EAG Precision hits the ground running

Mills CNC, the exclusive distributor of Doosan machine tools in the UK and Ireland, says it is not only the supplier of choice for many OEMs, tier-one suppliers and precision subcontractors, but increasingly the first port of call for many new engineering start-ups. One such company is Gateshead-based EAG Precision. Established in March 2019, the company invested in 10 new Doosan machine tools from Mills CNC within its first three months of operation.

Operating from a 14,000 sq ft facility, EAG is a privately-owned company specialising in the small and medium batch production of complex, high-precision parts for sectors such as defence, marine, medical and renewable energy. To differentiate itself in the market, EAG has achieved ISO 9001 approval and specialises in machining complex components (including prototypes) to tight tolerances and exacting surface finishes for customers based in the UK and the US. The company also designs, manages and implements complex turnkey projects for its customers.

To maintain its growth and profitability EAG relies on the dedication of a highly skilled workforce, the experience and expertise of its directors and senior management team and, of course, the advanced machine tool technologies it has at its disposal.

Not many new companies have the confidence or wherewithal to invest in 10 new machine tools straight out of the gate, but EAG is unlike other start-ups.

Says Dave Graham, EAG’s managing director: “Although the new enterprise started trading in March 2019, a great deal of preliminary planning was initiated and completed well before then. The strategic business plan we created, and which we used to help obtain funding for the new company, was both robust and ambitious.”

Covering all aspects of business, the plan identified key markets and customers, and how EAG would approach and build business relationships. The plan highlighted, in depth, the company’s key capital equipment investment criteria, which included the number and type of CNC machine tools it wanted to acquire initially and in subsequent years. EAG’s plan also set out and reinforced the company’s mission, vision and values.

Says Graham: “There were, and still are, three guiding principles that direct our company operations: delivering high-quality manufacturing solutions to customers; providing a rapid response in order to meet customer requirements efficiently and effectively; and ensuring value for money and achieving cost efficiencies. Everything we do is measured and benchmarked against these principles.”
The directors and senior management team at EAG can offer over 100 years of collective experience in the precision manufacturing sector. Their knowledge and expertise was invaluable when approaching potential customers to secure new machining contracts, and critical in identifying and selecting the right machine tools that would meet EAG’s immediate and future capacity and capability requirements.

Although the company canvassed the market looking for the best performing and best value machine tools, the directors’ previous positive experiences of dealing with Mills CNC and of using Doosan machines (gained prior to EAG being established), put Mills in the box seat.

“We knew that owing to the depth and breadth of the Doosan machine tool range we would be able to find solutions perfectly suited to our requirements,” says Graham. “It was also a big positive, especially for a new start-up in terms of time and logistics, if the machines could be acquired from a single source.”

Although many start-ups initially invest in used/pre-owned machines to get up and running, EAG opted to invest in new machine tools from day one.

“We decided on new machines from Mills CNC as they were competitively-priced and were backed by full warranties and the company’s reputable applications and aftersales support,” says Graham. “In addition, we were able to take advantage of Mills CNC’s machine tool financing, which gave us access to flexible capital equipment funding packages.”

Mills CNC’s stock policy means that many machines (over 70 at any given time) are available from its campus facility in Leamington ready for immediate delivery to customers in the UK and Ireland.

“It was important that we hit the ground running from day one as we had already secured machining contracts from a number of customers,” explains Graham. “The ability to order and get our machines delivered, commissioned and installed in double-quick time was critical.”

To improve operational efficiencies, optimise manufacturing flexibility and help with lead-time fulfilment, EAG invested in a number of multi-tasking Doosan machines. The models now on site include: Lynx long-bed lathes with Y axes, sub-spindles and driven tools; a large-capacity Puma lathe with full mill-drill capability; Doosan DNM machining centres supplied with 4th-axis units; and a high-productivity twin-pallet vertical machining centre.

All 10 Doosan machines acquired by EAG are equipped with Fanuc controls. These CNC units facilitate quick and seamless program transfer between machines when required. This capability prevents production bottlenecks from occurring if, for some reason, a machine is out of action for maintenance or repair.

EAG produces precision components for a wide range of sectors and customers. As a consequence, the company machines materials that include steels, aluminium alloys, duplex and standard stainless steels, plastics, Inconel, and titanium. Mills CNC says that the Doosan machines, with their rigid structural characteristics and high-specification spindle technology, are sufficiently versatile and capable of machining this diverse range of materials to high geometric tolerances and surface finishes.

