Tools for the trade

Multi-tasking machine tools allow UK contractor to bid for new work


Investing in state-of-the-art production systems is a daunting prospect, both in terms of the costs involved and the operational difficulties of bringing new technology online and up to speed.

The results, however, can often be rapid and startling where it matters most — in new business opportunities and on the financial bottom line.

Stockport-based machining subcontractor CTL Engineering took the leap when it began using Mazak machine tool technology to produce landing gear components for a military aircraft project.

CTL boasts expertise in machining different materials, with components weighing up to 10 tonnes and recently installed three Mazak machines, including two Integrex e-650H-II multi-tasking machine tools.

‘These machines have taken us into an area of manufacturing that our existing capacity didn’t allow for,’ said Ian Booth, CTL’s managing director. ‘While we already had a large capacity machining capability, it was based around horizontal machining centres and vertical turning lathes. The added flexibility of the Integrex machines is allowing us to quote for work that would previously have been uneconomical for us due to the complexity of components requiring multiple set-ups. Now, with the capability to machine components in a single set-up, we are proving to be highly competitive.’

According to Booth, moving from conventional CNC machining to machining components in one hit (done-in-one) proved a bigger challenge than the company expected, but it paid off in terms of winning contracts.

Once the first Integrex had been installed CTL began discussions with a major customer in the aerospace and defence sector and this generated an order for the first operation, machining of raw forgings for undercarriage parts for the military aircraft project. Mazak’s Integrex e-650H-II was used for these particular components as it can tool-change boring bars over 1m in length, which is ideal for a component with a requirement to drill, from solid, a hole 130mm diameter by 1m depth. This hole is then bored and flat-bottomed.

‘The new cycle time for this component is one that we would not have believed possible,’ said Booth. ‘We also have excellent process security and reliability, and the machine is handling the whole process very nicely. What we saw as a really critical operation is now quite simple.’

As a result, the customer requested that CTL investigate the possibility of taking on the second machining operation, which was being completed in-house at that time. The subcontractor purchased a second machine to finish turning of the hardened component while ensuring capacity and continuity of production.

‘The addition of the Integrex machines has opened up the opportunity to look at areas of manufacturing that we were previously excluded from. Although we are competing for work against other companies with similar capacity, we have the benefit of our experience across a much wider range of manufacturing sectors and of working in different materials that others may not have,’ said Booth.

The Integrex boasts a 920mm maximum machining diameter and 3m machining length, with traverse rates of 40m/min in the X, Y and Z axes combined with a B-axis movement of 240° and C-axis rotation of 360°. The metal removal capability is provided by a 45kW, 1,600rpm turning spindle together with a 37kW, 10,000rpm milling spindle. For the deep, down-hole work performed at CTL, a high-pressure coolant system is used.

CTL was recently awarded a contract by a customer that specialises in the restoration of Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. As part of that work it has to replace or renew the propellers and hubs, which previously involved a high level of manual finishing. The company is currently working with Yamazaki Mazak to evaluate how these components can be fully machined on the Integrex machines.

CTL has also just purchased a Mazak 800mm twin-pallet, horizontal machining centre, the horizontal centre Nexus 8800-II, equipped with a D’Andrea U-180 contouring head. ‘This is the first Mazak HCN 8800-II machine in the UK to be fitted with a head like this,’ said Booth. ‘Virtually all of our machining centre work requires contouring, and the addition of this head effectively makes the machine a five-axis machining centre.’

The HCN 8800-II will be used to machine a variety of components and has enabled CTL to address an imbalance in capacity that had been affecting the delivery times it was able to quote customers.

‘The HCN 8800-II will create additional capacity and allow CTL to approach new and existing customers to quote for work that would otherwise have been beyond our capabilities,’ said Booth. ‘We had a certain amount of work for it before it was installed but the residual capacity, when combined with the two Integrex machines, is now providing added flexibility to our production scheduling.’