine being installed at other Bosch Plants across Europe. The philosophy of specifying machines that are not just more productive, but also more energy efficient is completely in-line with our group thinking and is what we aim to deliver to our customers,” says Chris Packer.
In addition to the 4-RUNNER Worcester has also taken delivery of a BLM Tube-Form ELE end forming machine. Again, this is a fully electric machine with an extremely low environmental impact. With a ram capable of applying 8 tonne of pressure this machine is allowing Worcester, Bosch Group to produce more complex forms, with up to six punches available and also on larger diameter tube than could previously be achieved. As with the 4-RUNNER, the purchase of the Tube-Form ELE was dictated by its eco-friendly credentials, having no hydraulic systems, and also as part of Worcester's replacement policy where older technology is being phased out.
Worcester has been manufacturing domestic heating and hot water appliances since 1962 and became a member of the Worldwide Bosch Group in 1996. It is currently the UK market leader in domestic boilers producing around 250,000 units per year mainly for the UK domestic market, which is the largest in Europe. In addition to gas and oil fired central heating boilers the company’s range also includes hot water cylinders and renewable technologies such as heat pumps and solar water heating systems, plus an associated range of controls and accessories. For the past six years its boiler range has been the recipient of the Which Best Buy Award. It is also a market leader in respect of service and quality, much of which can be attributed to the quality of manufacture at its Worcester (gas products) and Clay Cross (oil products) manufacturing facilities.