Ted Hall and Bill Palumbo recently made the trip to the UK for an interesting and fun Camp in the shop of Robert Lofthouse, a developer of CNC “plylining” in England. Here’s the first part of Bill’s report…getting to Robert’s shop:
After connecting at the Newark, NJ airport we caught a flight over to Manchester, England. Once we gathered our bags and picked up the Vauxhall we’d be using for the weekend. Luckily they had an automatic version in stock (otherwise Ted would have not only been driving on the “other side” of the road, and from a different side of the car, he’d have been shifting with the opposite hand as well…). It was just as well that Ted chose to drive as there were a number of times I saw that if I had been behind the wheel I would have easily killed the two of us simply by following my natural instincts…
One of our “challenges” from the onset was that we didn’t really have a very good road map of England, and as soon as we got off the main motorways we didn’t have much of an idea where we actually were. In spite of everyone’s estimate that the distance to Robert’s shop (near our hotel) was about 40 miles from the airport, we took over two hours to get there, as we made a lot of “recoveries” from inadvertent “tours” of charming local towns …To add to our confusion, there were a large number of “round-a-bouts” (traffic circles over here) which compounded decision making as you not only drove in the opposite direction, but you entered different lanes when doing so…! Again, we would have been toast if I had been driving…
Once we found our hotel (The Dunkenhalgh), it was obvious that it was not part of any corporate “chain”. The hotel first appears in written history around the year 1285, but it’s suspected that it was there some time even before that. Originally having over 600 acres of grounds, it is now down to about 20. One thing it DOES retain however is the legend of being haunted by the ghost (or “boggart”) of a young woman who still appears annually on Christmas Eve. Ghost, or no ghost it was still the closest facility to Robert’s shop, and its architecture was beautiful. There was some carved, and curved crown molding in their meeting rooms which would be difficult to duplicate using ANY of today’s technologies.
After another brief “tour” going from the hotel to Robert Lofthouse’s shop we got to understand exactly what Robert actually does with his two Shopbots. In England, most commercial vans are leased instead of purchased due to their initial expense. In order to avoid damaging the vans during their leasing period most companies choose to have their vans lined in plywood so that they won’t dent, scrape, or otherwise cause any issues which would in turn generate large fines, or extra fees when they returned the van after its lease was up.
Robert’s business is to line vans using plywood panels that are cut to fit using his two PRTalpha ShopBots, based on his large and growing number of templates or patterns covering almost every van built and leased in England. He has a fleet of installation vehicles that install liners within about a hundred mile radius, and he also sells pre-cut “kits” over the web.
When he does not have a pattern in stock, he creates it. He starts by having an employee make a rough template of a van, and then through the use of the Shopbot digitizing probe, he generates a .dxf polyline file. He’ll then take this file into Part Wizard to smooth it out, and make any adjustments necessary to get “fair” curves. Once he has this file on record it’s pretty simple to do a 2D profile cut in either 6, 9, or 12 mm plywood depending on the size of the van. In fact the process has turned out to be SO exact that he can maintain an inventory of pre cut panels, and when a customer calls to get their van “ply lined” Robert’s staff can pull a set of panels out of a bin, and drive to their place of business for the installation. Once there it’s simply a case of using a screw gun to fasten the panels to the steel frames inside the van. Since most auto manufacturers only change models annually there isn’t much need to change these files unless there is a major re-design of a van in their fleet.
At the end of our first day Robert and Liz took Ted and me to a local pub for a “real” English meal, and we had a nice quiet dinner while we enjoyed the fact that we’d somehow stumbled into the warmest stretch of the year so far (and maybe the warmest period all year from local descriptions) as the temperatures were in the upper 80’s much of our stay. Considering the fact that Robert and Liz are expecting the birth of their first child within a few weeks their abundance of energy was pretty impressive !