Graham shares this sentiment, stating: “Our DNM machining centres enable us to machine prismatic parts up to 1 x 1 x 1 m, while the largest of our Doosan lathes provides us with a maximum turning diameter of 550 mm.”

Mills CNC reports that new start-up companies are increasingly turning to the company for help with their machine tools and, more recently, their automation requirements. Attracted by the depth and breadth of the Doosan machine tool range, competitive pricing, immediate availability from stock, and the company’s aftersales support services, it is a trend that looks set to continue.

Concludes Graham: “We are delighted with our Doosan machine tools and the level of service we receive from Mills CNC.”

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Subcontractor orders second automated machining cell

Having installed a Brother production cell at the end of 2019 comprising two five-axis Speedio M140X2 mill-turn centres served by a Feedio vision-based robotic unit for component handling, Worthing subcontractor Roscomac has ordered a second identical cell. Due for delivery in April 2021 by Brother’s sole UK agent Whitehouse Machine Tools, the latest acquisition is symptomatic of a fundamental change in the way Roscomac’s owner Joe Martello views automated manufacture.

“About 20 years ago we installed a large flexible manufacturing system consisting of six three-axis, 40-taper, half-metre-cube machining centres linked by a three-level storage and retrieval system for 104 machine pallets,” he says. “Having served us well, it is being decommissioned in February 2021. We will relocate the first Brother cell into part of the space it releases, with the second placed alongside it, all in a relatively small footprint.”
Since 2018, Roscomac has instigated a major shift towards five-axis machining. The company has spent the majority of a £4m investment in that period on multi-pallet pool systems with large tool magazines.

“They machine parts in fewer operations while achieving a high level of automation, without the complexity of an FMS based on three-axis capacity,” explains Martello. “Had we not gone down the five-axis route we would be dead in the water by now. With the two Brother systems, we have gone a step further by installing our first 30-taper five-axis capacity for the automated, ultra-fast machining of aluminium components in fewer set-ups.”

He says that while the FMS was an efficient production facility, the three-axis CNC technology often required the multiple clamping of several parts in expensive staged fixtures for undertaking several separate machining operations. The system’s utilisation dropped because the type of work coming through the door was changing; it was becoming lower volume and more complex. Production was more difficult to control and the increasing number of set-ups raised the labour cost content of component machining, as operators were frequently at the load/unload stations.

The timing of the arrival of the first Brother cell, a matter of months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, could not have been more opportune. Nearly a quarter of Roscomac’s turnover normally comes from the medical industry, but in 2020 that proportion doubled, leading to an increase in annual turnover of £2m despite the virtual disappearance of aerospace work, which historically has accounted for 10% of Roscomac’s throughput.

For many years the subcontractor had been machining four different components for hospital syringe pumps from aluminium castings and extrusion. Machining previously took place at a rate of 4000 per month per part number on 40-taper machines in the FMS, but were ideal candidates for transfer to the first Brother cell. The cell therefore features a turnover station so that one Speedio can carry out Op 10 while the other completes Op 20 after the component rotates, all fully automatically.

These 30-taper, five-axis machines could produce the parts much more cost effectively in two operations, 24/7, without operator intervention, apart from placing raw material on to the input conveyor and unloading finished parts from the output conveyor. Conversely, unattended and lights-out running was impossible on the FMS due to the constant loading and unloading. In practice, for these components, the system was only capable of one-quarter of the output compared with the Brother cell.

Within a month of the pandemic starting the customer quadrupled the order quantity to 16,000 per month per part. Martello says that it would not have been feasible to achieve even half that amount using the other plant in the factory, which would have meant turning away business. As it was, the Brother cell was able to cope and started paying for itself and making a profit from day one. The operator only had to load and unload the conveyors and keep an eye on production, so was free to run other machines.

By the middle of 2020, due to the success of the cell, Roscomac transferred all the remaining work from the FMS and started planning for its removal. As the Brother cell was working flat out, this work was initially put on to 40-taper machining centres, but to add more high-speed capacity, a third Speedio M140X2 was hired from Whitehouse Machine Tools and operated as a manually-loaded machine.

“It really focused the mind, seeing the operator having to attend the machine almost continuously during the relatively short Op 10 and Op 20 cycles, so we decided to purchase a second fully automated Brother cell, exactly like the first,” says Martello. “Whitehouse supplies them as turnkey installations with time studies, programs, fixtures and tooling. We have the skills to do this in-house, but we are very busy at the moment with the surging medical work. In any case, we find that we learn a lot from Whitehouse each time they prepare and supply a fully functioning production cell, so we get the benefit of knowledge transfer, along with their experience of the best way to produce parts most efficiently.”

