The British manufacturer McConnel has been designing and building agricultural machinery at its factory in Ludlow since the 1930s, and its numerous products — power-arm hedge trimmers, remote-controlled mowing machines, and more — are sold worldwide.  That plant has been using the Lantek Expert sheet-metal processing software for more than six years, having installed it work alongside its kerf plasma cutting machine.

“We make nearly every part of our products in-house, buying in very little,” explained Rob Martin, production engineer.  “We have machine shops for milled and turned parts, plasma and oxy cutting machines in our sheet metal workshop, as well as assembly and testing facilities.

“Designs are created using SolidWorks in our design office,” he added, “and are passed into Lantek Expert using DXF ready for cutting.”

Because of McConnel’s wide range of machines there are tens of thousands of parts stored in the Lantek Expert database, and more are added as new designs are developed. “We take the DXF into Lantek Expert and record information such as material type and thickness,” Martin detailed. “For managing demand in the workshop, our IBM system collates orders for machines and breaks these down into their component part numbers and quantities. A spreadsheet of this information, which can typically contain 4-5000 parts each week, is passed into Lantek Expert.”

All the geometric profiles and material information is already in Lantek Expert, so the engineers operating the software are able to select the proper details for each project from drop-down menus, to sort the part requirements into thickness and material type. Mostly they use the automatic nesting functionality, which can be adjusted for optimal nesting quality and nesting time, to fill the sheets.

“Mainly, we are cutting mild steel,” according to Martin, “but we also cut Domex and Hardox — which are extremely tough and durable materials for high-wear situations on or in the ground. Material thicknesses go from 1.6 mm up to 85 mm. Parts up to 20 mm thick are cut on the plasma, while thicker or higher-volume parts are cut by our CNC oxy cutting machine, which has four linked torches.

“For program nesting, we rely on Lantek Expert automatic nesting, just checking the last sheet in case there is an odd part on it which we can squeeze onto one of the previous sheets with one of the software’s manual nesting tools,” he said.

Lantek has helped the McConnel plant to optimize set-ups for all the machine parameters, such as lead-in type, cutting, and rapid speed and gap between parts.

The software developer also will be on hand to help the manufacturer implement its second kerf plasma cutting machine, due for delivery soon. Both the current and new Kerf plasma will have Kerf UltraSharp technology. Rob Martin adds, “Ultrasharp will enable us to cut exact size holes in relation to material thickness. For example, we will be able to cut an exact size 8mm hole in an 8mm thick plate which we previously would have had to drill. Lantek worked closely with Kerf to develop this technology and will be helping us to implement it.”

As well as production parts, the engineers at McConnel use the 2D drawing capability in Lantek Expert to design and manufacture jigs for use in other areas of manufacture and assembly. “The design (function) in Lantek Expert is easy to use and enables us to quickly respond to requests ourselves without involving the design office,” according to Martin.

McConnel also relies on the time and weight calculations in Lantek Expert. “The software works out the cutting time and allows for non-productive times such as piercing and torch up/down times," he explained. "It also works out the weight of the component, enabling us to use the information to cost our components.”

When a new release of Lantek Expert is introduced, Lantek engineers visit to carry out additional training if necessary, so that McConnel achieves the maximum value for its investment, in terms of plant productivity. Rob Martin concluded, “The support is fantastic with knowledgeable people on the end of the phone. There has never been an occasion when they could not solve a problem for us.”