Press release GF Machining Solutions
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Automation is key to exploiting 5-axis machining potential!
Precision subcontractor invests in a Mikron 5-axis machine with integrated automation as a route to improving productivity
Hampshire-based leading precision subcontractor – Innova Design & Build Ltd – has recently invested in a Mikron 5-axis machining centre with integrated automation.
The machine, a pre-owned Mikron UCP 600 Vario with 7-station automatic pallet is designed for 3+2 positional and full simultaneous 5-axis machining, and was installed at the company’s Emsworth facility, near Portsmouth in October 2013.
The Vario is being used to machine a range of complex, high-precision components for the aerospace, marine, rail, space and electronics industries and sectors.
Innova Design, as the company name suggests, is at the cutting edge of technological developments and six years ago invested in its first 5-axis machine.
Explains Managing Director, Hugh Watson:
“The type of manufacturing we’re involved in is characterised by short production runs (prototypes and one-offs through to medium volume batch sizes), with an emphasis on part quality, short lead times and quick turnarounds, and cost-competitiveness.
“We knew that the nature of our work was ideal for 5-axis machining and, as a consequence, invested in a standalone machining centre back in 2008, as a route to increasing our productivity levels and making us more efficient.”
So far so good but Hugh Watson knew that, when the time was right, even greater productivity and performance gains could be achieved by automating the 5-axis machining process.
This thinking led him to explore the potential of machines with integrated automation (essentially automatic work-piece pallet changers and generous sized tool changers for long, uninterrupted machining, and sophisticated CAD/CAM software to drive and regulate the process).
Hugh Watson continues:
“There are 168 hours in a week.
“My view was and is to optimise the machining process so that a majority of these hours aren’t ‘lost’ in unprofitable activities like job set-ups etc.”
As it turned out the catalyst that drove Innova to firm-up its 5-axis machine-with-automation plans came from one of the company’s long-standing customers who approached Innova with the opportunity to handle more of its work.
Continues Hugh Watson:
“Straight away we could see that the additional workload would put pressure on our existing machining capacity and capabilities we set about investigating the automation route more thoroughly.”
Key considerations for Innova included:
- Whether to invest in a new or a pre-owned machine.
- The level of automation required to deliver the productivity and performance benefits required.
Says Hugh Watson:
“We believed that a ‘universal’ 5-axis machine capable of machining different materials (aluminium, steel, Stainless, titanium etc.), and one with integrated multi-pallet stations designed for small batch production would be the best bet.”
The choice was further narrowed by Innova’s decision to invest in a used machine.
“New 5-axis machines are expensive and, as a consequence, payback takes longer”, explains Hugh Watson. “As this was our first foray into a machine with integrated automation we decided to invest in a well looked after, pre-owned machine with a proven track record.”
Following a visit to the Southern Manufacturing Show in February 2013 where Innova saw a GF Machining Solutions’ 5-axis machine tool technology in action and, later in the year, a visit to Lotus F1 Team’s facility in Enstone to see a number of GF Machining Solutions’ 5-axis machines (with automation) operating in a production environment – the decision was made.
The used Mikron UCP 600 Vario acquired by Innova is a compact machine equipped with an 18,000rpm high-performance spindle, a 7-station automatic pallet changer and a 220-position ATC.
The machine provides Innova with much-needed additional manufacturing capacity and flexibility, and its integrated automation enables the company to run the Vario overnight and at weekends.
Since January 2014, it has been running around the clock.
Comments Hugh Watson:
“The Vario is in constant use. During normal working hours it is being used to machine a range of parts and its 7-pallet capacity means that we can load and set-up jobs ready for lights-out operation at nights.
“We haven’t hit 168 hours constant production yet – but we’re getting there!”
By using the machine in this way Innova is getting a more than favourable return on its investment and is more productive than before.
Concludes Hugh Watson:
“The decision to invest in a pre-owned Mikron 5-axis machine with automation has been a good one.”
About the company
Innova provides customers with integrated and complementary product design and machining services.
It is a progressive, forward-looking company committed to continuous improvement and sustainable and profitable growth.
This commitment is evident across all aspects of the business most notably in the company’s recruitment and training strategies and through its regular (and prudent) investment in improving its plant, equipment, processes and systems.
A case in point, in addition to its recent 5-axis machine tool investment, is the company’s attitude to training.
Explains Hugh Watson:
“To increase our manufacturing capabilities and capacity we have implemented an ambitious Apprentice Training Programme within the company.
“Out of the 15 people employed here at Innova – four are apprentices.”
Innova’s Apprenticeship Programme, run in conjunction with local colleges and administered by training and consultancy agency PETA Training Ltd, provides young people with employment (at Innova), combined with structured training and the opportunity to achieve nationally recognised qualifications.
From Innova’s perspective the Programme has helped the company address its own skills shortages now and in the future.