The Speedio M140X2 has a machining volume of 200 x 440 x 305 mm and incorporates a 2000 rpm turning table. Together with the +120° to -30° swivel of the trunnion carrying the table, the two extra rotary CNC axes are useful for automatically positioning components in-cycle for predominantly three-axis machining, although there is some four- and five-axis simultaneous metalcutting within certain cycles.

High machining productivity comes in part from simultaneous movement in the X, Y, Z, A and C axes, plus tool change when the machine is not cutting. Tool change time from the 22-position magazine is 0.9 seconds, giving 1.4 seconds chip-to-chip, while spindle start/stop is completed in 0.2 seconds. Cutting feed rate is up to 30 m/min, with 50 m/min rapids.

The Feedio robotic component handling system option exploits this speed to the maximum by delivering parts to the spindle faster than an operator is able to, and without interruption. The plug-and-play automation unit, which communicates with the machining centre via a Profibus interface, features a six-axis ABB robot and the manufacturer’s smart teach pendant incorporating a customised Speedio page.

A camera-based vision system and built-in PC allow the robot to detect raw material on the upper input conveyor. After machining, components return to an output conveyor positioned below the first.

Martello regards the Brother cell, based on very fast 30-taper machines, as being the ideal solution for machining aluminium components, in this case for medical applications. The five-axis capability and turnover station enables the completion of mainly 3+2 machining in two operations without manual handling. Some fully interpolative five-axis sequences are also completed. Jobs requiring straightforward three-axis prismatic cycles without any need for the rotary axes will in future be machined in the cell, if expedient, simply to take advantage of the automation.

“This was new technology for Roscomac and we leant quite heavily on Whitehouse in the early days,” concludes Martello. “We have received very good support from this supplier throughout, with their engineers sometimes on-site at weekends, which was especially important in view of the urgency of the COVID-related work. As the very large volumes associated with the pandemic subside, there will still be a lot of medical work around due to the backlog of elective surgical procedures. We can use the Speedio/Feedio cells to fulfil these contracts more economically.”

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HPC started with one Citizen Cincom: now has 10

Back in 1997, when physics graduate Paul Cobb asked his father Reg to help him invest in a subcontract machining business specialising in CNC sliding-head turning, Mr Cobb senior groaned; he knew it would mean a sizeable investment. At the time, both father and son were partners in the family’s subcontracting firm in Stapleford, Hemlock Engineering, which specialised in producing mainly prismatic parts and continues to do so.

However, Paul was keen to embark on a project of his own. He chose not to become a computer programmer or geological analyst but instead started HPC Services. Renting a small factory unit in nearby Ilkeston, he installed a Japanese-built Citizen Cincom L25 sliding-head, bar-fed, turn-mill centre. At the time it was the first of a new, updated design to arrive in the UK.

From that moment onwards, HPC’s approach has been to acquire the latest, most productive CNC equipment available, designed to slash production times, reduce costs and improve component quality.

Over the intervening 24 years, Cobb has bought around 20 CNC sliding-head, twin-spindle lathes of nominally 12, 20 or 32 mm bar capacity, all from the same supplier. Ten Cincoms are in operation, following systematic replacement of the others with newer models. There are also seven fixed-head, twin-spindle CNC lathes on the shop floor of the current premises, which houses around 30 employees.

When Cobb launched HPC, he took with him from Hemlock one production job to get started, a shaft for a sell-by date label printing machine. The food industry still accounts for around one-third of HPC’s turnover. This job previously involved turning the component in two operations, after which it was ground and then milled on a machining centre, all in a total cycle time of seven minutes. On the Citizen L25, he completed the same job in one minute as part of a one-hit set up. Today, HPC machines the parts on a different slider at a rate of 1000 per month.

Due to complete machining in a single set up, the components produced by HPC were of better quality, reliably holding 5 µm concentricity and 10 µm dimensional tolerance. Moreover, the price charged to the customer has consistently fallen in real terms due to the progressively higher level of automation on the newer lathes, which allows longer periods of unattended running, 24/7.

“Over the years, turned-parts subcontractors from around the world have quoted for this work,” says Cobb. “However, by harnessing the efficiency and accuracy of machines like the Cincom sliders we are globally competitive on price and quality, even for large production volumes.

