WM manufacturing opportunity: permanent magnets for wind turbines

December 23, 2017

Birmingham’s Professor Rex Harris (FREng) is drawing attention to a recent article in the Guardian Review on wind energy giving an up-beat view of off-shore wind farms which, he agrees, are showing a lot of promise, particularly compared with the very expensive and increasingly problematic nuclear option. He comments:

“However, in this article, there was no mention of the vital role played by NdFeB-type permanent magnets in the direct drive generators provided by companies such as Siemens”.

The untutored writer consulted a second engineer who said that readers may have noticed wind turbines of rather different shapes starting to appear. The more traditional ones have a nacelle behind the rotor – the gearbox to convert slow rotation to a higher speed required by the generator.

He continued: “These gearboxes are expensive and heavy, bringing new problems to solve. One solution is the turbine with NdFeB, otherwise known as rare earth magnets. They eliminate the need for the gearbox, driving the generator directly at the speed of the blades. They can be recognised by a large ring structure behind the blades. (The traditional gearbox opposite has the low speed shaft to the left. It makes the high speed shaft to the right turn approximately 50 times faster than the low speed shaft.)

Stanford Magnets reports on the emergence – over the last two years – of commercial-scale & direct drive permanent magnet generator systems with the hub directly connected to the generator (right). Being direct drive, these turbines have significant advantages over the geared variety:

  • significantly increased reliability,
  • reduced maintenance costs,
  • reduced downtime for maintenance
  • improved efficiencies in the power conversion process and
  • greater efficiencies when wind speeds are not at full rating.

The second engineer warns that “engineering is always a compromise and there is a clue in the name RARE earth: these generators need a large quantity to make the magnets required. There is a limited amount of these materials and they are predominantly found in China”. 

Mineral reserves: resources known to be economically feasible for extraction economically and technically feasible to extract. Note that the New Scientist reports that in what is said to be the first detailed report on the country’s supply, the US has 13 million tonnes of rare earth metals –  but it would take years to extract them.

Source: https://investingnews.com/daily/resource-investing/critical-metals-investing/rare-earth-investing/rare-earth-reserves-country/.

Professor Harris and his colleagues David Kennedy and Adrian Arbib end: “With this medium to long term threat to the magnet supply very much in mind, the West, including Europe and the USA, should recreate its previous manufacturing capacity for the production of NdFeB-type sintered magnets, start to exploit alternative rare earth reserves and develop and support NdFeB-type magnet recycling. Simply leaving matters to market forces will certainly not be sufficient”.

 

 

 

 

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Nov 1-2: Mechatronic Solutions launch the Podconnect at the NEC

November 1, 2017

We return to Mechatronic Solutions after this two year old post was selected by most of the visitors to this site last month – the majority coming from the United States.

A fact summary:

This company designed its first robot for the Morgan Matroc ariel assembly in 2000 and the  Kaizen workshop was developed in 2002, described on this site in 2015.  – see with Change Agent Andrew Thomas.

It now offers RoboPod, a standardised platform for robot applications that they say ‘represents a first in the industry’ used in these sectors:

and also automotive  aerospace, packaging, process automation and testing

Robopod have unveiled the Podconnect, an Automated Intelligent Vehicle (AIV) which – as its name suggests – has in-built intelligence and can operate autonomously. It connects machines and systems for ultimate efficiency: “Automated logistics and safe, efficient delivery of materials make the manufacturing environment work seamlessly with other functions”.

As well as these physical and logistical benefits, Podconnect provides detailed information back to managers; providing valuable statistics on performance, output, stock and flows. See a video here.

The Advanced Engineering Show 2017 is described as ‘The UK’s largest annual gathering of advanced engineering professionals’. It attracts professionals from across the UK and worldwide advanced engineering industries: including managers and directors as well as those specialising in fields as diverse as Research and design (R&D), Design, Test engineering, Production, Logistics and Procurement.

On 1st November, the 2-day exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham will see Mechatronic Solutions launch Podconnect AIV Autonomous Intelligent Vehicle plus a new Robopod brochure setting out information about the whole range. 

