Opportunity knocks

Continual technical developments in production hardware and software are helping engineering firms take advantage of opportunities in the current recession

While the rest of the economy struggles to find efficiencies wherever it can, the engineering sector can at least rely on continual technical innovation from equipment suppliers to help it meet the challenges of tough times.

This is particularly true of production technology, where the latest developments in both hardware and software can make the difference between just scraping by and making a healthy profit.

When opportunities do arrive in a difficult economic climate a company needs to be able to respond quickly. Subcontractor B-Tech Engineering was faced with the need to expand machining capacity to meet the demands of its customers in the motorsport and aerospace sectors.

Tooling represents a significant cost for companies and minimising that outlay is an important method of increasing profits for firms such as B-Tech.

Brian Turner, managing director of B-Tech, said the speed and rigidity of the Mori Seiki NH5000 DCG gave it the edge over the other options his company considered. DCG gives two ball-screws on each linear axis, which, according to the manufacturer, eliminates out-of-balance forces and keeps vibration to a minimum.

Turner said the direct drive motor on the B-axis and the integral spindle motor were other key features of the NH5000 DCG.

He added: ‘Not only do belt-driven machines produce a lot of vibration, but much of the machine’s power is lost in the mechanism. By contrast, the Mori Seiki’s stated power is what is actually achieved on the spindle.’

Turner said a horizontal machining centre was a good option for B-Tech as more of the part can be machined in one setting and kits of parts can be loaded to the pallet, resulting in a complete set in one cycle.

He explained that aerospace components often include holes and pockets at many different angles and the rotary table on the NH5000 DCG makes it easy to machine these features without repositioning the part.

Turner said: ‘The result is improved accuracy and shorter cycle time for each one.’

The ability to mount several components at once is another advantage for B-Tech, some of whose customers order kits. This helps the subcontractor co-ordinate production and shorten delivery times.

In an industry in which downtime equals lost profits, B-Tech is able to run the Mori Seiki uninterrupted for long periods.

On the software side of the equation, mechanical seal manufacturer Aesseal has boosted its efficiency by using Seiki Systems software to feed CAM programs to its CNC machine tools.

It now uses Seiki Systems’ Networked Manufacturing System (NMS) to get the CAM programs for the seal components onto the shopfloor, using it across all three of its UK sites.

Stuart Welsh, head of IT at Aesseal, said: ‘The NMS provides real-time data capture of the shopfloor utilisation for the 60 multi-axis turning and milling CNC machine tools we operate in the UK.’

According to Welsh, the software is good at enabling links to external systems, such as the product data management, document management or even ERP systems. He said: ‘The shopfloor has the visibility of the job required, the drawing file, the model of the part and any supporting information, such as critical set-up information. Tool lists are also shown, along with visual aids to depict how the tool should be assembled and how it should look on the machine.’

Welsh explained that the quality of the information has significantly reduced scrap levels since Aesseal began using it.

Indeed, the data captured by the Seiki NMS had allowed the company to more accurately plan its future investments. Welsh said: ‘We have recently acquired new machines to meet the demand for more complex components. A nine-axis Mori Seiki mill-turning centre allows both ends of a seal to be machined in one hit. This reduces the set-up time because all of the tools are available, and reduces the machining time as the part comes off complete.’

The Seiki NMS software supports the added functionality by providing a dynamic and visual picture of what is happening on the shopfloor by collecting data and reporting on processes.