“In the past that was not the case, but it is possible now with modern, ultra-high speed plant,” he continues. “And of course, our delivery times are much better than competition in the Far East can offer, added to which, control over projects is easier. As a result, we’re seeing a strong trend towards reshoring.”

Today, HPC has some 5000 different part numbers on its books. Components are produced from 38 mm diameter bar or smaller on the Cincoms. Quantities range from 100 to 40,000 in a vast range of materials, from exotic alloys, through stainless steels, brass and aluminium, to plastics. The two million parts machined annually account for two-thirds of the company’s £3m annual turnover, the remainder being fixed-head turning. HPC reinvests some 10% of revenue every year in new plant and equipment, a proportion that also applies to Hemlock’s £7m turnover.

One of the latest components produced at HPC in one hit on a sliding-head lathe requires only milling. The company machines the parts on one of two recently delivered Cincom M32-VIIIs of a radically different design compared with the earlier M32s on site. The first of the new machines arrived in November 2020 and Cobb was so impressed with its performance that he bought another a month later.

The prismatic component looks as though it has been machined from flat bar, but is in fact milled from 303 stainless steel round bar, as it is difficult to source flat bar in that material in the UK. Used on a date-coding machine, the part is produced in one operation in a cycle time of 4 minutes 53 seconds on the lathe, whereas it would require four operations totalling 7 minutes on a VMC.

A year or so before the arrival of the two new M32s, which come with kits to accommodate 38 mm diameter bar, the chief designer from Citizen’s Japanese factory visited HPC to ask Cobb what he would like to see in the fifth generation of this sliding-head lathe. His response was, “more rigidity”. The Japanese manufacturer obliged, endowing the latest model with box guideways rather than linear slides, a tang instead of a worm drive on the turret and higher power motors throughout.

“The difference is amazing,” states Cobb. “It is possible to machine exotic alloys at double the speed compared with a fourth generation M32, and you get four times the tool life, especially as coolant is now delivered through the tool platen as well as the turret. It is a massive step up in performance. A 10 mm cutter purrs into the bar, even using a mill with carbide inserts rather than a solid-carbide tool, which we need to use on the earlier M32s. Any production engineer would know that the new model is a very rigid machine.”

Other aspects of the latest design that he appreciates are the increased number of driven tools and a platen tool post with a programmable B axis, which is useful for producing angled features on components and performing front working.
Cycles for many jobs are significantly quicker. For example, when producing a particular 303 stainless steel flange from 38 mm bar, it was previously necessary to wait for the turret to become available to deburr the component. At 57 seconds, the cycle time is now 25 seconds quicker, representing a saving of 30%.

Just as important for reducing production costs is the ability to swap the machine over in half an hour to guide bush-less mode, thus saving remnant wastage when producing relatively short components like the flanges. In this case, it is possible to produce 262 parts from a 3-m bar, compared with 225 if the guide bush is in place. With 5000 of the flanges produced annually, the saving is significant.

Citizen’s advanced technology also came to the rescue a few years earlier, when HPC received a contract to produce plastic internal components for a manufacturer of high-quality taps. Moulding these top-end parts is not feasible, as flash on the sealing surfaces could cause leakage and removing it would be too time-consuming. Turn-milling the components from acetyl bar was the preferred method of manufacture, but plastics are notoriously difficult to machine due to the generation of copious quantities of long, stringy swarf, especially when grooving.

Citizen had recently invented its patented, low-frequency vibration (LFV) software that breaks such swarf into short, manageable lengths. Running in the Cincom’s Mitsubishi control, the facility can switch in and out of a programmed cycle by G-code command.

“LFV on the Cincom L20 we bought in 2017 is absolutely brilliant for turning plastic,” says Cobb. “Normally, on a lathe we regularly have to remove swarf by hand that has tangled around the component and tooling, which takes ages and risks damaging the part, but that is eliminated by the software.

“It not only saves a lot of production time, but allows us to run the lathe unattended for long periods, which usually would be impossible when machining this type of material,” he concludes. “The software will also be a big advantage if we receive contracts for producing components from ductile, long-chipping metals, such as copper.”

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Using Vericut to safeguard machining

Those who have filled up their vehicles this week might want to thank Conroe Machine. That’s because this specialty job shop in Conroe, Texas, machines most of the components required to build down-hole positive displacement motors (PDMs). The oil and gas industry refers to these devices, which perform the directional drilling of oil and gas wells, as mud motors. And without mud motors, the oil and gas needed to power vehicles and heat homes would stay forever underground.

