Automation advantages

05 Nov 2020

Engineering capacity news posted by Andy Sandford

Investment in automated material handling and storage at Alpha Manufacturing has removed work in progress from the factory floor and boosted capacity and efficiency

The company has expanded its four-bay automated material handling and storage system to a 10-bay system that houses more than 600 tonnes of material and part-processed items.

The STOPA system now has 207 available pallet spaces and runs 62m down the centre of Alpha’s factory near Stafford and serves machines including Trumpf laser cutting, punching, combination laser/punch and bending machines.

The completion of the STOPA marks the culmination of Alpha’s journey to automation and its ‘smart factory’ vision, delivering competitive advantage for both the company and its customers.

Plans for the large-scale installation were first set out in 2015. The aim was to make Alpha Manufacturing the UK’s foremost precision sheet-metal fabricator in just five years, doubling turnover in the process. With the completion of the STOPA system extension in July 2020, the total investment is close to £4 million, securing Alpha’s position as one of the most technically advanced factories in the industry.

Part of the Bri-Stor Group of companies, Alpha Manufacturing is a privately-owned business established in 1989 that specialises in sheet-metal fabrication. Over 150 people are now employed at the firm’s 65,000ft2 facility, where a range of materials are processed in thicknesses from 0.5 to 25mm. Sectors served include automotive, retail, electronics, agriculture, construction, street furniture, security, healthcare, horticulture and petrochemical.

The STOPA system improves daily business at Alpha in a number of ways. For instance, it has allowed the company to automate stock storage, movement and transfer between machines, with all raw sheet metal stored in the towers and called out at the touch of a button. This capability has had a hugely positive affect on Alpha’s performance with regard to both efficiency and capacity.

“One of the biggest benefits is removing all WIP (work-in-progress) from the shop floor,” states Rob Eley, Commercial Director. “There are no more pallets of parts, or need to transport those pallets around the factory using forklifts. The STOPA has led to massive improvements in efficiency, as well as reductions in costed manpower resources. Furthermore, tasks such as stock control and management are now significantly easier.”

Managing Director Paul Clews adds: “We’ve achieved everything we set out to do and more, and this final investment will take us to our goal in terms of automation and efficiency. We’re not unique in buying the best machinery; a lot of companies have high-specification technology. However, we aim to differentiate in our operations, through the highest levels of efficiency and productivity. The STOPA system provides the ability to identify, locate and deliver any piece of sheet steel, punched/laser part or folded sub-assembly to any location at the touch of a button. In doing this, we dramatically reduce the amount of waste from our processes in terms of people movement and component transportation.”