Sheet metal storage tower extended with automation

Well begun is half done. This is a philosophy that helps Barbas Bellfires of Bladel in North Brabant in the production process. At its inception, the manufacturer of stoves and fireplaces produced everything through diligent effort. Metal plates were cut, bent, and welded by hand until an elegant stove or fireplace stood at the end of the production line. Things are different these days; a variety of automated solutions have now come into the picture. Remmert assumes responsibility for the beginning of the production process, so that Barbas Bellfires can work more efficiently and effectively.

From plate to fireplace

We do not often consider how companies manufacture their products. There is a complete chain behind each individual product, through several external suppliers and customers, until the finished product reaches the consumer. But there is another way to do this: produce the entire product in-house. And that is exactly what Barbas Bellfires does.

The Bladel company receives the metal plates for its fireplaces and stoves. It cuts, bends, and welds them. What makes it so special: it is one of the few companies that processes its metal sheets from A to Z, producing a complete and final product. 

But this used to be different. Since 1976, Barbas Bellfires has been producing its famous stoves and fireplaces itself. Where originally everything was done by hand in its workshop in Bladel. Fifteen years ago the decision was made to outsource parts of production, with the hope of cutting production costs. At least, that was the idea to begin with. After about five years, production costs across the entire chain continued to prove quite high. The turnaround time was also too long as well, some 10 weeks, and the reliability percentage was a mere 40 percent. That was not the level Barbas Bellfires wanted to offer. New goals were set: production costs down, lead time and reliability up. And so, production was brought back in-house.


Storage tower is no longer sufficient

The work process had to be more efficient and effective. Because production was in-house then, the process was still largely manual. This, too, could be addressed. The foundation for a shift to automation was laid together with Remmert. Before the collaboration began, both parties put their heads together to determine their goal. The fireplace expert determined where the focus was, and by acting as consultant in these discussions, Remmert advised on the products that would help Barbas Bellfires achieve its goals. And thus, a custom-made solution was proposed.

At the very beginning, Barbas Bellfires had one sheet metal storage tower BASIC Tower for the storage of the many metal plates that were constantly coming in. But this was not enough to achieve the desired results. But this was not enough to achieve the desired results. Because Barbas Bellfires was so satisfied with Remmert's products and services, the fireplace manufacturer ordered several additional solutions. It was decided, for example, in 2016 to expand the BASIC Tower with a LaserFLEX, a portal robot solution for delivering metal goods for laser systems, and a LoopFLEX, an ergonomic conveyor belt solution for manually sorting the laser-cut sheeting.

These additions to the production line made the difference in efficiency and effectiveness. The LaserFLEX transports metal plates to the laser cutting machines and delivers the cut material to the LoopFLEX. At the LoopFLEX, employees can pick up the material and set to work. A process with which Barbas Bellfires’ employees and management were so content that, in late 2019, they expanded it with the addition of another BASIC Tower, LaserFLEX and LoopFLEX installation. And this is a force to be reckoned with: Remmert’s solutions help Barbas Bellfires grow, and the solutions grow with it.


A warm feeling

The results were striking. Through such moves as using Remmert's solutions, an efficient flow of materials was achieved and Barbas Bellfires was able to shorten the lead time from ten weeks to just one and a half weeks. This means that within a mere week and a half, a metal plate is processed into a genuine and complete fireplace or stove. At Barbas Bellfires, not only are they able to work much more efficiently, but their effectiveness has also enjoyed a boost. The original reliability percentage of 40% has increased to no less than a substantial 95%. It turns out that automation was the right path for the fireplace and stove expert. A one-way path, one must not forget.

‘We were looking for a supplier who could work in one-way traffic,’ says Mark Spijkers of Barbas Bellfires. As Operations Manager, he oversees the entire production process and has a firm hand on the tiller when it comes to increasing efficiency on the production line. He continues: ‘Our request is very simple. Plates from the warehouse must go to the laser cutting machine, where it cuts the parts we need and delivers them to the employees. Our employees sort the parts, which are then bent, welded, and shaped into a final product. Remmert’s products support us tremendously, above all at the start of production. Well begun is half done.’

Spijkers is satisfied when it comes to service, as well. ‘In the almost exceptional case that a minor defect appears in one of the machines, the Remmert team can correct this remotely. In a very rare situation, they can even direct one of our employees to fix the problem.’ So, the service fits in well with the Quick Response Manufacturing (QRM) philosophy that Spijkers maintains. ‘The moment we note a defect in one of our own products, we insist that it be repaired as soon as possible. Because everything happens in-house, it is corrected in a flash. This QRM philosophy is also reflected in Remmert's service. And that gives us a warm feeling.’

‘Based on many conversations with Barbas Bellfires, we knew what they wanted and needed,’ says Jan Schwiertz, Account Manager at Remmert. ‘For example, we could also have installed our more extensive warehouse solutions at Barbas Bellfires, such as the MIDI tower or a honeycomb construction warehouse. But these did not fit with what Barbas Bellfires wanted and needed. Additionally, Remmert's strength is that we supply modular products that are easy to coordinate with products from other suppliers and can thus significantly improve the flow of material. Indeed, we consult with many suppliers who collaborate with our products to draw up the best possible plan. A plan that is a win-win situation for everyone involved. This is what Mark Spijkers, and therefore Barbas Bellfires, needs. ‘

Schwiertz continues: ‘Not only in the field of hardware, but also in software, our solutions communicate flawlessly with the products of other suppliers. Products and solutions that can be aligned with existing solutions: you've come to the right place.’