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Clare Hollister

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Duncan Reeds’ investment in a Rover A pod & rail machine and a Stream A edgebander from Biesse has had a dramatic impact on efficiency at its Billingshurst site. The laminate fabricator’s CNC operation has become 25% more efficient as a result of reduced set-up time and downtime, whilst the edgebander is pushing performance boundaries thanks to the innovative AR70 high speed corner rounding unit. 

Duncan Reeds’ first dealings with Biesse UK date back 30 years – when both businesses were in their infancy and compact laminates didn’t even exist. In Daventry, Biesse UK was in the early stages of establishing itself as a subsidiary of its Italian parent company – a leader in machining technology for wood, stone, glass and advanced materials. Meanwhile, from a modest unit in West Sussex, Duncan Reeds was building a business producing and sizing laminated boards. 

As its business started to take off, Duncan Reeds decided to replace its table saws with a beam saw and opted for Biesse’s Selco brand. This marked the start of an ongoing investment policy that has continued to the present day. 

“We started with simple table saws and an 8ft press. When we could afford it, we bought a 10ft press and a beam saw, adding to that as capacity increased,” recalls Andy Bilton (Director), who has been at Duncan Reeds since it was founded in 1989 by his brother-in-law and father-in-law. 

Andy says that Biesse’s support was invaluable to Duncan Reeds during those early days. Fast forward to 2023 and once again, Biesse is supporting Duncan Reeds during another formative period – its transition to a highly flexible operation that can cater for batch one scenarios through digitalisation of certain processes. 

30 years on…

In the interim both companies have grown considerably. Biesse UK, which celebrates its 30th birthday this year, now boasts a turnover of £30m+ and employs 100 members of staff. Duncan Reeds has grown its turnover progressively year on year and evolved into a dynamic operation with three sites across the UK. It has built up a reputation as a leading fabricator of bespoke laminated products for a diverse range of applications and industries. 

“One day we might get an enquiry for 50 panels drilled with inserts for a furniture job and the next day we might be profiling the edges of a compact laminate or producing acrylic hygiene screens,” says Dean Harkess-Cowlyn (Director), illustrating the variety of jobs that make up the company’s workflow. 

He adds: “Whether we are dealing with washroom companies, shop fitters, laboratory fitters or joinery companies, we need machines that are versatile enough to accommodate any profile, any material, any size and any tool.”

Regular contact by Biesse’s sales team meant that Duncan Reeds was aware of the progress the machine manufacturer had made in terms of adapting to flexible, batch one production. Therefore, when it came to replacing a 20 year-old edgebander, Biesse was the first (and only) port of call. 

A UK first: the AR70

In January 2023, Duncan Reeds became the first UK company to take delivery of a Stream A edgebander with Biesse’s innovative new AR70 high speed corner rounding unit. 

This NC controlled unit enables users to switch quickly between different radii (3mm, 2mm, 1.5mm and 1mm) or a chamfer finish for the corners of the panel, plus it rounds the top and bottom corners in one unit. This means that rather than having to change the tooling to accommodate different tape thicknesses or round off the corners, the machine does this automatically, reducing job changeover time. 

Andy says the flexibility afforded by the AR70 was a key factor in the decision to invest in the Stream A edgebander. 

“One minute we will be applying 2mm ABS edging, then will need to switch to 12mm trims on solid fire doors the next. Before, it was a case of making manual adjustments and running test pieces. Now, with the AR70, because the machine is numerically controlled, our operators just call up the preset programme and the machine recalibrates. Switching from one job to another can be done in a matter of minutes, seamlessly with no set up time hindering manufacturing.”

Working with wider panels

He adds that the Stream A’s flexibility will support the growing demand the company is seeing for floor to ceiling high end cubicles with 44mm solid floors and 15mm door rebates. 

