As a supply-chain partner to a multitude of blue-chip OEMs that are household names, Unilathe has been providing a complete engineering service to industry since its inception in 1977. Applying the latest generation of machine tools, the Stoke-based tier-one subcontract manufacturer has recently invested in a Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG horizontal machining centre from Dugard, adding to its three previously installed Kitamura machines.
As a company that specialises in the oil and gas, rail, construction equipment, IGT and aerospace industries, Unilathe installed its first Kitamura machine more than 11 years ago. Recalling the start of the Kitamura journey, Unilathe’s managing director Andrew Sims says: “Our first Kitamura was a second-hand machine. That dipped our toe in the water with the brand regarding the twin box-way slides, the high speed and rigidity. In fairness, the performance and the reliability we got from that machine really started to pave the way for thinking about our machine purchasing strategy moving forward. We started asking whether we should go down a one-brand machine acquisition route.”
Following the first Kitamura Mycenter, Unilathe has since invested in two horizontal Mycenter 630iG machines from Dugard in 2018 and 2019 respectively, with the latest Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG commissioned at the start of 2021.
“We’re a tier-one supplier to major OEMs throughout the UK, Europe and worldwide,” says Sims. “So, generally speaking, we machine a lot of gearbox components and other parts from cast iron, cast steel and other materials where rigidity and performance, coupled with high-speed and advanced technology, is really crucial. The Kitamura machines from Dugard fit the bill. When we’re looking at new machines, the main consideration is reliability, speed, performance and accuracy, as we have to produce these components in the most competitive nature possible while maintaining very high quality. At the moment, we’re currently running 100 hours a week, but if we need to get up to 24/7, the Kitamuras will certainly do it.”
The latest Kitamura to arrive at Unilathe, the BT50 spindle taper Mycenter HX500iG has a 500 x 500 mm table with travel of 870 x 930 x 500 mm in the X, Y and Z axis respectively. The accuracy and repeatability noted by Sims is demonstrated in the 0.001° indexing of the 4th axis, as well as the spindle and tool probing, and other features such as zero backlash, built-in encoders and linear scale feedback. A patented twin ball-screw system with cooling, hand-scraped surfaces and induction-hardened box ways offer additional assurance.
Commenting on the twin-pallet Mycenter HX500iG, Unilathe machine operator Louis Purchase says: “There are so many things I like about the Kitamura machines. For instance, the speed is incredible. I have been at Unilathe for over three years and worked on a wide variety of machines, but I’ve never seen anything like the new Kitamura models.”
Underpinning this testament to the speed of the Kitamura brand is 60 m/min rapid traverse rates, a B-axis rapid of 43,200 deg/min, an 8.8-second pallet change and 2.1 second tool-change time.
The majority of the work on the new Kitamura machines at present is cast-iron components for the agriculture industry.
“I work across the latest Kitamura machines and they just tear through cast iron – that’s the best way to describe it,” says Purchase. “We’re machining a range of different parts and there is flexibility and interchangeability between the 630iG and 500iG machines.In addition, the tool carousel moves extremely quickly. When it comes to production jobs, we want accuracy and speed, and we have both of them with our Kitamura Mycenter machines.”
The new Kitamura additions also incorporate probing, which ensures complete consistency.
“With the probing system, we know that the last job in a production run will be the same as the first because we are probing the datums on every single job,” explains Purchase.
Unilathe produces a number of precision turned parts that it subsequently transfers to the Kitamura Mycenter machines for secondary milling operations.
“The turned parts are held to tight tolerances before loading on the Kitamura machines, so if we didn’t probe the jobs every single time, we would not be able to guarantee the same result,” says Purchase. “However, having the probing system means that we know the exact tolerances of the part and its positioning on the Kitamura machine before we start cutting metal.”
He continues: “The Kitamura machines also have a ‘tool life calculation system’ incorporated into the machines that is perfect for production jobs.
Essentially, it counts how many jobs each tool has done. This is hugely helpful for production when we use a lot of tools. We calculate a tool life parameter and once the tool has hit this parameter, we receive notification to change the tool or inserts, reset and start again. For example, we may calculate the tool life based on 10 production-run components. While we know that anything can happen in manufacturing, the system is always right, and it helps with long-running parts. This is another feature that is all about speed and ease-of-use, which is the best way to describe the Kitamura machines.”
Taking a closer look at the work envelope of the BT50 spindle Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG, Purchase says: “The work envelope is easy to access. Everything turns very easily and we can reach the part without problems. It’s just a delightful machine to work on.”
From a productivity standpoint, the Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG is a twin-pallet machine, which minimises downtime for Unilathe.
“The twin pallet allows means we can run two different jobs at the same time and this flexibility enables us to double our production output.”
Finally, commenting on the ease-of-use, Purchase says: “The new Kitamura machines have probably been the easiest machines that I have worked with so far. The Arumatik control panel is intuitive and guides you through all the steps, which makes it easier for everyone, regardless of whether you’re an engineer with 20 years of experience or someone new to CNC machining. The touchscreen configuration is very easy to use, but one thing that I really like is the PC keyboard. This makes it so much faster to type anything in, as everybody nowadays has an understanding of a keyboard and its key positions.”
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