James Wardell gets a little credit, too. As the programming technology manager at Conroe Machine, Wardell was part of the team that implemented Vericut tool-path simulation software, and without Vericut, the company’s machining operations would be less efficient, less safe and far less predictable.

“Machining has become more complex in recent years,” he says. “It’s no longer just linear moves and simple arcs. You have dynamic roughing paths, 3D surfacing, and simultaneous four and five-axis cutting; you can’t expect a machinist to catch program errors in this situation. That’s why we needed a tool that could verify our NC programs and give us confidence in advance that everything’s good to go.”

As Wardell points out, Conroe Machine produces much more than mud motors. Since 2000, this 160-employee, 65,000 sq ft facility located on Conroe’s North Industrial Park has machined a wide array of high-precision parts for the likes of Halliburton, National Oilwell Varco (NOV) and Global Drilling Support International. These components include subsea parts such as stab plates and various control valves, many made from Inconel, Nitronic 50, ToughMet and other challenging materials. In addition, the company has extensive fabricating and engineering capabilities.

“We make bearing races, housings and PDM transmission parts by the hundreds of thousands, and we also do a lot of low-volume and prototype work,” says Wardell. “Much of what we do here centres on the oil and gas industry. After the last downturn, though, we’ve tried hard to diversify our customer base, and have expanded our service offering accordingly.”

Part of that expansion saw the purchase of a Toyoda SB316YM, a fixed-rail, bridge-type, five-axis machining centre with 10 tonnes of table capacity and 3 m of X-axis travel. Wardell and his colleagues call it the company’s flagship machine. Just prior to its installation, Conroe switched its programming system to Mastercam and invested in the aforementioned Vericut from CGTech, a provider of numerical control (NC/CNC) simulation, verification, optimisation and analysis software technology.

Conroe Machine had plenty of other reasons to purchase Vericut. The company boasts an impressive array of CNC machine tools, including an Okuma LU45 II four-axis lathe, Doosan DMV 5025 and 3016 machining centres, a 3-m capacity Mighty Viper 3100 vertical milling centre, and more. It was the crash potential that comes with five-axis machining, though, that helped convince the management team of the necessity for accurate tool-path simulation.

“We also have several automated production cells, with inline inspection and robotic part handling, but it was the bridge mill in particular that got us thinking about Vericut,” explains Wardell. “We wanted a way to verify that the post-processors on our new CAM system were accurate, and that we could catch any programming errors before they got to the production floor, possibly damaging the most expensive piece of equipment in our shop.”

That was five years ago, and Wardell says Vericut continues to prove its value every day.

“We’ve not had any crashes due to programming errors since implementing Vericut,” states Wardell. “There’s been a couple missed dimensions here and there, stuff I might have fat-fingered or forgotten during programming, but that’s why I started using the Auto-Diff function in Vericut, to make sure everything is where it’s supposed to be, and that I didn’t miss anything.”

Aside from crash avoidance, Vericut also reduces set-up times. As the operators can see the entire program in advance, there is less guesswork and apprehension. Wardell has not tracked how much time the company has saved, although he says it is significant.

“It simply takes a lot longer on an unverified program. The operator has to meticulously dry-run each line, with hands on the override and feed-holding the entire time. With a Vericut program, they can just go for it.”

In fact, notes Wardell, the machinists at Conroe no longer trust non-Vericut programs. Such programs are a rare occurrence in his department, though, and about the only time he does not simulate the entire program is when using a specially-shaped cutting tool or unconventional work holding, and has not had time to model it in the CAM system.

For those shops thinking about Vericut but concerned over the amount of work-holding and tool-holder modelling necessary to replicate the machining environment, Wardell says there is no need. He explains that he will sometimes draw a rough outline around non-standard tooling, “just enough to detect a collision”, and says he never did model the entire machine tool, only those areas where interference with a tool holder or fixture is a distinct possibility.

“I love Vericut,” he states. “If there’s any way I can use it, I will, and the operators feel the same. If they’ve had to edit the program, for example, they’ll ask me to simulate it again, just to be sure they didn’t miss a decimal point or a minus sign. We pride ourselves on being a cutting-edge shop, and are always looking for technology to make our facility more efficient, safer, and better equipped to maintain high-quality levels. Vericut definitely helps us achieve that.”

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Parker gets a grip on automation

As a $14bn corporation, the journey of Parker Hannifin started over 100 years ago when Arthur Parker founded the Parker Appliance Company back in 1917 from a loft with business partner Carl Klamm. Through the generations, the company has moved from pneumatic brake systems for trucks, trains and buses to aerospace systems and technology, air preparation and dryers, EMI shielding, filters, separators and purifiers, fittings, couplings, and much more.

