14 December 2023

Ramping up “sheet metal 4.0” operations

Our commitment to innovation is at the heart of everything we do. By combining our diverse skills with our historic businesses, such as material handling, robotics and sheet metal-based assembly technologies, we are shaping a range of products that meet the demands of Industry 4.0.

In the almost six decades of its existence, LUCAS has been able to expand and strengthen its activities. The company was founded in 1965 by Raymond LUCAS, father of the current CEO, Jean-Jacques LUCAS,

“He worked in a cardboard factory and developed the first automatic palletising systems for cardboard”,

Christophe Lérisson, Chief executive de LUCAS.

The business was gradually consolidated and, until the 2000s, concentrated mainly on corrugated board and peripheral equipment for the Martin companies in Lyon, then for the Swiss company BOBST, which eventually took over Martin. Today, although 60% of LUCAS’ turnover still comes from this single customer vertical, the company has significantly diversified its activities.

“We started by looking for new customers with a solution to automate their systems. That’s how LUCAS ROBOTIC was born,” continues Christophe Lérisson. We were confronted with all kinds of products and we thought we’d come up with a kind of universal, standard solution that could be adapted to each customer’s needs. But we haven’t really found this standard, if it exists.

After working as an integrator for about fifteen years, we finally found our true vocation in the development of gantry robots for handling the ends of production lines,

“We said this is what we want to do. Make linear axes and gantry robots and offer them to integrators – our former competitors.

These modular solutions allow loads weighing up to several tonnes to be moved with robotic precision to within a tenth of a millimetre. LUCAS is also planning to expand across Europe, particularly in Germany.

“It’s true that they’re not the easiest. Especially as it’s the country of our main competitor in this field. But we think we have a few things going for us. We’re not going to eat this competitor because he’s ten times bigger than us, but Germany is one of the countries in Europe that uses the most robots. If we want to develop further in this area, it will be difficult to avoid Germany,”

Says Christophe Lérisson

In order to continue this diversification strategy, LUCAS has recently launched a Sheet Metal 4.0 project in collaboration with Akeros, the company responsible for the software.

“We have concentrated all our know-how on developing a range of machines for the sheet metal industry. We’re sheet metal workers ourselves, and for 20 years we’ve been looking for machines that could meet our needs, without ever finding them. We thought there was a niche, and there is one,” explains Christophe Lérisson.

The project is divided into three parts, the first of which, which is almost complete, concerns the automation of the loading and unloading of the laser cutting machines. LUCAS relies on MAZAK, the “world leader in machining equipment”, which has a subsidiary specialising in laser cutting.

“We have just met with Mazak USA to set up production and supply them with machines for the American market. This should be an important vector for diversification,

hope Christophe Lérisson,

By 2026, when the other two modules are due to be launched, we should have our own 4.0 factory, designed in-house, which will handle sheet metal from cutting to storage, including stripping, drilling, bending and many other applications to manufacture boiler parts individually or in large quantities.

“As you can see, drilling always takes two or three people. It’s a rather thankless job because you have to be technically very good and be able to read blueprints very well, but after that it’s not very stimulating. And nowadays it’s hard to find people who are good at it, because after a few years it’s a tiring job”,

To achieve its objectives by 2030, Lucas France plans to rebalance its activities, with each of them ideally representing one third of the company’s total activity. Research and development is another key driver of growth, with more than 5% of annual turnover devoted to this activity, underlining the company’s ongoing commitment to innovation and growth. LUCAS continues to grow with a team of around one hundred employees.

Read the full article in Placéco magazine.
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