Composites in Manufacturing hears from leading flatbed cutting machine specialists, Assyst Bullmer to see how the company stays at the cutting edge of a competitive industry.
With an industrial experience of flatbed cutting technology spanning nearly four decades, Wakefield-based Assyst Bullmer has grown to become a leading supplier of automatic cutters and CAD software to companies who process carbon fibre composites and fibreglass, as well as textiles and leather.
Q) Firstly, please provide some news on your latest machine tool launch?
As of last November, Bullmer is pleased to announce the latest edition to its cutter line up, the X-cut. This compact single ply cutting machine can be adapted to suit your production process. The X-cut is a robust lighter version of the Bullmer ELC and is designed to be the first step towards automation - without breaking the bank - whilst still providing all the usual benefits of automatic cutting.
Q) Typically, from which industries to your customers hail from and what materials types are cut on your flatbed machines?
Our customers come from a variety of different industries - our main three are composites, upholstery and graphics, but we also have many dealing with technical textiles or various properties and characteristics. Because of the wide range of tools available on our cutting machines - in particular our single ply machine the Bullmer PremiumCut - we can cut a wide range of composite materials, such as dry carbon, prepreg, glass fibre, honeycomb and Kevlar.
Q) In terms of a wish list, what types of demands do your customers specify in terms of purchasing a flatbed cutting system?
When looking for an automatic cutting solution, our customers want to minimise waste and move away from labour-intensive manual cutting. They are also looking for a high quality machine which they can rely on, and one that will allow them to increase capacity, cut their pieces quickly and accurately, helping them achieve high outputs that allow them to drive their business forward. After sales support is vital in the decision-making process.
Our team of UK-based engineers are always on hand to offer support to our customers, whether it be by logging on to their machine remotely, or by being onsite to help with any issues. We also stock a large range of spare parts onsite at our Wakefield offices to ensure that we are always equipped to help our customers.
Q) Tell me more about your flatbed cutting machines and the kinds of composite-related materials they cut?
We offer single and multiply machines depending on the customers’ needs and output. In general the machine of choice of the composites market is the single ply PremiumCut because of the speed it is capable of many customers find there is no need to look to cut multiply. Multiply machines would allow customer to cut ply up to 8cm in depth.
We use Optitex software which allows our customers to create, digitise and import their patterns. Then they are able to insert those shapes and the algorithm with find the most efficient nest. In some cases, customers have saved up to 15% when compared to more traditional methods of cutting.
Our cutters do have the ability to run remotely. However, due to the nature of the role of machine operator, it is recommended that an operator is present at all times.
Our cutters have a variety of tooling options several of which are for piece marking. In many cases a pen attached to the cutting head is sufficient and a cheaper way to mark pieces, but you also have the option of labellers and inkjet printers.
Q) Do these machines come with automated roll-feeding material equipment to the machine’s bed?
We can supply a range of automatic cradles and material handling solutions. And customer rely upon our expertise and knowledge to provide them with a suitable recommendation based upon our knowledge of the material characteristics and experience. The solutions we provide are as follows: Non-driven unwinding which is popular for prepreg cutting; Centre bar driven with laser edge control and speed adjustment for tension free unwinding; Automatic unwinding cradle for tension free automatic unwinding of materials.
Q) What are your thoughts on Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future?
We see endless possibilities in industry 4.0, and we’ve already begun to see demand and companies beginning to see the need to evolve. At Assyst Bullmer, we have had successful projects with Solvay who were looking for a partner who could work with them when it came to integrating robotics with automatic cutting machines. Solvay now has multiple cells with robotic pick and place systems working hand in hand with Bullmer Cutters. We are also delighted to be an official partner in the GKN-led ASCEND project to accelerate high volume composite technologies. We will be working with GKN and other partners in integrating robotics with our cutting machines.
Q) In your opinion, what differentiates your machines from the competition?
Our cutters - unlike our competitors - are German-made, assuring our customers that if they buy from us, they’re guaranteed a quality product. And this is reflected in our levels of after-sale care. We do not need to overcharge for engineer visits and maintenance contracts because we are confident in the quality of our machines.
Q) What particular aspect has helped your company get through the pandemic?
Flexibility and spreading the business to a variety of markets, such as composites, upholstery, graphics and other technical textiles. The pandemic has offered us a great opportunity to assess the business and how we operate. It has allowed us to streamline our ways of operating.
Q) Do you have any positive ‘good news’ stories that your company has performed, i.e. pivot to manufacture PPE for the medical sector, etc.?
We have supported numerous customers manufacturing masks gowns and other PPE. Since our company’s roots are in the fashion industry, we have extensively supported existing customers in manufacturing hospital gowns.
Q) What kind of industry landscape will we be faced with when everything gets back to normal?
At present, we are not seeing any significant change in the market landscape. All the industries we are active in companies seem to be regaining confidence and upping manufacturing.
Q) What are your thoughts about the lack of tradeshows and are ‘virtual’ tradeshows the way forward?
In our opinion, they are not the way forward. We do not believe that you can replace the kind of exposure you receive at a tradeshow, and there just isn’t the opportunity to make the type of connections you normally would.
Q) Where to next for your company?
For Assyst Bullmer, the next step is for us to continue to build on the momentum we have gained within the composites industry. We have been fortunate enough to land some large projects and we’re hoping that these will help us see even more success within the market as we continue to prove our solution within the composites industry.