Maybe bellows don’t sound that exciting to you. But some of the applications for Beakbane’s bellows and machine protection systems may change your mind.
In trains, machine tools, medical equipment, nuclear plants and steelworks across the world, wherever there is a need to keep prying fingers out, stop dust and debris getting into delicate machinery, protect against flying objects, keep scientific experiments free from contamination or to stop parts being splashed by molten metal, you may well find that a Beakbane product is doing the job.
The company had its origins as a leather tannery, but today it has moved on from leather and manufactures its bellows and protective covers from a range of high-performance engineering materials. These include metal and polymer-coated fabrics, composite structures, moulded rubbers and fabricated steel. Beakbane specialises in developing tailor-made solutions for a customer’s specific problems. These are designed in-house using 3D CAD systems and cut, stitched, formed, moulded, laser profiled, welded and finished using a combination of craft skills and advanced CNC technology.
In the world of high technology, Beakbane has made protective covers for the ultra-high precision machines that are being used to produce mirror segments for what will be the world’s largest telescope. The European Extremely Large Telescope will have a primary mirror 42m across made from 1.45m hexagonal segments. These are polished and corrected to nanometer accuracy using Zeeko intelligent robotic polishers.
The Zeeko machines use an abrasive watery slurry to polish the optics, but if these get into the high-precision drive mechanisms they could create serious problems. Beakbane supplies a complete kit including telescopic steel covers, waterproof welded plastic concertina covers and rubber bellows that protect all of the axis drives on the machine. As well as being waterproof, the covers also have to operate very smoothly to allow the highest levels of accuracy.
Beakbane bellows are also used in heavy engineering environments, where resistance to aggressive environments and tough working conditions are the key factors.
At the SSI steelworks in Redcar, Beakbane supplied folding covers for the continuous casting line – where molten steel is poured into special cooled moulds to produce a continuous strip of solid steel. The covers protect the lifting mechanism that controls the flow of molten steel. They have to be able to withstand splashes of molten steel at 1,600°C as well as the tough environment of a heavy process plant. Beakbane developed a special design of folding cover using a heatproof glass cloth coated with aluminium and incorporating a control mechanism to allow it to move freely with the caster. Similar covers are used at the nuclear waste processing plant in Sellafield where they protect the robot arms that handle the waste from being contaminated with radioactive particles.
Not all the applications for Beakbane’s products are quite so exotic. One of its customers is Avon Barrier, which makes security road blockers that lift up to stop unauthorised vehicles entering secure areas. Beakbane supplies a safety skirt that ensures people, animals or objects cannot get trapped under the barrier when it is lowered, and prevents leaves and litter collecting in the sub-surface housing. Beakbane even supplies its products to sewage treatment plants, where they are fitted to sluice gates to keep water, slurry and debris out of moving mechanisms.
Beakbane continues to develop new products to meet customers’ changing needs, and one of the most recent areas it has invested in is composite guards for the rail industry. These are very strong, light, fire-resistant, and give excellent impact strength. They can also have metal brackets and reinforcements moulded in. Areas where they are used include under the train to protect engines, fuel tanks and sensors from flying stones and as a protective shield for the driver.
That’s just a flavour of where you can find Beakbane products – and that’s without mentioning radiotherapy systems, solar power generators, laser cutting machines, oil spill skimmers, scientific experiments, skyscrapers and air conditioning systems.
So there is much more to Beakbane’s bellows – and protective guards – than you might think. They may not have a high profile, but they certainly play a vital role in everyday life.