Factory, Author at Kerf Developments

Maximising the Opportunities of Waterjet Cutting Machines

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.

Maximising the Opportunities of Waterjet Cutting Machines 1

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 company 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.

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“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, but it has also 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 Llewellyn 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.”

Read another of our case studies: Kerf Enables Recycling Company To ‘Design For Manufacture’

When BSK Engineering opened its doors for business in 2001, the family owned subcontract manufacturer was primarily serving the architectural steel industry with the design and production of gates, railings, staircases and other innovative design structures. However, a change of direction in 2012 propelled the Dungannon Company onto a path of exponential growth; something that has been supported by plasma cutting machines from Rochdale based Kerf Developments Limited.

BSK image

For an area with relatively few quarries, the County Tyrone area in Ireland is home to around 70% of the world’s largest quarry plant manufacturing businesses. In the local area, BSK Engineering was realising the quarry industry was absorbing all the skilled staff, making it difficult for BSK to employ skilled staff. Something that was restricting company growth. With a huge quarry industry on the doorstep and a pool of suitably talented engineers, the company changed its business model to generate growth. To implement the strategy to serve the quarry industry, it was essential that BSK Engineering invested in cutting technology.

Commenting upon the 2012 arrival of its first Kerf plasma cutting machine, a 3m by 1.5m RUR2000P, BSK Engineering Managing Director, Mr Barry Kerr says: “When buying our first machine, we looked at three suppliers. We looked at what other local companies were buying, and they were all investing in Kerf. The feedback we had from local businesses regarding Kerf was extremely positive. One element that stood out was that Kerf Developments were the only supplier with locally based engineering support that could be on-site in a matter of hours to resolve any maintenance or service needs. This gave us the confidence to buy our first Kerf machine.”

The Explosive Growth

With a 2000sq/ft factory area, the 3m by 1.5m Kerf RUR2000P was the only machine that would fit into the small three employee company. Purchased to undertake small component cutting for the quarry industry as well as structural steel parts for existing customers, the Kerf machine was initially the perfect fit. The first Kerf machine was 75% committed to structural steel work, cutting small parts through the nesting technique in quantities up to 150 out of a single sheet of 3m by 1m steel. However, the machine was soon at capacity – running 24 hours a day. Then came the growth!


From 2012 to 2016, BSK Engineering was repeatedly turning away larger scale quarry work. The company opted to take the plunge and invest – expanding the facility from 2000sq/ft to 13,000sq/ft and installing its second Kerf machine in August 2017, the RUR3000P plasma cutting machine with a Lincoln Electric Spirit II 275amp UltraSharp plasma cutting system. The 8m by 2.5m bed machine provided the much needed capacity for cutting quarry parts such as 7m by 2m screen slides that are commonly produced. It also gave added capacity to take the company away from 24 hour shift production. However, this proved a short lived reality, as the company almost doubled turnover from £600,000 in 2015 to £1.1m in 2017. With two machines running 24 hours a day and operating at weekends, the company needed a third machine – and Kerf duly obliged.

In August 2018 the third Kerf machine arrived, another 8m by 2.5m RUR3000P plasma cutting machine with a Lincoln Electric Spirit II 275amp UltraSharp plasma cutting system. “We bought the third Kerf machine to alleviate the capacity issue and once again move from 24 hour production to single shift manufacture. We have grown our staff from 3 to 15 and our turnover has almost quadrupled to £2m in just three years. It is the reliability and service of Kerf that has given us the confidence to grow whilst ensuring we can still meet the short lead-times of our customers.
We can order parts or consumables from Kerf and we are guaranteed next day delivery; likewise an engineer can be with us very quickly – as Kerf appreciates how essential the machines are to meeting the needs of our customers.”

Kerf Is Critical In Growth Strategy at BSK Engineering 3

Kerf Is Critical In Growth Strategy

Identifying the competition in the area and why BSK Engineering has grown so rapidly, Mr Kerr says: “Most of our competitors have a 3 to 4 week lead time on parts, we deliver within 7 days. This is why we are winning more and more business from our rivals. Furthermore, the Kerf machines ensure we maintain a lower cost overhead when compared to our competitors.”

Referring specifically to this point, Mr Kerr continues: “All the work we cut on the Kerf machines is steel plate between 2mm to 40mm thick with 70% of sheets over 10mm thick. This is where we win out over our competitors. Competitors with expensive laser machines will be faster cutting plates up to 8mm, but anything above that and the Kerf machine is considerably faster than laser. Added to this, the purchase price and consumable price of the Kerf is considerably less than a laser, enabling us to be more price-competitive. When cutting plates above 10mm thick, many of our customers are finding our edge finish is equally as good as or sometimes better than that of laser. So, we can offer the same quality finish as laser cutting but with reduced costs, improved lead-times and a significantly better service. This means that customers previously buying parts from laser subcontract suppliers are now moving over to us and our Kerf UltraSharp plasma solution.”

