PRODRIVE CASE STUDY
SigmaNEST Saves Prodrive £70,000 in Composite Manufacture
Prodrive is well known (in the UK and Europe) for its association with motorsport, running race and rallying programs for some of the biggest names including Subaru, Aston Martin and Ford. Its Composites Division in Milton Keynes specializes in the manufacture of high quality carbon fiber components for its own race and rally programs and businesses in the automotive, marine and aerospace industries.
CAD models are first machined into an epoxy blank pattern and then a carbon fiber mould tool produced, which can make between 100 and 300 finished parts. Ian Handscombe, Composites Manager, explains the process, “We cut the resin impregnated carbon fiber and lay this up on the pattern to produce a mould about 6mm thick, which we cure overnight in our autoclave. Making the mould from carbon fiber ensures that it expands and contracts at the same rate as the part, guaranteeing accuracy. Components are also made from impregnated carbon fiber and are laid up in the mould to thicknesses ranging between 1 and 12mm, with the thicker components including a honeycomb core. These are cured in the autoclave at 130ºC and 90 PSI.”
Considerable amounts of carbon fiber are used in the production process, so maximizing utilization is extremely important for the company. Mr. Handscombe adds, “Carbon fiber costs between £15 and £40 per square meter so avoiding wastage is a high priority. Initially, wastage rates were around 40%, but the introduction of SigmaNEST from SigmaTEK has halved these figures, enabling us to save around £70,000 per year.” The company tested several nesting systems before selecting SigmaNEST, which reduced the material used in a sample nest from six sheets to four, significantly better than the other products it evaluated.
As well as improving material utilization, the software has also helped Prodrive to provide its customers with improved service. Two day lead times are normal in the industry, so being able to respond in a rapid and orderly way is crucial to the effective running of the business. Mr. Handscombe continues, “We have put a lot of effort into streamlining our administration and working methods. Previously, laminators were frequently waiting for moulds and carbon fiber kits, which stopped them from working and encouraged inefficient practices and further material wastage. Now, with the fast and efficient nesting in SigmaNEST, carbon fiber kits are planned and cut one and a half days in advance, and the reorganization ensures that moulds and instructions are ready in plenty of time. Laminators are able to start work immediately, making much better use of their time and greatly improving our overall productivity.”
The introduction of SigmaNEST has enabled the company to look at every aspect of its composites operation. The new smooth running process has created extra capacity so that, as well as improving the profitability of existing work, Prodrive has been able to attract additional business which has further justified its investment in the software. Mr. Handscombe says, “SigmaNEST paid for itself in three months and is hugely important to our company. It has been the main driver for our improvement program and complete review of methods. We could not have achieved the increase in turnover without it. We still have many changes to make, investing in new machinery and software, and SigmaTEK will be playing a key role here too. We are working towards operating 24 hours per day and we are anticipating expanding into other markets including aerospace, defense, telecommunications and marine where the flexibility, low weight and strength of carbon fiber is important.”