Fit for the future

Somerset-based Watson Gym Equipment, a manufacturer of specialist strength training equipment used in high-end PT gyms, has recently invested in two new Doosan machine tools and a Doosan collaborative robot (cobot) from Mills CNC.

Watson Gym Equipment, created by owner and managing director Simon Watson in 1999, acquired its first Doosan machine, a large-capacity Puma 4100MB lathe, in March 2020.
This 15“ chuck, box-guideway Puma 4100MB is a rigidly designed and built machine suitable for a range of heavy-duty machining operations, including interrupted cutting. The Fanuc 0iT-controlled machine is equipped with a high-torque 30 kW/2000 rpm spindle, a servo-driven tool changer (12-position) and driven-tooling capability (7.5 kW/4000 rpm).
Since being installed, the lathe has been used to machine the company’s Pro Olympic weight plates, which are made from solid marine grade stainless steel. Weight plates are the flat discs located at either end of a weight bar to create a barbell or dumbbell used for weight training.
The acquisition of the Puma 4100MB lathe had an element of serendipity about it. In late 2019, Watson Gym Equipment had approached its existing CNC machine-tool supplier to discuss the best way to ramp up the production of its weight plates in order to meet increased demand.
Initial discussions centred on the acquisition of a new large-capacity vertical turning lathe to machine the components but, with an anticipated delivery time approximately six months after order placement, the company decided to consider alternatives and approached Mills CNC for help.
Says Watson: “We were aware of Mills CNC and knew that the company had a good reputation in the market for the technology it sold and aftersales services. We approached them to see if they could help with our specific machining capacity issue and, after an in-depth discussion, they recommended the Puma 4100MB. This large-capacity horizontal lathe was available from stock, and could be delivered and installed almost immediately.

“Mills took the time to understand our company and bought into our business model and what we were trying to achieve,” he continues. “They pointed out potential tooling interference issues that could occur by going down the vertical turning lathe route and, instead, demonstrated the productivity and flexibility benefits that we could expect to gain from investing in the Puma lathe. All of which, incidentally, have been correct.”
Watson weight plates can be supplied to customers in a range of standard sets (such as 150, 250, 350 and 500 kg) with individual plates weighing between 5 and 25 kg. All weight plates are machined to high accuracy and exacting surface finishes. Features include powder-coated end plates that can be customised (if required) with a customer’s logo or brand, and are supplied with a lifetime warranty.
“It’s relatively easy and cheap to manufacture weight plates from mild steel and add zinc- or nickel-plating to provide a professional looking finish,” says Watson. “However, after a short time, and through constant use, they will lose their lustre and the coating will peel, chip or discolour. Our business model is focused on manufacturing high-quality, high-performance and competitively priced premium products and equipment that look the part and which stand the test of time. That’s why we use stainless steel for our weight plates.”
Stainless steel is also used for the company’s range of best-selling dumbbell handles.
In early 2020, Watson Gym Equipment, with demand for its dumbbells at an all-time high, made the decision to increase its in-house production capacity and approached Mills CNC for guidance. Of particular concern was how to increase production of the company’s heavy-duty dumbbell handles, which are available in different lengths with a 30 mm grip.
“Dumbbell handles are not complex components,” states Watson. “They are machined from bar and cycle times are short. To meet increased customer demand we needed additional turning capacity, and we needed it fast. Having already established a good working relationship with Mills through the acquisition of the Puma 4100MB, we approached them again with our requirement and they recommended the purchase of a Doosan Lynx 2100LSYB lathe with a Hydrafeed bar feeder.”

The 8“ chuck/ 65 mm bar capacity Lynx 2100LSYB is a compact, multi-axis turning centre equipped with a high-torque main spindle (11 kW/4500 rpm), a sub-spindle (5.5 kW/6000 rpm), a Y axis (±52.5 mm) and driven tools (3.7 kW/6000 rpm).
Doosan’s Lynx 2100LSYB is suitable for small part production and is said to be fast, accurate and reliable. The machine and bar feeder were installed at Watson Gym Equipment’s facility in early May 2020 and its production capabilities have recently been increased further with the addition and integration of a Doosan M1013 cobot, which was delivered and installed later in the month.
The cobot, with its 10 kg payload and 1.3 m reach radius, is positioned in front of the Lynx lathe and programmed to unload the finished parts (dumbbell handles) once machining operations have been completed.
Says Watson: “The job and machining process were ideal for automation. We can set up the job and leave the machine running unattended overnight. As a consequence we have improved our productivity significantly and, as we’ve effectively removed the labour component from the process, have reduced the cost per part as well.”
Plans are well underway to increase the company’s floor space by an extra 22,000 sq ft with the building of a new machine shop adjacent to its existing facility in Frome. The new facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2020 and will house all the company’s CNC machining operations, including a new ‘Synergi 25’ automated manufacturing cell from Mills CNC.
The cell, which comprises a Puma 2600SY lathe (with Y-axis and sub-spindle capabilities), a 25 kg high-capacity industrial robot, an automated two-way drawer system (for stacking, storing and loading workpieces and finished components), a 17” touchscreen HMI, locating plates, pneumatic grippers and Sick safety systems, has been specified and ordered to help the company meet growing demand for its dumbbells.
“Automation is the key to higher productivity, operational efficiency and improved competitiveness,” says Watson. “The Synergi 25 cell will help us increase throughput and reduce bottlenecks, and exploit lights-out, unattended operations still further. We will be working with Mills CNC’s automation specialists in the next few weeks and months to create and prove out a bespoke manufacturing process at their Automation and Turnkey Centre in Leamington prior to it being delivered to our new facility.
“In the past six months we have developed a strong and positive working relationship with Mills CNC based on integrity and trust,” he concludes. “The technologies they are able to supply and the added-value consultancy they provide are helping us optimise our performance…making us fitter for the future.”
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