The Quinn Group philosophy has always been to invest up front in the latest state-of-the-art technology in order to achieve world class standards in its manufacturing sites. Through its people it has ensured that this technology is leveraged to provide customers with the highest quality products and best service in the most efficient way possible
Quinn Group acquired Barlo, a large radiator and plastics manufacturer, in 2004 and since then has invested heavily in the businesses to modernise all aspects of the production process. Regarding the radiator business, it has consolidated four older manufacturing plants into one brand new purpose built facility at Newport in south Wales.
This facility at Newport is 1.2 million square feet in size, around the equivalent of 15 full-size football pitches. The plant employs 360 people and, though parts are still being commissioned, most of it is now functional. The manufacturing process is fully automated right through each stage from pressing, production, testing, painting, packaging, warehousing, picking and dispatch. When fully operational, this £130 million investment will represent the most modern and efficient radiator plant in the world, with an expected output capacity of four million panel radiators and 250,000 design radiators a year.
It was decided at the very early stages of the planning process that the only way to make this investment work in the UK was to design a plant that would offer operational efficiencies not previously seen in the industry. The only way to compete with imports from countries with much cheaper labour costs was to have an operation which was fully automated throughout, thus minimising labour costs and offering a consistently high level of quality. Aligned to this is the ability to offer customer service which is second to none.
The fully automated manufacturing process
The main panel radiator production process is split into two lines, each capable of producing 12 linear metres of radiator panels per minute, irrespective of height. Coils of panel steel are received from steel suppliers at weights of up to 25 tonnes. All handling equipment on site has been designed to facilitate these huge weights. These coils are fed through the latest high speed presses which press 14 metres of flat panel steel per minute on steel widths from 600 mm to 1,800 mm at a class leading 25 mm pitch. Each press offers a press force of 1,500 metric tonnes and all are installed with the latest high speed die changing carts for efficient changeovers. A press height changeover can be completed in 10 minutes. No steel is lost in the pressing process due to the forces applied and, in particular, the hold forces in the infeed area.
The pressed panels are then processed through the production line in trains of up to four metres in length. They go through a process of punching and folding and support space insertion before going through the multi spot welding process. At the same time as these panels are being processed through the line, the convection fins are pressed on two Winter fin presses which mould the fins at a rate of 80 strokes per minute. These fins are pressed from coils up to 900 mm wide and cut to width as they are fed out of the machine. The finished fins are automatically fed by the conveyor onto the back of the radiator where they are pre-tacked and multi-spotted yet again. The trains of panels then travel through the remainder of the welding process to the point where they are cut by guillotine to the required length and have their corners robotically welded. The panels are then automatically processed into radiators which cover a huge spectrum of variations including singles, doubles and triples, with either two, four or six (ventilles – mainly used in the European market) connections. The finished ‘black’radiator is then tested underwater at 13 bar pressure in automated test tanks. Testing at such high pressure is only possible due to the 25 mm panel configuration and the increased number of multi spot welds on each panel.
Tested radiators are automatically plugged and stacked and sent by monorail to a buffer area prior to painting. Radiators are then destacked and loaded onto one of three conveyors for painting. Each radiator goes through an intensive five stage pre treatment cleaning process to remove any grime and then gets dipped in one of three 50,000 litre paint baths where paint is applied electrophoretically to each radiator. This process ensures good paint coverage inside the finned area of the radiator and protects against rust. At the final stage of the paint process, radiators can be sent to any one of five paint booths for powder coating.
After curing in the oven, each radiator is individually inspected for quality of product and finish. A vision system detects the length, type and height of each product and applies a barcode to the back of each radiator. This barcode identifies the product through the automated packaging and palletising process. Each radiator is wrapped in picture frame wrapping with U wrap along the top and bottom and box ends formed from rolls rather than traditional pre forms. Component kits are selected and inserted by robot.
Storage and dispatch
Radiators are then stacked and palletised according to SKU and sent to the automated warehouse for storage. Storage and picking of radiators is traditionally a very manual operation. It also requires a lot of warehouse storage space. As a result, manufacturers are increasingly faced with rising labour costs and health and safety directives. In light of this, Quinn Radiators decided that the manual handling part of the operation also needed to become automated. Consequently, a highly automated storage and order picking operation was incorporated within the construction of the Newport site. The facility supplies to both large high volume distributors and smaller businesses. The ability to pick and dispatch multi SKU pallets in an efficient and low cost manner was vital to the project’s success.
The project to automate the storage, picking and dispatch of these multi SKU pallets was extremely challenging in terms of technical scope, efficiency gains and product design. The Quinn Radiators team worked closely together with their suppliers to ensure the on-time delivery of this project. This has resulted in the project being finished within all the parameters set and has already achieved increased efficiencies, productivity and a reduction of costs.
The production pallets are all transported from production on a four strand chain conveyor, a monorail system and then stored double deep within a 40 metre tall high-bay warehouse using automated cranes having telescopic forks with fork spread adjustment.
Each rack has five top hats per double pallet bay permitting a high variability in sizes and combinations to be accommodated within the warehouse.
Immediately adjacent to the high bay is the robot pick area where customer orders are automatically picked and assembled on dispatch pallets. The pick area is automatically replenished from the high bay area.