“Our previous machine could only accommodate timber of up to 19mm in width. Once we had put the timber on, dressed it, sized it and put a 15mm rebate on, there wasn’t a lot of margin – it was very tight. The Stream A can work with 22mm wide timber which gives us a lot more flexibility.”

Whilst the machine was being built, Duncan Reeds sent a pallet of samples to Biesse’s HQ in Italy. The load contained a diverse range of panels and edging materials – everything from ABS to timber lipping, laminate lipping, real wood edging, veneer panels, plain chipboards and laminated MDF. 

This gave Duncan Reeds confidence that the machine they had ordered was going to be able to cope with any job that was thrown at it. 

“It was sent back to us, we checked it all and it looked absolutely fine,” says Andy. 

Stream A solves sticky situations

Two glue management features on the Stream A are also contributing to the efficiency gains Duncan Reeds is seeing. Firstly, the application of glue is numerically controlled, which means it is optimised for each preset programme. 

“This makes life much easier for our operators. It makes for much more efficient use of adhesive enabling the exact amount to be used which eliminates unnecessary cleaning,” says Andy. 

Secondly, an inbuilt CIP (Clean In Place) system within the glue head eliminates the need to remove the head from the machine for cleaning after using PUR.

“Previously, we shut down the system on a Friday afternoon and when we came back in on Monday, unless the glue head had been stored in a sealed nitrogen tank, we needed a new one,” recalls Andy. 

Rover A streamlines CNC operation

A month after the delivery of the Stream A, Biesse installed a Rover A pod & rail machine with a five-axis head.

“The Rover A was a direct replacement for a competitor’s machinewhich proved hugely problematic even after only three years,” says Andy. 

“Biesse has been a breath of fresh air. The support we have received so far has been excellent,” he adds. 

Biesse’s B_SOLID software, incorporated as a standard feature with the Rover A, has revolutionised the way that Duncan Reeds operates, thanks to its digital twin simulation and CAD drawing manipulation capabilities. 

B_SOLID gives users a unique view into their CNC machine by creating a digital twin – that is a virtual replica of their real-world machine. Working on the machine’s control panel or on a remote PC, the user can use B_SOLID to design a machining programme for a particular project. They can then run a rapid and realistic 3D simulation of that programme – de-risking the project by verifying the feasibility of the intended tool path, machining speed and tool selection, and giving an accurate estimate of job completion time.

Simulation software assists job costing

Duncan Reeds is finding this simulation capability particularly useful for informing pricing; if they know how much time will be needed to carry out the required machining operations, this can be used as the basis for costings.

Dean noted: “We know exactly how much it costs to run a job, so if we are quoting for a project that is price-sensitive we can go in with a very accurate costing that will give us a greater chance of winning the work.”

B_SOLID has also sped up the process of translating customer drawings into CNC programmes at Duncan Reeds by enabling operators to import drawings directly into the machine’s software. 

“Previously we had to redraw the drawing. Now, as soon as anyone in our team receives a drawing, it is emailed immediately to a dedicated email address so that an operator can get on and create the programme. This has streamlined the process, dramatically reduced programming and set-up time and made us really appreciate the advances in what technology can do. And we have managed to do that because of the training and support that Biesse has provided,” says Dean.

He continues: “Where in the past we used to see the CNC machine sitting idle while the operator was setting up the programme, now we are getting jobs done far more quickly because we are spending less time setting them up. I would estimate that we have increased efficiency by 25%.”

Confidence in machine care

And after its experience of frequent breakdowns with its last machine, Duncan Reeds is taking no chances on the warranty front. It has taken out Biesse’s industry-leading five-year Total Care warranty programme to protect its investment. 

“I have every confidence that when the Rover A is five years old, we will be looking at replacing it with another Biesse machine with Total Care. We see continual investment in new technology as essential to remaining competitive in the marketplace and our confidence in Biesse is high owing to the success we have had with these two machines,” says Dean.

To find out more about Edgebanders and CNCs, contact Biesse on 01327 300366, email [email protected] or visit