 

 

 

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Avonstar of Digbeth: metal manufacturing

October 14, 2017

Make Works, an open resource where you can discover skilled manufacturers, tools and materials to make work with in your area, lists Digbeth’s  Avonstar – a ‘light’ engineering firm which has been providing quality service to its customers for over 20 years.

Avonstar’s skilled 30 employees can handle all types of metal construction and parts of construction and undertake work in all types of metal – including steel, aluminium and stainless steel.It offers powder coating, which contains no solvents and releases little or no chemical pollution into the atmosphere, unlike liquid coatings.

They work with a wide range of clients based in Digbeth, including arts organisations and individual creative practitioners.

The Avonstar website appears to be ‘under construction’ but the company has developed another remarkable site for an online trading store.

Avonstar Classics supplies a wide range of useful metal goods to customers in many sectors including city councils, education departments and the automotive industry, supplying

  • clinics and hospitals
  • kitchen departments
  • car accessories
  • campervan/caravans
  • gardening stores
  • sports departments (for rugby, netball, fishing and football)

 

To see their full range go to Avonstar Classics.

 

 

 

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Arc Specialist Engineering Limited: Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Walsall

August 6, 2017

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Arc Specialist Engineering Limited, formerly known as Bowman Birmingham Limited, is a group of steel processing businesses formed in March 2013 which manufacture and supply various specialist steel products. Its majority shareholders were Marc and Nathaniel Meyohas (Greybull Capital, a family-owned, family-run business, see its dealings with Tata, Morrisons and more). Over the years the number of employees has grown from 200 in 2013 to 500.

In July 2017 Mobeus Equity Partners backed Arc’s management team buyout and refer to a partnership with the Arc managers.

Its strategies: to differentiate services and find niche markets

  • As UK manufacturers facing overseas competition, the Arc companies look for manufacturers of products that won’t travel well, because items that are easy to dispatch overseas face competition with countries such as China, South Korea and Taiwan.
  • They have found that small-volume manufacturing accesses markets that larger competitors wouldn’t enter, such as the pre-coated non-stick bakeware market. Many bigger coil coating businesses are coating 100,000 plus tonnes of metal per year; while Arc’s subsidiary Cooper Coated Coil (below) coats just under 20,000 tonnes per year.

  • PVC window and door reinforcement products access markets which require lower run quantities, more frequent deliveries and more product variety than larger firms are interested in offering.
  • Because relatively small amounts are manufactured Arc’s companies are good at ‘changeovers’ – converting an assembly line or machine from running one product to another
  • Its system enables the managing director of each business to be close to customers and employees within the business, providing not only the product itself, but also knowledge, advice and an excellent service, building strong long-term relationships.

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Over Greybull’s four years of ownership, time and resources were invested to turn Arc around. Andy Richardson, who leads the current management team, said: “The past four years have seen a transformation of Arc into a profitable growing business, with hundreds of jobs saved along the way, all made possible by much-needed investment in our manufacturing capabilities. We are immensely excited about the next stage of our journey, which would not have been possible without Greybull’s guidance and support. We are very grateful for everything they have committed to the business”.

 

 

 

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A Perry & Co: new staff and new premises

July 18, 2017

Good news has been received about yet another family-owned firm. A Perry & Co of Cradley Heath, established in 1925 by Arthur Perry, is run by fourth generation family members, employing 85 staff supplying products to clients around the world.

It is the UK’s largest independent manufacturer of hinges, ironmongery, threaded bar, fasteners and fixings, chains, in the UK increasing its number of customers around the world, due to its product range and justifiable reputation for quality and service. It supplies many industries, including boat and marine, heavy machinery (lifting gear), Architectural Metalwork, domestic/garden and the security sector.

