Aluminium in the mainstream

With six-figure investment in new machinery, Lancashire Trade Frames is among a growing number of fabricators expanding their aluminium offer.

Lancashire Trade Frames earned its crust and reputation through the manufacture of PVCU windows and doors. It has also, however, been among an early wave of PVCU fabricators to set their sights on aluminium, bringing increasing automation and with it quality and efficiency to the manufacture of aluminium systems.

“We started in aluminium in 2013, manufacturing bifolding doors,” Mark Rowland, managing director of Lancashire Trade Frames, said. “We took on aluminium specialists and developed existing members of staff. At times it’s been a challenging process but most importantly a fantastic opportunity.

“The demand has kept growing and growing, and we’ve made corresponding investment in our people, our infrastructure and our machinery to meet and stay ahead of it.”

According to figures from Palmer Market Research, aluminium is on track to reach a 17-year high, at a time when the industry in its entirety is predicted to see contraction, putting on 24% growth in the last year alone.

‘The Window, Door and Conservatory Markets in Housing in Great Britain’, reveals a revival in aluminium, with consumer demand for bifolds leading to a wider pull-through of product including aluminium windows, entrance and inline sliding doors.

The report’s authors write that the market ‘shot up’ 26% in volume terms and installed value by 28%, pointing to growth in not only residential demand for aluminium products but commercial and new build sectors.

“Since 2000 the volume market has grown by a third but in installed value terms it has tripled,” they state.

Mark continued: “There’s been a lag with aluminium products for large sectors of the domestic market, largely as a result of the drawbacks with the earliest aluminium products in the 70s and early 80s.

“Things have now turned around. Property shows on mainstream media have shown consumers that aluminium is attractive, practical and affordable.

“People are also becoming bolder in choices for their homes. They want larger windows, more light, clean simple lines.

“Aluminium, with its inherent strength and thermal-break technology, is the ideal material. It’s no longer the preserve of the commercial sector or restricted to a few architect-designed luxury homes. It’s becoming a mainstream product.”

Manufacturing in Smart Aluminium Systems, Lancashire Trade Frames recently committed to a six-figure investment in its aluminium manufacturing capability.

This includes a new FOM Dali 70 four-axis CNC machining centre, Blitz Alva 550 double-head saw, and FOM Mistral 26 miller.

Supplied by the Promac Group, FOM’s exclusive supply partner in the UK, the Dali 70 combines robust build quality, engineering, and proven electronics, to deliver highly stable platforms for high precision output.

The Dali 70 machining centre is designed for complex boring, milling and drilling, simultaneously on multiple sides of the profile, working to angles of -15° and +195° on the fourth axis.

It’s built on an electro welded and stabilised bed, constructed to remove internal tension after each manufacturing phase, guaranteeing stability. The technically advanced construct of its chassis supporting faster operation, without loss of accuracy.

This provides the basis for its 6.5Kw high torque four-axis electrospindle, 10-position automatic tool changer, four profile clamps with automatic positioning, and full safety enclosures. It also features full 3D graphic interface and software for use in planning and to generate the programme executed by the machine.

The platform is available in either a 4m or 7m bed options, dual safety enclosures also supporting pendulum working. This makes the smaller 4m bed Dali 40 the only CNC of its size to support dual station working.

“The Dali is about getting the accuracy we need economically – even when we’re machining a single part,” Mark said.

“We get the benefit of a machine that is stabilised after every work phase. The output is precise and the machine set up straightforward. It’s programmed to take the uncertainty out of operations with things like automated calculation of the vice position.

“When the components we produce are spot on, it saves time further down the line in every part of our fabrication process. Saving time and saving money.”

It’s suitably for use in the preparation of PVCU profiles in addition to aluminium was also an important factor in Lancashire Trade Frames decision to specify the FOM platform.

“We had a list of required features, but of all the machines we considered, the Dali was the one that ticked all our boxes,” Mark said.

“It has the advantage of being proven for both PVCU and metal milling and boring. When we’re thinking of making any addition to our plant, versatility is always a plus point.”

Versatility is also a defining feature of the FOM Mistral 26 milling machine. Also supplied by Promac, it’s designed for heavy duty work and to deliver a high degree of flexibility. This includes variable angle milling from -45° to +45°, automatic operation and length stop with eight position presets, plus inbuilt tool storage and rapid changeover.

Lancashire Trade Frames’ third new platform purchase is the FOM Blitz Alva 550 Double Mitre Saw. Supplied by Promac, it’s been developed by FOM to bring increased efficiency and accuracy to the preparation of profile.

This includes the automatic positioning of the mobile head and automatic cutting angle rotation from 22.5° to 90°. Managed and operated using FOM’s Mastercut software interface, which supports easy planning and simple adjustment of programmes, large capacity 550mm blades are driven by two direct drive high torque motors.

Accuracy is again guaranteed through FOM’s use of a single mono block heavy duty frame, which eliminates vibration, guaranteeing quality of finish. While the platform also features automatic swarf and fume extraction.

“If you have ever struggled with a dodgy saw, you’ll know why a good one matters,” Mark said. “This model gives us real reliability and precision with a fume and swarf extraction system that keeps our operatives’ working environment clean and safe.”

With delivery scheduled for the autumn, the three new platforms form a key element in Lanchashire Trade Frames’ continuing growth strategy.

“That early start has put us in a great position today,” Mark said. “Aluminium is still a relatively small part of our production volume but the proportion is getting bigger all the time.

“The investments that we have made, and which will be delivered by Promac later this year, will allow us to drive ever higher standards of product quality, improving efficiencies, increasing our capacity supporting us in building for our own and our customers’ futures.”