The new 4m by 2m capacity machine joins a 4kW LVD Sirius CO2  laser with a tower automation system and replaces an LVD Impuls CO2 laser that was installed in 2005. As well as the lasers, Dutton also operates a waterjet cutting machine and a number of LVD press brakes. It complements these with manual welding capabilities, surface finishing and graining, bead blasting and assembly. It can also offer customers help with component design and development.

Dutton’s Managing Director Andrew Read says: “We have a two-fold approach, offering both pure laser cutting and a complete fabrication and assembly service – and they are treated fairly separately.

“A  lead time on fabrication may be 14 days, but on laser may be the next day to three days. So it is a much quicker turnaround. Which is great for us because it focuses your mind when somebody wants something the next day. And the number of hours you put into fabrication brings more added value into the business.”


The Sirius laser, with tower storage and automatic load and unload, has been, and remains, the workhorse for large volume production. “It literally revolutionised our ability to  sell  laser  cutting  services  and  works 24 hours a day,” says Andrew. The company processes over 500 tonnes of material a year, but rather than being a pure volume player it specialises in stainless steel.

“We don’t try and compete on lots of mild steel because there are companies out there that will churn though tons and tons of thin mild steel every single day. Around 99% of our work is on stainless steel – in both pure cutting and in fabrication – and it is mainly destined for the food and pharmaceutical sectors.”

This is a key differentiator, as customers in industries like these can’t risk any mild steel contamination on their stainless steel products. Nevertheless, it is still a very competitive market and that is part of the reason Andrew decided to invest in a new fibre laser cutting machine.

Andrew explains: “CO2 lasers are being superseded; they are not as cost- effective as fibre lasers. On a CO2 laser the beam is delivered using mirrors and you run into problems with the consistency of the cut when the mirrors start to degrade. With the fibre you don’t have any of that, the beam comes straight down an optic cable. “You are also consuming significantly less electricity, and we have also noticed that we are using less gas too.

“Our electricity bill was huge and it has dropped by at least a third since we installed the new Phoenix. Just by replacing the old machine with a new one.

“It is also significantly faster, not just a little bit faster; you are talking twice as fast on some jobs. On some of the thinner material it is cutting faster than a minute a sheet.”

Compared to waterjet cutting, the fibre laser is orders of magnitude faster on thick aluminium – work that Dutton sometimes has to do as part of a larger project.

“The normal range of material we cut on the laser is 3mm to 10mm,” says Andrew. “Because we have the waterjet we would always use that if we had thicker material to cut. We used to cut 20mm aluminium on the waterjet and it would take eight to nine hours to do a plate. We put that same plate on the fibre laser and it was done in 17 minutes.”

Finally, Andrew says that the repeatability is better. “Unlike the CO2 laser where you have to adjust it over time, once you have the controller set you have none of that. From an operating perspective it is much simpler. You just press the button and go.”

A major, unanticipated, benefit has come on cutting steel covered with plastic protective film – which is common on high-quality stainless steel work.

As Andrew says: “One of the major problems we have had for years is that the protective plastic coating on the stainless sheet gets stuck to it when you cut it. It leaves a black residue which is horrible to get off. It might take a minute to cut it and then 10 minutes to take the plastic off, it was horrendous stuff and the bane of our life.

“Now, because of the power of the laser and the narrowness of the beam, the Phoenix fibre laser cuts the plastic with absolutely no residue. You cut the plastic film in one pass and then go back and cut the metal. That has been a massive saving for us and cut out a time-consuming manual operation.”

When choosing to buy LVD machines he says that reliability and ease of use are key factors.

“We have been a customer of LVD for many years and one of the reasons is that we know their machines are so reliable. With LVD you get a lot of machine for your money. A solid and robust machine with tried and tested, in-house built technology. We don’t want a complicated machine with lots of adjustments to make, we just want to cut metal. LVD has a simple controller and is easy to use. Everything else is taken care of – you don’t need a very highly skilled operator.”

He says that Dutton has been quite lucky during the Covid pandemic because of the markets it serves.

“We just carried on. There is always demand for food packaging machines and there has been more demand from the medical sector because of all the testing that is being done.

“That said, it is difficult to predict what is going to happen in the market over the next 12 months. The big pharmaceutical companies are only predicting a quarter ahead and large food manufacturers are hesitating before committing to new installations.”

This means that being flexible and cost-competitive are more critical than ever.

He concludes: “What we have to do is to try and get more out with less and be more efficient with the time we have. We have always made this assumption that we sell time, whether we are turning round sheet metal or whether we are going into a fabrication contract. So we measure everything down to the minute and you know the profit and loss as soon as it is finished and adjust accordingly.

“Not having to clean off the plastic residue, for example, saves so much time and gives a massive benefit on the bottom line. If the machine cuts quicker, that saves time, if it gives a consistent cut that doesn’t need a lot of finishing, that saves time, if I don’t have to train a highly skilled operator that’s another saving – you save electricity, you save gas.

“You are always looking for ways to reduce costs while being more efficient. That’s what the new LVD Phoenix laser does  for us.”

Dutton Engineering has been around for about 40 years and our main core driver has always been that we sell time as a company, that's the principle. The focus for our customers, as far as we're concerned, is to solve their problems. So we would look at a product, look to improve it, help their design and generally enhance our production in line with what the customer requires, which brings us to LVD machines.

As a company, we specialise purely in stainless steel for food manufacturing and the medical industry so a lot of our work is hand-finished and needs to be medically clean. Dutton Engineering's got two distinct lines of business, fabrication and laser cutting and forming. Both have different demands from customers, so fabrication-wise, you have longer lead times but higher quality. Laser cutting and folding is literally next-day to three-day delivery, so the machinery plant and people have to be geared up for the two different approaches. 

The latest investment in LVD Phoenix has surprised even myself because the reduction in cutting times has been quite phenomenal. We were running one particular job that took nearly 40 minutes and that reduced down to probably 10 minutes, which blew us away. And when you watch it cutting, it’s quite phenomenal. Another added benefit, which we didn't necessarily see, was that it halved our electric bill that we had with our CO2 laser. So just that alone has paid for itself. It's nice to use, the operator loves it. It's very simple to learn because of the touch screens. I can pretty much show anybody how to use a laser machine in probably 20 minutes, which is great for a large investment. 

Dutton Engineering has been involved with LVD for many, many years, and I'm often asked why do we not buy some other brands of machinery. And it boils down to the trust in the company.

When I ask for service the guy’s virtually here the next day or they dial in and help you. So we never have a problem with downtime. To me, it's all about value. The way we measure that is: does it do what we need it to do in the time we had to do it in? It's about reliability and service when it comes to any problems, and that's why we use LVD.