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An automated ammunition facility, created under project prime contractor Mills CNC, has been commissioned as part of the Mass partnership between BAE Systems and the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Mass (Munitions Acquisition – the Supply Solution) is aimed at delivering increased supplies of ammunition to troops by modernising and ensuring the sustainability of the UK munitions industry.

Although due to be relocated to a new GBP28m facility in Washington, County Durham, the recently installed manufacturing facility is currently operating at BAE Systems’ Birtley plant.

Operating alongside an existing, manually operated facility, the new manufacturing cell removes operators from potentially hazardous areas, occupies a quarter of the space, requires four less operators per shift, has increased product quality and has increased available capacity.

The overall system comprises four progressive separate robot-loaded manufacturing cells capable of independent operation and allows maintenance and retooling to be undertaken without stopping production.

The system is designed to manufacture 105mm and 155mm artillery shells with quick-changeover routines embodied into the manufacturing processes.

The order was awarded by BAE Systems to Mills CNC, which took responsibility as the prime contractor for the complete project.

Cells one to three each have two Doosan Puma 400C CNC lathes, while the fourth cell has a single Puma 400C.

Each cell includes a Fanuc Robotics R2000iB/175 robot, which loads the machines, and a variety of peripheral equipment required to complete the process.

Shells are progressively machined in each cell, with transfer between cells managed by outputting machined parts onto pallet conveyors designed by Ewab Engineering Group for collection by the robot in the next cell.

These link conveyors also provide a minimum buffer storage to allow continuous production, even when a machine is stopped for re-tooling.

Lean manufacturing processes are employed to identify waste within the system and, to ensure the system will run continuously with planned stoppages, to individual machines.

On receipt of order, Mills CNC contracted the system integration of equipment and communications to Fanuc Robotics UK.

’Communications are enabled through I/O at machine level, with the Fanuc Profibus interface enabling significant volumes of data to be collected for OEE [overall equipment effectiveness] calculations and display of system performance through a large central monitor positioned on the shop floor,’ said Jeff Robson, Mass transformation engineer for BAE Systems Birtley.

Advanced manufacturing software has allowed BAE Systems to develop and apply strict controls throughout the machining process, re-tooling, material supply and maintenance procedures; SMS messages and email prompts are activated by the system to specific team members to ensure that the required human intervention is made when needed.

The four Fanuc R-2000iB robots each have specially engineered grippers designed by Fanuc Robotics; these handle the shell either on its outside diameter or the fuse-bore internal diameter.

Each cell has two-way powered conveyors for periodic part inspection outside the working area of the cells.

Cells three and four both have marking systems developed by Pryor into which the cell robot positions and holds the shell as information, defined by the process, applied to the outside of the shell.

In addition, cell three involves a shell-weighing operation that feeds back information to the Puma 400C control system and results in the correct amount of material being machined to maintain a consistent mass of each shell.

One cell includes an advanced robotic flaw detect inspection system using Eddy-current and phased-array technologies supplied by NDT into which the cell robot loads and unloads machined shells.

In another cell, the robot picks and loads a copper driving band to a pre-machined groove, which is then pressed to fit in a two-press operation designed by Orwin.

Linear rails are employed in two cells to provide the respective robots with a greater working range to service the machines and various ancillary equipment involved in the cell processes.

’We are due to start to move to the new facility in September and this system is already effectively contributing to the efficient cost-down manufacture of munitions for the MoD,’ said Robson.

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