£500,000 has been spent by Cobra Seats on upgrading the frame shop and replacing old manual machines at its Telford factory. In their place are to be found four new CNC machine tools – a Hurco VMX30t vertical machining centre (VMC), an Amada press brake, a CMS tube bender and a Sirio cold saw.
The investment was made at the end of 2011 and is already transforming the company's business. The well-known manufacturer of racing, sports and classic car seats has diversified into marine, stadium and office seating and is also increasing the amount of subcontract work it undertakes.
A second-generation family business run by Mark Dunsford, Cobra Seats employed Simon Baldwin as engineering manager to oversee the changes on the shop floor. Mr Baldwin commented, "In my previous position working at a subcontract machinist, I was familiar with Hurco machines and their WinMax conversational CNC system.
"As programming is so quick with the control, it is ideal for shop floor use when small batches are to be machined. Thirty-off is a large run for us – we often machine ones and twos.
"We previously drilled and countersunk holes in box section frame components by hand on a pillar drill, then part-assembled the seat and drilled smaller holes for the webbing. Each part would take four to five minutes to machine.
"Now, machining is completed in one minute per frame section on the Hurco, including loading and unloading. Moreover we know every feature will be reliably accurate to ± 0.1 mm, ten times better than the drawing states, saving time at the assembly stage."
Previously, there was no milling capacity in the frame shop at Telford, so all such jobs were subcontracted. With the Hurco in place, milling the side mounts on custom seats, for example, and slot milling of runners so that they fit individual cars, can be carried out in-house. So too is much of the prototyping and pattern making that was previously contracted out.
The presence of the VMX30t means that some machining is performed that formerly would not have been undertaken at all. A case in point, involving the design of Cobra's stadium seating, is milling of holes into round tube, a procedure that would have been avoided if machining them manually. Another example is the mechanism for a new superyacht seat, which will be produced in-house on the Hurco.
Overall, the amount of production outsourced from Telford has halved from 20 to 10 per cent since the CNC machinery was installed. Mr Baldwin predicts that the proportion will drop further to 5 per cent by the end of 2013, so in the future only seat mechanisms and some very simple parts such as forged inserts will be purchased.
A source of additional revenue for Cobra Seats is the manufacture of products on a subcontract basis, for example general bracketry, bespoke vehicle storage systems and parts for the Ministry of Defence, for which the company is an approved supplier. Currently, production for outside organisations accounts for only 5 per cent of turnover, but is expected to rise to 15 per cent during 2013.
Mr Baldwin concluded, "The VMX30t will play a major role in this growth, yet it is already paying for itself with the work we are putting on it.
"We purchased the machine as a 3-axis model but with a view to adding a 2-axis indexing table to give us 5-axis capability in the future, as we gain experience.
"Hurco gave us good advice during our acquisition of the VMC and has provided good service when needed, especially over their telephone helpline."