13 Apr 2024

Automated storage system helps manufacturer towards its smart factory vision

Stafford based Alpha Manufacturing has this year extended its investment in a TRUMPF 10 bay STOPA storage system to serve multiple machines at this sheet-metal fabricator’s plant. The completion of the STOPA marks the culmination of Alpha’s journey to automation and its ‘smart factory’ vision. Smart Machines & Factories reports.

Following Alpha Manufacturing’s investment in a STOPA four-bay automated material handling and storage system from TRUMPF in 2016, the company has extended to a 10-bay system that now runs 62m down the centre of its factory near Stafford. The STOPA – which serves machines such as a TRUMPF TruLaser 3030 Fiber, TRUMPF TruMatic 6000 laser/punch combination, TRUMPF TruPunch 5000 and TRUMPF TruBend Cell 7000 – houses more than 600 tonnes of raw material and part-processed items in a total of 207 available pallet spaces. The completion of the STOPA marks the culmination of Alpha’s journey to automation and its ‘smart factory’ vision, delivering competitive advantage for both the company and its customers.

Plans for the large-scale installation were first set out in 2015. The aim was to make Alpha Manufacturing the UK’s foremost precision sheet-metal fabricator in just five years, doubling turnover in the process. With the completion of the STOPA system extension in July 2020, the total investment is close to £4 million, securing Alpha’s position as one of the most technically advanced factories in the industry.

Part of the Bri-Stor Group of companies, Alpha Manufacturing is a privately-owned business established in 1989 that specialises in sheet-metal fabrication. Over 150 people are now employed at the firm’s 65,000ft2 facility, where a range of materials are processed in thicknesses from 0.5 to 25mm. Sectors served include automotive, retail, electronics, agriculture, construction, street furniture, security, healthcare, horticulture and petrochemical.

The STOPA system improves daily business at Alpha in a number of ways according to the company. It has allowed the company to automate stock storage, movement and transfer between machines, with all raw sheet metal stored in the towers and called out at the touch of a button. This capability has had a hugely positive affect on Alpha’s performance with regard to both efficiency and capacity.

Rob Eley, commercial director, explained: “One of the biggest benefits is removing all WIP [work-in-progress] from the shop floor…There are no more pallets of parts, or need to transport those pallets around the factory using forklifts. The STOPA has led to massive improvements in efficiency, as well as reductions in costed manpower resources. Furthermore, tasks such as stock control and management are now significantly easier.”

Managing director, Paul Clews, added: “We’ve achieved everything we set out to do and more, and this final investment will take us to our goal in terms of automation and efficiency. We’re not unique in buying the best machinery; a lot of companies have high-specification technology. However, we aim to differentiate in our operations, through the highest levels of efficiency and productivity. The STOPA system provides the ability to identify, locate and deliver any piece of sheet steel, punched/laser part or folded sub-assembly to any location at the touch of a button. In doing this, we dramatically reduce the amount of waste from our processes in terms of people movement and component transportation.”

The Alpha factory never completely stopped production throughout the entire lockdown period, primarily due to demand from customers involved in supporting key workers, those directly supplying the NHS, or companies providing protective equipment. For example, protective screens are currently being produced for a leading internal screening supplier that requested Alpha’s support to keep up with the extraordinary increase in demand. Alpha quickly established an assembly line to produce the screens at a rate of 300 per week.

In conclusion, Alpha’s facilities are today unrecognisable from the set-up of 2015 when the investment strategy was announced. Moving forward, the company will continue working to best use the machinery and systems in order to achieve total stock/material handling automation.