Each of the three robots pick to order pallets at a rate of 120 picks (or radiators) per hour. On average there are 16 radiators per picked pallet.
Radiators with an overall length of greater than 1,600 mm, and therefore outside the automated picking parameters, are handled manually. Order pallets can transfer using the automated MHE between the robot cells and the manual pick area.
Completed pallets are then transported via monorail to the dispatch area for strapping and labelling before being consolidated on dispatch lanes ready for loading onto lorries. The monorail provides a gentle handling high speed distribution system linking the various areas of the order fulfilment areas, the high bay, production and dispatch.
Award-winning logistics and transport capabilities
Quinn Radiators was recently awarded the 2008 Award for Excellence from the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport in the category of ‘Materials Handling Equipment and Technology’.
When considering how best to manufacture the more up-market design radiators in the new facility, it became clear that there was little point replicating other manufacturers’ processes and, therefore, every piece of equipment has been designed from scratch. Quinn Radiators has taken some basic concepts and commissioned the manufacture of bespoke, totally automated equipment for the manufacture of both headers and elements and for the assembly of the product and the final testing. This investment has enabled Quinn to offer a top class quality product in the most efficient manner possible.
An emphasis on certification and environmental considerations
In terms of quality, the new facility operates to ISO 9001:2000 and all products are manufactured and tested in accordance with BS EN 442. As a further reflection of Quinn Radiators’ commitment to delivering high quality products, the company has also been awarded the NF quality mark – the leading product certification mark in France. This quality mark, which is widely known throughout Europe, recognises Quinn Radiators’ compliance not only with current standards, but also with additional quality criteria that will meet consumers’ needs. This certification allows Quinn Radiators to supply into new markets within Europe, opening up more opportunities for the brand to grow and develop in previously unexplored territory.
The company takes its environmental responsibility very seriously and has also attained the ISO 14001 accreditation for its environmental management system. It is also committed to recycling and environmentally friendly production techniques. Take packaging, for example. Quinn is a member of VALPAK (a registered compliance scheme under the packaging waste regulations). Its systems are designed to minimise the impact of packaging on the environment and waste streams – whether it is minimising package materials or using fewer or alternative materials. The use of recycled materials in product design is being considered, as is the recyclability of radiator components at the end of their useful life.
While Quinn’s fully automated production facilities are designed to minimise waste as far as possible, any waste that results from the production process is 100 per cent recycled. In addition, automated warehousing allows all picking to be done on site and therefore no additional traffic movements are needed to other locations – reducing the possibility of damage to products and therefore the potential for waste creation.
Quinn has put all the appropriate safeguards in place to protect the community, workplace and environment. And the company continues to work with local, national and international legislators and regulators as well as industry bodies to comply with and help create reasonable and effective regulations aimed at protecting the environment. For example, the company has implemented an energy management system in response to climate control legislation.
Moving forward with the new Quinn Round Top and a product portfolio concentrated on form and function
All this investment in R&D and advanced manufacturing systems allows Quinn Radiators to constantly upgrade and develop new generations of market-leading radiators. For example, with its slim profile and refined styling based on a market-leading 25 mm pitch, the new Quinn Round Top sets high standards in design and efficiency, making it one of the best Round Top radiators on the market. This new Round Top exhibits the smooth, rounded top without any sharp vertical weld seams characteristic of current models, and combines a discreet modern appearance with high performance and classic good looks. The closely arranged water channels ensure a high yield and faster heating. There are also other advantages including four tappings, allowing for greater installation opportunities, and an improved longer-lasting paint finish in a brighter white. It’s a budget-friendly radiator suited to any home and offers the customer choice in heat output and size to any application or project coupled with outstanding quality, efficiency and finish.
In addition to panel radiators, Quinn Radiators also manufactures and markets a range of towel and feature radiators aimed at consumers who are looking for functional products that ‘fit’ with their modern lifestyles and personal tastes. A quick glance through Quinn Radiators’ current design and feature product portfolio will reveal sculptured lines, bold geometric shapes and stunning finishes in a wide variety of sizes, colours and shapes. With a comprehensive selection of designer radiators on offer, Quinn Radiators is guaranteed to have the perfect choice for any home interior. For instance, Quinn’s Sofia Feature model combines the latest in heat tube technology with unrivalled design excellence. The outer pipes of the radiator are heated by hot water, while the smaller, inner pipes are warmed by heat transfer; an economical but stylish solution to home heating. While other feature radiators like the Slieve and the Adagio are superbly crafted with exceptional finishes. Their contemporary presence makes them an interesting piece of furniture and a focal point suitable for any room.
Education is also an ongoing part of Quinn’s environmental agenda. The company is currently in the process of carbon footprinting its market-leading compact radiator and is conscious of helping to raise awareness and promote environmental responsibility among its employees and customers going forward.
The Quinn Group
Quinn Radiators is a division of the Quinn Group. The Quinn Group, which has operations in the UK in the areas of commercial and business insurance, glass, plastics and hotels, employs approximately 7,000 people in Ireland, the UK and Europe. Being part of the Quinn Group enables Quinn Radiators to leverage market knowledge from other Quinn Group companies quickly, allowing it to respond rapidly to market conditions and trends. It is seen as one of the most enduring success stories in Irish business and, in 2007, the Quinn Group reported sales in excess of £2 billion.