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Se 1 | Ep 13
Prima packs a punch

Prima Power, the brand born from the union of two industry leaders Prima Industrie and Finn-Power, has been synonymous with the sheet metal industry for over 50 years. MTD Magazine visited the factory in Seinäjoki in Western Finland to see how this sheet metal powerhouse manufactures machines that lead the industry in innovation. By Rhys Williams

Founded in 1969 as a subcontract manufacturer, Finn-Power Oy evolved down the generations to become one of the industry’s leading manufacturers of punch presses, press brakes and automation systems. With hundreds of UK installations over the years, legacy customers will be pleased to know that after our visit, the Finnish company of the Prima Power brand is bigger and better than ever before – and legacy customers can still be serviced and supported extensively in the UK.

As a global group, Prima Power has eight factories and R&D centres, employing more than 1900 people to develop the next technologies, manufacture existing product lines and service and support the 15,000+ machines installed around the world. Located in the South Ostrobothnia region of Finland, Finn-Power Oy started as a subcontract business and developed the first crimping machine for the hydraulic industry in 1973. As a serial entrepreneur, company founder Jorma Lillbacka needed sheet metal parts for his crimping machines, and rather than buy a machine or subcontract manufactured components – he developed a turret punch press in 1983. After selling the first turret punch press machine at a Paris exhibition, the company built more machines and developed its first automatic material handling system in 1985, which was rapidly followed in 1987 by its first combination laser and punching machine with stacking and sorting systems following in 1988. Then its first ‘Night Train’ FMS arrived in 1990. This global growth trajectory earned the company a Finnish Export Prize from the Finnish Prime Minister in the 1980s. Simultaneously, Jorma Lillbacka also grew the crimping machine business alongside the sheet metal company.

The growth continued throughout the 1990s with company acquisitions, the opening of new factories, more laser-punch combi machines, the arrival of servo-electric punching technology and a new generation of machines. Whilst the company was evolving at a rapid rate, the entrepreneurial founder set up a transportation and logistics business to ship the machines worldwide. Whatever Jorma Lillbacka required to expand his empire, the serial entrepreneur started his own business rather than rely on an external supply chain. Jorma sold the Finn-Power business in 2002 to EQT and in 2008, the Prima Industrie Group became the proud owners of a world-leading brand that perfectly complemented their laser cutting technology.

After the acquisition, the group re-branded its machinery division as Prima Power in 2011 and it has made huge leaps forward with new energy-efficient technologies. It has also introduced the market-leading Genius series of machines and made the 2018 move to the new purpose-built Seinäjoki factory. As for Lillbacka, now in his late 70’s, he followed his childhood dream of building an amusement park in Finland.

Factory Tour

The 2018 move to the new 20,000m2 Seinäjoki factory enabled Prima Power to accommodate its spares, assembly, testing, warehousing, shipping, 24/7 worldwide support department and showroom – all under one roof. The rationale of the new facility was to create a new factory layout that would enable Prima Power to streamline assembly and subsequently increase output by 40%. It now ships more than five machines (with automation) every week – each one is bespoke to the customer.

Touring the facility with Prima Power Manager for Sales Support, Mr. Antti Rintaniemi, he confirmed that more than 250 staff work at the site with another 150 employees working remotely on service, installation, R&D and additional support functions. The facility focuses on assembly and testing with the majority of production conducted by a local supply chain. Highlighting why the company chooses to only assemble on-site, Antti says: “You have to look back at our history. In the 1990s, we still did everything ourselves from design and manufacturing to assembly and commissioning, but over more recent years we decided that as a business you need to focus on one area. We decided to focus on the design and assembly. We used to retain elements such as welding, but the output wasn’t high enough to automate the process and deliver optimal efficiency. So, we decided it was more efficient to outsource these services to specialist manufacturers.”

“We have very long-standing relationships with our subcontractors. For example, as we manufactured everything internally in the 90s, we gradually sold divisions of the business and these companies still serve us today. Now, it is only manufacturers of specialist products like linear guideways that are supplied to us from outside Finland,” says Antti. For owners of legacy machines that date back to the 1990s and beyond, it is certainly reassuring to know that OEM parts are still available with service and support in the UK.

Looking at the multitude of assembly lines on the shop floor, Prima Power manufactures more than 5 machine types at the facility with a complete array of product variants that can all be connected to a labyrinth of automation solutions. Alluding to this, Antti tells MTD Magazine: “We have basic machines but there is always some sort of punching machine variant. For example, there is a combination machine that combines laser cutting and punching or shearing and punching. Some customers only want the punching machine. So, there are six models and each of them has two or three size variations. Then we have the automation to include. Some of the automation systems are common, so a variety of machines could use the same system, but there are upwards of 10 different automation modules. We then have different sizes for each of these modules, so the number of models and variants can be very diverse. Even with our Night Train storage system, we have two different models, one accommodates 1.5 by 3m sheet while the other holds sheet up to 2 by 4m.”

“We manufacture the punching, combination machines and automation, but we are also building automation systems for 2D lasers and panel bending systems as well for our parent company in Italy. We are always trying to sell bigger installations to our customers, so we are integrating complete systems that can include panel benders, lasers and punching machines that are incorporated into a single cell that is harmoniously automated around the needs of the customer.”

“All the machines we build are already sold; we produce nothing for stock. This is primarily because there are so many options for our machines. For example, the tooling turrets have a range of different tool sizes and stations, so even if we do have a customer – the machine in stock would never be precisely what they need. This enables us to avoid post-production modifications. Despite building bespoke machines to order, the lead time can be as little as eight weeks – this is because the annual forecast has been established and submitted to the supply chain in advance. For large systems with automation, we have to book a timeslot for R&D work and these tailored solutions can have a lead time upward of 8 months. However, we also test all of our machines before shipping, this eliminates issues during installation and commissioning. Our suppliers keep a stock level of components, and this ensures a rapid supply of parts to our assembly lines on a Just In Time basis whilst ensuring we do not need to keep stock items.”

Looking to the future, Antti says: “There are plans for expansion in the future, but nothing has yet been decided. The factory floor works two shifts, and this covers production for 18 hours a day from 6am to 12am. Concerning technology, we are continually advancing the business and our product lines with new developments that are exceeding the customers’ expectations with an ability to outperform technology from our rivals.”

This technology is on show in the 7000m2 technology centre that is the centrepiece of the state-of-the-art Seinäjoki facility. Here, Prima Power demonstrates its complete armoury of solutions from the Laser Genius+1530 with the PSR (Picking and Stacking Robot) to the new EBe 2720 servo-electric driven panel bender that demonstrates the company’s latest API technology. In fact, the EBe 2720 panel bender forms part of a complete PSBB (Punch, Shear, Buffer and Bend) automation solution in the Technology Centre. At one end, this colossus automation system that stretches some 40m and has the Combi Genius CG1530 laser and punching machine is fed by the Night Train Genius automation system. The Night Train in the Technology Centre has more than 60 storage cassettes – each with a capacity to hold 3 tons of sheet steel.

Completely configurable to the demands of the end user, the impressive Night Train has the CG1530 at one end and at the other, a line that feeds the Shear Brilliance 1530 punching and shearing machine. Sheets fed to the Shear Brilliance 1530 are then transferred to a buffering station where sheets and parts can be removed, added or flipped over for transfer to the final station, the EBe 2720 panel bender. During our visit, the exceptional level of flexibility and automation was demonstrated with a complete kit of parts being manufactured for an office furniture assembly – but we’ll take a closer look at this technology in the next edition of MTD Magazine in January.

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