A Perry & Co has moved next door to new 90,000 sq ft premises, doubling its warehousing space and taking on five new members of staff.The £3.5m investment includes two-storey office space for a call centre and administration, two large manufacturing units, a 90,000 sq ft purpose-equipped warehouse and distribution centre, a loading yard and car parking. Two new sectors have been introduced to the company by Mr Perry’s sons Steven and Chris: Primus, which specialises in garden art and accessories and Equestrian, which supplies a range of tack room, stable components and related equipment.

Up to 20 containers are now arriving every month. Instead of manually checking the stock and status of every product,  a new business software solution, OrderWise, does what was previously an extensive manual process.  Lead times, stock levels, future forecasted demand, forward orders, existing purchase orders, minimum stock requirements and more is automatically accounted for.  Purchase orders can then be  emailed, faxed or printed and sent directly to suppliers in their native currency.

The new centre will dramatically improve dispatch services to UK and overseas customers, now delivering to more than 14,000 pallet locations.

 

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DK Rewinds: maintaining and manufacturing spares for traction motors

May 6, 2017

DK Rewinds a Smethwick family business founded in 1976 by Mr Harbhajan Singh Bhogal, has two sites in the area, employing over 60 full time staff, including three electrical engineering apprentices.

It provides a “One Stop” repair and rewind service for traction motors in the utilities, rail (below) and industrial sectors.

It has a dedicated staff and specialist equipment providing a comprehensive maintenance service for those three sectors.

Its extensive CNC machine shop manufactures spares for many different types of electric motors in use all over the world today.

 The British rail freight company English, Welsh and Scottish Railway Company (EWS) was taken over by DB Schenker but trains still carry the EWS liveries and logos

The company was visited last year by London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport, Val Shawcross, who met staff and talked about their work.

Balvinder S Bhogal, managing director and Val Shawcross

DK Rewinds supplies components and undertakes repairs to keep London Underground trains operational. It specialises in repairing the traction motors that power Central Line trains, producing new components for motors that match the originals so that faulty trains can be quickly fixed and brought back into service.

Balvinder Bhogal said: “We have been working with Transport for London for 30 years as a key supplier. This has enabled DK Rewinds to invest in our workforce, which includes training apprentice and graduate engineers. The work we receive from TfL is very important to the Midlands and the region benefits greatly from these business links.”

The latest news: DK Rewinds attended the Freight in the City’s summit, Improving the last mile’, on 1st March 2017 at Edgbaston Stadium.

 

 

 

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Subcon Lasers: ‘in the forefront’ due to continual investment in the latest technology

April 16, 2017

Subcon Laser Cutting, based in Nuneaton, invests in the latest technology available to keep at the forefront of a rapidly changing and challenging manufacturing environment.

Business Desk published news of its acquisition of the UK’s first 8kw fibre laser cutting system with Cooline technology, which helps to cut fine detail into thick material and is controlled remotely using the latest iPad technology. This machine, installed at the end of 2016, was supplied and made by the Trumpf Group in Germany and the investment is already opening up opportunities including new orders from India, with further enquiries from Belgium, Switzerland and Italy.

Production Engineering Excellence Magazine, which covers the latest technological developments relevant to production engineers and managers, reports that Subcon Laser Cutting received the CET Coventry & Warwickshire ‘Excellence in Manufacturing’ award. The winners were announced at a gala dinner and presentation night at the Ricoh Arena in October.

This interesting photograph shows Subcon’s 5 Axis Laser Cutting TruLaser Cell 7040. Though  other laser cutting services will only work on flat sheet, bar and plate, the 5 axis service is involved with creating high quality 3D parts. It is highly regarded by the automotive industry because it is versatile – can work with anything ranging from prototype/body to supporting all kinds of production lines.

Tom Mongan, general manager of Subcon Laser Cutting, speaks in similar vein to the one of the co-founders of this website, Peter Davies (Professional Polishing, Smethwick), who noted that although the usual downbeat attitude to manufacturing persists, when he attends business gatherings the attitude is buoyant, with news of orders coming in.

Mr Mongan said: “Depending on what you read or who you listen to, they say UK manufacturing lags behind our EU counterparts in productivity and investment, well not from where I am standing and I would like to know who is providing the statistics and information”.

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