A combination 3D plasma cutter and welder facility is helping go-ahead engineering firm Metalform successfully break into export markets. Kiwi companies can also take advantage of this technology.
By Glenn Baker.
DANNEVIRKE-based engineering company Metalform continues to punch above its weight in the use of time-saving welding and cutting technology and in product innovation – innovation that is continuing to drive sales in export markets. Metalform’s product sales manager Tim Henman says the company’s wheelchair project reached the milestone 500-unit mark in May 2010. “We had a big celebration to mark the occasion – with 500 wheelchairs exported to the US in the space of just 18 months. “The company responsible for marketing the product said it was ‘the smoothest product launch they had ever experienced’. The product is continuing to be released into Europe and is currently being launched into some Asian markets – namely Japan and South Korea,” he says. The key to the efficient manufacture of these wheelchairs is Metalform’s 3D plasma cutter and welder, which Henman says is the only combination machine of its type in Australasia. “Back in 2007 we had ideas for parts that would make our niche products stand out. But these parts could only be efficiently and effectively made using a combination 3D robot plasma and welder. We chose Lincoln Electric as it was the best fit for our purpose and readily available. “Today many of our repeat products have had huge productivity increases thanks to the robot plasma cutter and welder,” explains Henman. He uses the example of a footplate that the company makes for its paediatric wheelchair to demonstrate the machine’s capabilities and efficiencies. “The footplate begins as a deep drawn sheetmetal pressing. Then it is cut by 3D plasma and robot welded – all in one set-up.” Henman says the welding time with the Lincoln 6-axis robot welder (which has a 7th axis jig rotator) can be as little as the time it takes to load the jig on the stationery side. “The possibilities are limitless by being able to trim a deep drawn pressing quickly and with minimal setup costs.” Ever wanted to cut your own custom profile in RHS, tube, channel or angle steel? Metalform’s Lincoln RC3L is an automated welding centre with rotary index table capable of accepting two tooling frames each up to 2400mm x 1200mm with a maximum load capacity of 450kg per side. “The programming is done offline and simulated on-screen to ensure machine continuity and efficiency,” says Henman. “Interchanging the head from a welding tip to plasma cutting is done automatically to combine both tools on a single weldment.” The welding speed is up to 1.8 metres per minute; welding modes include pulse, STT, rapid arc and CV. The plasma cutting speed can be up to ten metres per minute, while the cutting material thickness goes up to 30mm. “And if one robot isn’t enough, Metalform has two!” says Henman. “Our Motoman UP6 consists of a 350amp welder and is capable of welding up to one metre per minute.” Henman hints of other exciting developments coming up at Metalform too. “We are in the process of launching our farm equipment range into the US. Metalform has incorporated in the US under the entity Tow and Farm Inc. “Our approach is a direct marketing one – utilising an in-market logistics and fulfilment warehouse with personnel to answer the phone and take orders. We’re planning to exhibit at a US trade show at the end of the year.”