The UK manufacturer of all-electric tube bending machines, Unison, has opened a new facility in Scarborough. Purpose-fitted for machine design and manufacture, the building more than doubles the production capacity of this fast growing company, and accelerates machine building times by around 15 per cent.

“The new facility has allowed us to expand every major department in Unison – we now have more software and hardware development engineers, and more manufacturing and sales staff,” says Alan Pickering, Managing Director of Unison. “Our investment positions us well to cope with the growth in demand that we have been experiencing, as well as our projected expansion into new markets that we are targeting in BRIC countries.”

Located close to Unison’s previous building, the new facility gives Unison over 2,200 square metres of manufacturing space, along with two acres of surrounding land. The building interior has been remodeled to increase Unison’s manufacturing efficiency and capacity.

One of the most important new features is a dedicated flow line for building machines, fitted with a gantry crane to simplify handling and installation of large components. Tube bending machines now progress through six sequential assembly cells with application-specific tooling for each stage of the build cycle, from the basic preparation of the mechanical chassis and equipment cabinets, through the installation of electrical and mechanical components, to cabling, system commissioning and test, and finally customer acceptance. At the end of the line, machines can be rolled into containers for shipping. In the old facility, assembly time for a typical machine was 12 weeks. The organization and higher efficiency of the new flow line will reduce this to 10 weeks for a majority of the smaller machine sizes that Unison builds.

Another key new feature is an expanded metalworking machine shop, including a brand new £300,000 investment in another five-axis CNC machining centre, to speed the fabrication of the metalwork components and tooling required for the bending machines. This brings in-house some components previously made by sub-contractors, further helping to speed delivery times.

Unison is growing rapidly, thanks to its focus on the most advanced sector of this metalwork machinery market – all-electric machines with their computer-controlled bending – plus the company’s willingness to invest in design which has continually extended the scope of the bending technology into larger tube and pipe sizes. All-electric bending machines, rather than the traditional hydraulically powered machines, have now become the de-facto standard in all of the precision metalwork fabrication markets that Unison specialises in, including aerospace, automotive production, shipbuilding, oil and gas, and small-batch manufacturing.

“We already have the reputation as the pioneer of all-electric tube bending, and we aim to make our new Scarborough facility the world centre for advancing this technology,” adds Alan Pickering.  “We recently manufactured the world’s largest-ever all electric tube bender – with the ability to bend pipes up to eight inches in diameter – a size that some said could not be achieved. And we are now starting to design a machine with more than double the power. With the accuracy, repeatability and speed of set-up advantages of all-electric technology, we expect to start taking market share from more hydraulic machine competitors in the near future.”

In addition to larger size machines, a key element of Unison’s philosophy is to assist clients in re-engineering their manufacturing processes alongside the acquisition of a new machine – to multiply productivity. This is achieved by Unison’s vision of their machines as elements of the wider manufacturing process, and the availability of Unison software and hardware engineering development resources to enable new bending machine investments to form part of more integrated design-to-manufacturing solutions, and to optimize bending performance.

“If we just sell a tube bending machine, we can invariably promise the user a payback in terms of a defined percentage improvement in manufacturing efficiency as well as definable cost savings in operator times and reductions in scrap,” adds Alan Pickering. “However, if the client works with us to analyze and research the process thoroughly it’s often possible to deliver automation that has a much bigger impact – with the potential to make a step-change in the efficiency of the company’s operations. That’s our goal, and we can point to a number of applications where this is happening. It means extra work for us, but it’s an approach that is opening doors.”

As examples, one client is now achieving an almost threefold increase in productivity thanks to a re-engineered process based on Unison bending machines and accessories. And, Unison has just helped another client to almost double the manufacturing productivity of a key volume part, by helping the user to optimize the movements of the machine’s tooling and handling axes.

Unison’s investment in development is changing the nature of the machines it sells. A decade ago, nine out of every ten machines the company sold typically worked in a standalone fashion. Today around half of Unison’s projects include the development of special features and software for purposes such as integration with CAD systems and to simplify application-specific programming, and/or the provision of machines with integrated peripherals in the form of handling automation, washing machines, cutting machines, etc. Unison strongly views its future in this ‘integrated manufacturing solution’ segment of the tube bending machine market.