With dozens of divisions, brands and a global reach, Parker Hannifin is today a world leader in motion and control technologies. At its Sheffield site, which manufactures cryogenic valves, the company recently installed a machining cell with Hainbuch work-holding equipment at the heart of the investment.

Commenting upon the product range manufactured at the site, Parker Hannifin’s Lloyd Cooper says: “The products we produce are high in diversity and low in volume; we probably have about 20,000 part numbers at the top level, so high diversity and low volume is what we do. This allows customers to order what they want and our USP is the ability to service that request. As a result, we create a lot of demand on our machine shop with regard to set ups, as we may be running a batch of 3- or 4-off before we move to the next product. This means we incur a lot of set-up times and we’ve been looking at the ratio of ‘set up to run’ times. There may be a 45-minute set up for a 10 or 15-minute production cycle. These numbers didn’t stack up and here at Parker we have a really keen focus on lean manufacturing.”

To streamline production Parker Hannifin has invested around $500,000 in an automation cell to combat excessive set-up times in the turning department.

“We had three machines that were fully depreciated, and wanted to remove those and create one comprehensive machine and cell,” explains Cooper. “We really looked at how we could make it a complete cell.”

The new production cell incorporates a Hydrafeed MV65 bar-feeding system which serves a DMG Mori NLX2000/500 CNC turning centre. Component unloading is via an ABB Flexloader robot system.

“We looked from a cradle-to-grave perspective on how we could make it a true cell, and this is where the ABB Flexloader helps us to do unmanned loading, unloading, deburring and clean down. One of the crucial solutions in this cell is the Hainbuch hydraulic chuck system. As a high-mix business, what Hainbuch has allowed us to do is switch from one collet size to another in 30 seconds, or even change from a collet to a jaw configuration in 2 to 3 minutes. Previously, this could have taken 45 minutes. It’s a ‘night and day’ difference to our business, and while it may be a considerable investment, the savings we’re making in efficiency will make this a sub-two-year payback.”

With regards to the Hainbuch work-holding system, Cooper says: “The work holding has probably been the singular reason as to why we wanted to do this project. We wanted something that would compress our set-up times, as we were incurring many, many set ups every hour. Hainbuch did that with an off-the-shelf solution and no additional requirement from an engineering perspective. The quick-change aspect of it is astounding. Providing the ability to change from collet size to collet size in 30 seconds is really impressive, and we have even had some changeovers in 15 seconds. This can give us a door-open to door-close time of less than a minute.”

Alluding to the installation, Hainbuch UK’s managing director Nick Peter says: “We worked with Parker and the machine-tool builder to provide a quick-change work-holding solution. The parts are many and varied, with different shapes and valve bodies that include some hexagonal and some round parts from different materials. Parker wanted to swap over from collet chucks to three-jaw chucks very quickly to improve the process, as the previous situation increased the cost per part.”

With four-jaw modules on the machine, as well as collets and three-jaw chucks, Hainbuch looked further into the request, as Peter continues: “We initially didn’t know why this customer would want two chucks with two spindles, and then also want four three-jaw modules, but it was all about saving time. This configuration allows Parker to set up three-jaw chucks off-the-machine for a particular part on both spindles if necessary. The result is that collet chucks can come straight off the machine with three-jaw chucks ready to swap over, giving a changeover time of fewer than two minutes. By having the extra chucks, the subsequent set up can take place while the machine is running, compressing non-cutting times even further.

“Now, Parker can change from one collet chuck to another in a matter of seconds, whereas changing from a collet configuration to a chuck set-up takes just a couple of minutes,” adds Peter. “Taking a jaw module off is literally just a task of undoing three bolts and fastening another jaw module straight on to the existing collet chuck. There is no need to accurately position the three-jaw chuck as it follows the collet and there is a zero-point system already on the three-jaw, so accuracy is maintained to a couple of microns with exceptional clamping forces.”

Concludes Cooper: “As a business, we look at automation and may be afraid of the complexity of it, but this has been a very smooth process. Moreover, when you consider a payback of fewer than two years, automation should be a formality for UK manufacturing businesses. We will pass on these savings to our customers, which is a credit to this cell and its ability to produce parts 80, 90 or even 100% quicker than previously. In short, we can enable our customers to become more competitive while we retain the broad product offering that we’ve always had from our Sheffield facility. This has been a real game-changer with regard to customer success and that is what we’re striving for.”

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