In conclusion, Mr Kerr says: “We now have a very competitive business and this is largely built around the quality of our staff and the three Kerf machines. 60% of our work is relatively small and with the large bed machines, we can cut one 4m plate whilst another is being loaded. This pendulum loading method reduces our cycle times by 50% whilst we still have the facility for cutting large parts. This capacity helps us to maintain industry leading lead-times whilst the service and support from Kerf ensures we are always running. Kerf has been so reliable – the machines will run all day, every day. We couldn’t be happier with our machine supplier.”

Read another case study: Success is Made With Kerf When Made Profiles first opened its doors for business in March 2014…

As a UK manufacturer that exports globally, Ken Mills Engineering (KME) Ltd has come under increasing pressure from low cost foreign economies that are manufacturing cheaper and often inferior quality products. The pressure from foreign shores was alleviated when the manufacturer of material reclamation systems, haylage packing systems, straw shredding and processing systems, balers and conveyors invested in an RUR2500p plasma cutting machine from Kerf Developments and an Amada 220 tonne press brake.

Prior to the installation of both machines, the Little borough Company would buy steel box section and laser cut parts from external suppliers that would be internally fabricated, drilled and formed to complete standard and bespoke product lines. However, the high subcontract cutting costs, unreliable lead-times, inability to control the complete process and subsequent quality were key factors to the 50 employee business investing in the new machinery.

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The two machines transformed the business, as KME Director, Mr Andy Mills recalls:“Our standard product lines were facing intense competition from Asian manufacturers, whilst our bespoke solutions were increasingly complicated to manufacture. The new machines instantly slashed our subcontract costs, labour requirements, streamlined our production and reduced our lead times as well as giving us the opportunity to design our products for manufacture. Essentially, the investment has given us a huge competitive edge over low cost foreign economies and customers will always see UK manufactured products as a premium brand.”

The Kerf RUR2500p plasma cutting machine was supplied with a 4 by 2m bed and a Lincoln ElectricSpirit 150amp plasma unit. Capable of cutting material up to 20mm thick, the machine at the company on the Southern foothills of the Pennines was predominantly cutting stainless steel and mild steel sheets from 1 to 3mm thick. Recalling the arrival of the Kerf RUR2500p, Mr Mills continues: “We recognised a need for the machine and prior to installation we estimated 2-3 days use per week usage. Within a matter of weeks, we truly realised the potential of theKerf machine and in no-time it was running up to 12 hours a day, 5 days a week, plus during weekends. The ability to cut, chamfer and generate holes made many manual tasks obsolete. In the last few years, we have lost five staff through retirement and the productivity of the Kerf means that we didn’t need to replace these employees. In fact, we have become more productive than ever. TheKerf and Amada machines have improved our overall output as a business by at least 20%”

Taking the Kerf Benefits to Another Level

The Kerf RUR2500 proved a real game changer for KME, so the company recently upgraded by replacing the original machine with a new and larger RUR2500p. Replacing its predecessor, the new RUR2500p has an 8 by 2m bed and a more powerful and precise Lincoln Electric Spirit II plasma unit with the very latest Ultra sharp cutting technology.

Alluding to why the company replaced a machine that has delivered exceptional performance levels,Mr Mills continues: “Our components are primarily small to medium batches that are cut from single sheets, which rarely exceed the 4m bed length of the previous machine. We recognised that by increasing the bed length we could load one side of the machine whilst parts are being cut on the other end of the bed.This pendulum loading has effectively eliminated non-productive set-up times and reduced overall production times by an additional 50%.”

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With customers ranging from small one-man businesses to large blue chip companies like Veolia, Sita, Biffa, Viridor, PHS, Coca-Cola and Kimberly Clark, quality and continuous improvement are key factors for KME. “The new Kerf RUR2500p has the very latest Ultra sharp cutting technology and this has improved the precision and surface finishes of the profiles and holes we cut. Additionally, there is less cleaning, no secondary hand finishing and there is less slag from the process.”

As well as offering precision levels in the +/-0.5mm range, the 275amp Lincoln Electric Spirit II plasma unit has the capacity to pierce and cut materials up to 35mm thick.Concluding on the benefits of the machine acquisitions, Mr Mills says: “TheKerf and Amada press brake combination is saving us upwards of £250,000 a year in subcontract costs. By purchasing more sheet material than the previous box section and also having complete control over the materials we need as well as integrating a design-for-manufacture ethos, we are saving an additional£150,000 a year in material. Added to this, there are fewer transport costs as we don’t deal with subcontractors.”

“From a customer perspective, our lead times for a machine have been cut from 8 weeks down to4-6 weeks depending upon the customer specified machine. Furthermore, by implementing a design-for-manufacture philosophy, our machines are more aesthetically pleasing, more functional and also easier to use and maintain.For the customer, this gives a host of new reasons to buy machinery from KME. From our perspective, we have enhanced our brand, the product portfolio and we now have more unique selling points over our competitors,” concludes Mr Mills.