The productivity of a Phoenix laser cutting system with MOVit Tower Automation System (TAS), the first to be installed in the UK, has allowed the company to condense 110 hours of laser cutting and 100 hours of plasma cutting into just 70 hours on the new machine. This has enabled the company it to cut costs by 20% on large contracts.

J.A. Harvey was founded by the father of the current directors, Paul and Dave Harvey, in 1974 and originally focused on work for the agricultural sector. It now employs more than 50 people in a 50,000 sq ft factory. Director Paul Harvey says: “Our core business is fabrication – supplying fully fabricated assemblies on a subcontract basis and we try to do as much as we can in-house.”

The company has a very broad spectrum of customers and works in a wide range of materials and thicknesses – from thin sheet up to heavy plate across low-carbon and high-strength steels, aluminium and stainless steel. It still does a lot of work in the agricultural sector – supplying three of the UK’s leading crop-spraying companies – as well as making assemblies for construction machinery, storage tanks and structural steelwork. The company bought its first laser a second-hand 4.5 kW CO2 machine, in 2013. As it was running 120 hours a week with one operator on permanent night shift, the company decided to purchase a 10 kW LVD Phoenix laser.

Thanks to its cutting capability, some work that was previously cut on the plasma machine and then drilled is now being done in a single operation on the laser.

“Imagine you want to put a 90 mm hole through a 25 mm plate to a 0.15 mm tolerance for a linkage pin or a bush. Plasma will only cut to a millimetre tolerance, drilling will take ten minutes but if we use the laser it takes no time and gives the tolerance we need. It has speeded up production and guarantees the accuracy,” says Paul Harvey.

Paul says the original plan had been to just buy a laser. “When you are a subcontractor you don’t give much thought to automation, but we’d been running a standalone laser for five years, so I knew the time that loading and unloading took.” The key point though was that any automation had to have a high degree of flexibility – running small manually loaded and unloaded batches and big fully automated runs on the same machine. “One job might be to quickly produce six profiles from an offcut, but our next job might be to cut 50 sheets of 10 mm material,” says Paul.

When Paul saw a picture of a MOVit TAS, he realised that this could be the answer. “LVD could offer a tailor-made solution to suit exactly what we needed.” The system now installed at J.A. Harvey includes two storage towers with a total of 33 stations, each holding up to 3 tons of material. They are positioned along the factory wall with a loading station in between them. The Phoenix laser has two normal shuttle tables and a direct unload station at the side of the machine where parts can be unloaded. Overhead cross rails connect the storage towers, the conventional shuttle tables and the unload station.

"We have three working tables. While we have two tables working in the machine we can be unloading to the other one – and then we can take that table out and pick the parts off it by hand or forklift, or whatever we want to do.” This gives a high degree of flexibility for accommodating urgent and small-run jobs, while allowing the efficient use of heavy remnants. Furthermore, the TAS can store a wide range of materials ready for processing, which allows unmanned operation overnight.

The final piece in the jigsaw is the CADMAN-JOB workflow management software. “As well as managing the workflow to the laser, this will tell us our operating efficiency, how many cutting hours we have scheduled, and how many hours we still have available,” says Paul.

Summing up, he says: “One of the biggest reasons for us making this investment was the cost-effectiveness, in terms of time savings, that you get from running a fiber laser with automation. It means you can increase the margin on a product without increasing the cost to the customer.

J.A. Harvey Bassingham Limited. 

We use the name Harvey Fabrication more often. We're a family-owned business, solely. It’s me and my brother Dave, I tend to run the production side and Dave runs the financial side. We're 60, 65 people strong, limited company. It is purely a family-owned business. It was started in 1974 by my father.

The business started out of the fact that he had livestock and they couldn't afford to buy the equipment they needed so they started making it. So we work for construction, in structural steel work. Right the way up to execution class four. We plasma, we drill. Obviously now we'll start doing a lot more laser. 

So that's where we are today. We serve the whole of the UK and Ireland. 

We're already running a laser, a CO2, four and a half kilowatt, and we work bottlenecking. Our business has grown around bottlenecks. So we cure a bottleneck, get a bit of capacity, sell it and create another bottleneck. It's like any business, if you stay with old technology, you're going to fall by the wayside because things move forward in this day and age at such a fast pace. 

So financially we've got to keep up with that, so we've got to make that investment to be at the forefront of that technology, so we're continually growing, as a company and as people too. 

If we were just a laser cutter, doing 2D laser and press work and that was our mainstay business, there are many solutions out there that would all do the job. Being the sort of company that we are, we needed something that had way more flexibility than that. Because this week we need to run on full automation because we have a big job coming.

Next week we might have 55 little jobs that don't suit automation. So we needed a machine that could be run as a standard machine. We also needed a machine that could be run on full automation. We'd already been to Belgium and seen what you guys had to offer in terms of the compact towers and all that.

And, you know, a great piece of kit. Didn't really fit for us how we envisaged we wanted it to fit. Many discussions with Neil, you know, trawling through the internet, trying to find different solutions. Me and Neil, we spoke hours on end, you know, in all fairness. We'd been sitting in this office at eight o'clock at night some nights scratching our heads and he just sent me a picture one Friday night, probably six or seven o'clock.

He said, yeah, look at this. I went, that's it. You could clearly see that was the solution. And to be fair, I think probably two weeks after that, you guys had the order. 

One of the things we're always up against is production costs, how we reduce production costs. How do we do the same job better but faster. The very first job we ran through the LVD was one that we took a punt on. We couldn't have won the job on our old laser. We were probably around 15% out on the finished price. 

But we looked at it and did a few quick sums and I'd like, well, finger in the air, let's have a go. Let's run it through the new laser. It ran through. The margin's still the same as the old laser but the cost to the customer has been reduced by, I’d say, probably 15%. And that's important, you know, talking on the phone with them yesterday, you know, they're keen to come and see this new equipment because I think we can save them money in other areas as well. 

Capacity is the biggest key. We ended up going for the 10 kilowatt. For its capacity, it costs more an hour to run with the nitrogen but the speed gains are worth having. Already, you know, it’s mind-blowing.