Kerf Waterjet Cuts Subcontract Costs for Valve Manufacturer
When engineer and innovator Alun Hobbs identified an opportunity to revolutionise butterfly valves over 12 years ago, his previous employer was reluctant to follow the opportunity. With a steely determination and belief in his design, Alun set-up Hobbs Valve to serve the demands of the offshore, power generation and general industrial application sectors. Engineered to perform, the patented triple offset butterfly valves from Hobbs Valve provide a more efficient, innovative, safe and cost effective solution that reduces downtimes and maintenance times and eliminates leaks for the end user.
Over a decade after the founding of the business, the seal designs that incorporate patented seat and seal technology to enhance reliability are the bedrock of Hobbs Valve success. This success has seen the Caerphilly entrepreneur expand the original business concept with Hobbs Valve now being part of the Great British Valve Group, which also encompasses Hobbs Precision Engineering, Cambrian Valves Ltd and HVG Techno. Founded as a subcontract machining business to primarily serve the production of valve components for Hobbs Valve, Hobbs Precision Engineering has recently invested in an Optima 320 twin head waterjet machine from Kerf Developments.
The founding of the Hobbs Precision Engineering division was borne out of the necessity to reduce substantial subcontract machining costs for Hobbs Valves, creating an opportunity to manufacture valve components in-house. The South Wales Group has built upon its newly formed subcontract facility, adding waterjet to its machining capability with the arrival of the 3m by 2m Optima waterjet. With three variants in the valve range that include lugged valves, double block & bleed valves and Cryo valves, Hobbs Valve manufactures, assembles and supplies more than 3000 triple offset butterfly valves every year. With more than 40 machined parts per valve and hundreds of variants, the machine shop has reduced average lead-times from 12 weeks to just 4 since it was founded. The Optima 320 twin head waterjet machine has further reduced these lead times since its recent introduction. The fast turnaround times on high-value niche market valves has won the business plaudits; with high-profile customers including leading names from industry such as Shell, BP, Ineos, BNFL ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Maersk, Amec and Total to name a few.
Why Invest in a Kerf Waterjet?
Identifying why the company opted for a waterjet machine, Hobbs Precision Engineering Machine Shop Manager, Mr Craig Llywellyn says: “We identified that we could produce over 1500 clamp ring parts in-house every year, something that would reduce our subcontract reliance, valve unit costs and improve overall production scheduling and lead-times - and waterjet was the only feasible option for our components. Laser or plasma cutting would introduce heat to our components and with complete certification, traceability and standardised conformity of all constituent valve parts from the steel mill through manufacturing to delivery; heat introduction would impact the properties and conformity of our parts. We investigated the options and the Kerf Optima 320 had the best build quality, software, productivity performance and value for our business.”
The clamp ring components are manufactured from aluminium bronze and a range of stainless steels that vary from 316 to super duplex with dimensions from 50 to 1200mm diameter in thicknesses from 4 to 12mm. “By brining production of clamp ring parts in-house, we have reduced our subcontracting costs by over £30,000 per year. Furthermore, we have gained greater control over our processes and quality whilst reducing our lead-time for these parts from 4 weeks to just 1 day. Triple offset butterfly valves are bespoke products that are not volume manufactured, so the ability to stock material and produce clamp rings when required gives us the flexibility and reaction time required for components that are produced in volumes from 1 to 10-off.”
Maximising the Opportunities of Waterjet
Already identifying £30,000 subcontract cost reductions through the Kerf Optima 320, Hobbs Precision Engineering has now applied the machine to the production of end plates for the butterfly valves. Manufactured from the same materials and quantity levels as the clamp rings, the in-house production of the 25mm to 100mm diameter end plates has reduced subcontracting costs by an additional £20,000 per annum.
“The Optima 320 twin head waterjet machine from Kerf Developments has reduced our subcontracting costs by over £50,000 a year on just two component types whilst slashing our lead-times and alleviating supply chain issues. We are achieving all this and the machine still has a long way to go before reaching capacity. We are now looking at other Hobbs Valve components that can be cut on the waterjet to contribute to further savings. Beyond that, we are also selling the waterjet capacity to create an additional profit centre for our business. The Optima 320 is an extremely flexible machine that is capable of cutting materials up to 125mm thick whilst the 3m by 2m bed capacity offers a cutting envelope of 3m by 2m, which is perfect for our 1.2m diameter clamp rings. This capacity and flexibility of the Optima not only reduces internal costs and lead-times, it has become a self sufficient cost-centre and we are selling the capacity to fabrication and plating companies that require precision cutting and profiling of sheet materials.”
“The beauty of the Kerf Optima is that it is not limited to the steel and aluminium bronze that we’ve been cutting. It is capable of cutting just about any material within its dimensional capacity. We have even used the machine to produce 40mm thick foam in-lay cards for insertion in toolboxes to protect the tools in the respective boxes.”
As a machine shop manager with technology from a plethora of manufacturers, the service and support from Kerf has been exemplary. As Mr Llywellyn concludes: “The service from Kerf has been exceptional. The Optima machine has been extremely reliable and we’ve never had any major issues with it. We did have an issue one morning that required an engineer visit, Kerf sent an engineer to us on the same day and by the end of the same day, the machine was up and running again. Out of all the machines we have and the manufacturers we deal with, the Kerf service is far better than the service from anybody else.”