As part of a global group with 11 facilities on 5 continents, Thorlabs UK based in Ely, is a broad based optical technologies company with expertise in the design and manufacture of an extensive array of innovative photonics products for manufacturing and research. With a printed catalogue present in almost every optics laboratory worldwide, the product range covers optical and opto-mechanical components, tables and vibration control, nano-positioning solutions, test and measurement systems, imaging systems and laser sources (over 12,000 products).
To further enhance the quality and consistency of its product lines, the Cambridgeshire company has just taken delivery of its second Grindingmaster machine from Ellesco; the UK’s first Timesavers 42-Series-1000-RB installation.
One of the UK’s specialities is the production of high-precision motion control systems and specialized vibration isolation products. This includes solid aluminium optical mounting boards and stainless steel honeycomb optical breadboards and photonics tables for the research, scientific, medical research and academic sectors.
Working predominantly in the research arena, Thorlabs has been relatively resilient to market forces with flourishing annual growth levels. This ongoing growth brings many challenges including the ramp up in production of its stainless steel honeycomb breadboards and tables. Back in 2010, the Cambridgeshire company deployed multiple skilled staff on manual surface finishing of its tables and breadboards. It was at this point Ellesco entered the picture with its Timesavers 42- series 1350RB Rotary Brush Machine.
At the time, Thorlabs reviewed a number of vendors in order to eliminate manual surface finishing of its tables and breadboards. However, the company empowers its staff and implicitly trust’s their judgement, so when a number of shop floor employees praised Ellesco and the Timesavers brand through experiences in previous employment, the company purchased its first Ellesco machine and the results were astounding.
By installing the first Timesaver 42- series 1350RB machine, Thorlabs was immediately able to free up several staff from manually finishing the tables and redeploy their skills into other areas of the production line. This has increased throughput of the complete manufacturing process.
Commenting upon the overall cost efficiencies of the first Ellesco Timesavers installation, the UK Materials and Process Engineer at Thorlabs, Mr Richard Shaw says: “The savings of the first machine were immediate and made a huge impact on our throughput, efficiency and cost reductions. In addition to the redeployment of staff, the consumable cost for manual finishing was eliminated. Whilst the Timesaver machine has a consumable cost for rotary brushes, it is pointless to subtract this from the overall cost saving as the brushes provide run life that would last at least 3 years based on the calculated total amount of cut time the brushes perform each week. Accounting for all this, the first Timesavers machine still gave us a payback period of 1.4 years.”
Like any market leading OEM, Thorlabs improved its product line-up by launching the new line of Nexus tables and boards with improved vibration damping, stiffness and resonance. The launch of the new Nexus line in 2012 increased demand on the Thorlabs production facility. The first Timesaver machine had plenty of capacity to support this demand, however more recently a strategic decision was taken for the UK facility to ramp up its production of solid aluminium boards to cover the entire Thorlabs Global demand. This would have required an additional 40 hours per week of Timesaver operation on the same Ellesco machine. At this time, a decision to invest in a second Ellesco machine was made. Given the high volume of these boards, it was an easy decision for Thorlabs to strategically concentrate all board manufacturing in the UK.
Another benefit of procuring the Timesavers 42-Series-1000-RB rotary brush machine is the elimination of brush changes on the original Timesaver. As the latest machine has been dedicated solely to finishing aluminium based products. Unlike the first machine, the new Timesaver is a 1000mm wide Rotary Brush machine version. This has two rotary brushes as opposed to eight, yet still delivers the same consistent non-gloss surface finish that Thorlabs specifies on all surfaces.
As Mr Shaw concludes:
“The latest addition is a smaller machine with a compact footprint, that has been specified for the aluminium mounting board line that will never exceed the 1m width capacity of the machine. We have eliminated the changeover issue by dedicating the Timesavers 42-Series-1000-RB to aluminium mounting boards. This will also enhance our throughput of the stainless steel based honeycomb optical breadboards and photonics tables on the Timesavers 42- series 1350RB. Furthermore, with our output of aluminium mounting boards set to increase significantly in coming years, we know we have the machine to fully cater for our expected capacity increase.”
“Not only can we be comfortable that we have the capacity to meet future production demands, but we can maintain the excellent surface finishes and consistency that customers have come to expect from our market leading product lines. Furthermore, the service and support from Ellesco gives us the confidence that our production will never receive any significant disruptions.”