Don-Bur, a leading manufacturer of commercial vehicle trailers and rigid bodywork, has completed a major upgrade of its manufacturing capabilities that includes the acquisition of a STOPA autonomous raw material and parts management system complete with high-specification 8kW TruLaser 5030 fiber laser profiling centre from TRUMPF. Replacing two previous CO2 laser cutters from another manufacturer, the company estimates that its new investment is an impressive seven times faster. Two advanced TRUMPF TruBend bending machines have also arrived at the company’s Stoke facility.
The name ‘Don-Bur’ derives from the name of company founder Donald Burton and was first applied in 1981 following a management buy-out. Back then, the company was located on a 4-acre site with just 70 members of staff. Today, still based in Stoke, the Don-Bur group of companies has six divisions, generating an annual turnover of circa £50 million.
Don-Bur now covers some 18 acres, much of which has been developed into covered manufacturing and assembly bays. Around 500 staff are responsible for a production rate of about 1,500 units per annum, covering anything from 7.5 tonne rigid bodywork to complex hydraulic moving-deck trailers.
“We pride ourselves on operating at the high end of the market, giving customers exactly what they require in terms of height, length and special features,” explains Simon Allerton, Manufacturing and Engineering Project Manager. “We make some standard trailers but most are bespoke, high-quality units for UK-wide blue chip customers. Such is our current order book that we’re looking to increase the workforce by around 100 in the coming 12 months.”
Until recently, the company ran two CO2 laser cutters in-house, supported by some external subcontract resources.
“This situation was OK, but ultimately the CO2 machines were not quick enough to keep up with the growth of our business,” says Mr Allerton. “As 99% of our work is mild steel, we knew that moving to fibre-laser technology would give us a huge boost in productivity.”
Mr Allerton and his team thus set about reviewing the market for a suitable machine, a process that led to the installation of a high-specification TRUMPF TruLaser 5030 fiber laser in February 2019.
The TruLaser 5030 fiber arrived as part of a £4 million investment in new plant, software and training to produce a range of products, including curtainsider and box van trailers, together with a pallet-network design double deck trailer. The move supports a targeted increase in turnover of £20 million per annum. Current turnover stands at around £53 million.
At the core of the investment is a £1 million STOPA autonomous raw material and parts management hub: a large pallet racking space with room to store 15,795 m2 (4 acres) of sheet steel. Measuring 25m long by 7m wide and 5m tall, the STOPA stock-handling modules are linked into a new ERP/TruTops Fab software suite which automatically dissolves 3D engineering models into full “bill of material” components.
“The STOPA system recognises whether each individual component needs to be cut and pressed or, if not, exports the remainder as an internal order for miscellaneous parts,” explains Mr Allerton. “It also anticipates production schedule requirements for laser cut sheeting, pressing, drilling and shot blasting, as well as issue orders for raw material when it believes stocks are running low.”
Ingeniously, the STOPA also manages ‘scrap’ material, storing away and reusing remnants of material wherever it can, to maximise yield. The only manual intervention required is to feed the system with raw material and collect prepared job-specific assembly kits.
The STOPA system feeds to, and collects from, the TRUMPF TruLaser via synchronous loading platforms, meaning that the laser never has to halt and wait for more raw material as cut shapes are transferred.
All in all, the system makes for exceptionally quick processing. Indeed, Mr Allerton says that the new TRUMPF TruLaser fiber “is some seven times faster than our previous CO2 laser-cutting resources. The fibre optic beam cuts standard 3mm steel sheet at a staggering rate of 1.38m/s. Such is the speed of the machine that we’re now processing around 1000 sheets a week. Needless to say, we’ve also managed to eliminate any previous requirement for subcontractors.”
Speed, however, is not the only benefit. For instance, the new laser can run with oxygen and nitrogen: oxygen to supplement the laser with an exothermic power boost, and nitrogen to shield the surface of the cut material from oxidisation. An additional jet of compressed air blasts hot material away from the cutting zone, maintaining clean and precise cuts.
The 8kW TruLaser fiber 5030 at Don-Bur was specified with a number of TRUMPF smart options, including BrightLine, CoolLine, DetectLine, Drop and Cut, Collision Prevention and Dot Matrix Code. BrightLine technology, for instance, will cut a hole as small as 3mm diameter through 25mm stainless steel without clogging or melting the surrounding material.
“The new nesting software and head placement technology is able to reduce a typical nest cut time [for a 3 x 1.5m sheet] from 21½ minutes to just 2½ minutes,” says Mr Allerton. “The end result is the ability to process nine times more material with virtually no loading or unloading time. In addition, this is achieved using 70% less gas than our previous laser cutters.”
Also linked to the STOPA hub are two new TRUMPF TruBend bending machines to cater for the vast majority of Don-Bur’s sub-assembly requirements. The machines include a TruBend 7036, an all-electric press brake with a bending length of 1,020mm and 36 tonne press force. Don-Bur makes use of TRUMPF TruTops Boost software to take programming into the office environment and deskill shop-floor operations.
“This machine was acquired specifically for the rapid, repetitive processing of small parts,” says Mr Allerton. “In addition, the servo drive turns over 60% more pressings and uses 30% less power. For ease and speed of switching from one pressing type to another, the machine illustrates each pressed part and process using an animated 3D model.”
The second bending machine is a TRUMPF TruBend 5230, which thanks to its 230 tonne press force and 4,230mm bending length, is ideal for larger parts. However, the machine only requires one operator as it is assisted by two front lift-assist robots. In addition, an advanced user interface boasts 3D augmented reality that overlays a ‘correct’ 3D part placement over a live video feed to ensure the user manipulates the material quickly and accurately. As a result, the system offers a 50% increase in production speed and virtually eliminates waste.
The new TRUMPF machines at Don-Bur have been put to work producing a host of different components, including mild steel brackets for trailer bodies measuring from 2 to 20mm in thickness. All machines run 24 hours a day over a two-shift pattern.
“We’ve also processed counterweight brackets from 25mm thick mild steel, which feature a series of 10mm holes,” says Mr Allerton. “These parts were beyond the capability of our previous 4kW CO2 laser cutters.”
Ultimately, the new manufacturing technology at Don-Bur allows the company to rapidly produce a range of “configured to order” product lines on short lead times, which is attractive to many general hauliers, rental companies and pallet network operators.
“The machines have exceeded our expectations,” concludes Mr Allerton. “Some weeks we’ve finished all of our contracted work by Thursday afternoon, which means we can start on next week’s work and give ourselves some breathing space. We simply load up the STOPA system and away we go.”
Such is the pace of growth at Don-Bur that the company is now considering expanding its plant by levelling off an adjoining six-acre site, which is currently unused.