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Alfa Laval has selected H.Plus-630 horizontal machining centre (HMC) from Matsuura to improve the production of stainless-steel components at its Eastbourne facility.

Alfa Laval’s operations are based on three key technologies of heat transfer, separation and fluid handling.

The company currently has about 11,500 employees worldwide and has 20 large production units (12 in Europe, six in Asia and two in the US), and 70 service centres.

Core market orientation has been strengthened over recent years by the establishment of 10 customer segments within the business.

To promote a clear customer focus, these segments are divided into two divisions – process technology and equipment – which market and sell Alfa Laval products to specific customer groups.

In early 2009, engineering manager Andy Short and senior production engineer Steve Tidey began the process of researching the UK machine tool market place for the first in a series of replacement investments for their aging horizontal machines, linked into an FMS system at the company’s Eastbourne facility.

Eastbourne is the technology and manufacturing centre for rotary lobe pumps within the Alfa Laval Group.

The exacting specification of the machine, as well as the large amount of bespoke added engineering that would be essential on any new horizontal to meet the Alfa Laval’s stringent requirements, led the engineers to Matsuura Machinery and its H.Plus-630 horizontal.

Matsuura UK has a large technical engineering facility and showroom in Leicestershire, where machines from Japan are regularly re-engineered and upgraded to meet highly tailored and individual customer demands.

Andy Short said: ‘We have a technology development plan [TDP] for the Eastbourne site in order to constantly review our needs for the business and future production requirements – we knew that the current machine tool stock at the site were due for replacement under the TDP.

‘An integral part of the TDP process is to start by reviewing new available technologies and establish the best method for manufacturing the components in terms of machinery, work holding and cutting tools.

‘We started work with Seco Tools [a tooling partner] and explored some concepts on how we could approach these components to gain maximum productivity without compromising on quality.

‘From that we concluded that the solution had to be a horizontally aligned spindle configuration – and probably going back from the current FMS to a twin pallet machine.

‘The route from there was the tender put out to the UK machine tool market, choosing 10 companies to move forward with, one of which was Matsuura,’ he added.

The machine chosen was a Matsuura H.Plus-630 twin pallet horizontal.

Short said: ‘There are 20 production sites within Alfa Laval’s global group – and here in Eastbourne we are responsible for the complete manufacture of rotary lobe pumps, so our strategic core competence is the manufacture of stainless-steel components.

‘We predominantly work in stainless steel because the majority of our products are for use in sanitary environments – from food and drink processing to pharmaceuticals.

‘We produce five critical components in house and the rest we purchase,’ he added.

The H.Plus-630 was highly modified and tailored to Alfa Laval’s requirements in the UK by Matsuura engineers, which presented some challenges to the team.

Standard items fitted to the machine included: 70-bar programmable through spindle coolant; through spindle air; FSE swarf management; Balluf tool ID system; absolent mist extraction; APC operator load platform; and Renishaw NC4 and OMP60.

The trend in the market place for horizontals in recent years in the UK has been geared towards unmanned running and large pallet pools held in FMS systems, but Alfa Laval have reverted to stand-alone twin pallet machines with a dedicated operator.

Short said: ‘At the moment we have three horizontal machines within an FMS system and our core volume components are only loaded onto five to six pallets; the rest of the pallets were there to help us with the low-volume items requiring machining – so it gave us flexibility.

‘However, we did struggle with the manning arrangements on those machines and the management of the FMS was always problematic for us.

‘The efficiency is much better with one man dedicated to and operating one machine on a Rohm zero-point quick-change pallet system – loading pallets very quickly in a matter of minutes.

‘The Matsuura twin pallet allows pallet changing off the machine while machining is still going on utilising an active pallet inside the enclosure.

‘The existing FMS solution also has maintenance and uptime issues – particularly with the RGV [rail-guided vehicle] within the FMS – and gave us some major headaches when it failed and we had to undertake the manual loading of heavy items.

‘When the RGV on any FMS goes down, it stops production.

‘The twin pallet from Matsuura is part of a long-term investment strategy we have for the Eastbourne facility.

‘With the Matsuura I would say that we have set our technology platform for manufacturing our rotary lobe cases.

‘The twin pallet method is now set for the next five to 10 years,’ he added.

Alfa Laval also invested in Matsuura TPS Software, a tools and pallets scheduling software package designed to be utilised alongside Matsuura multi-pallet products.

Alfa Laval uses this software to predict tool life cycles and monitor the productivity and efficiency of the H.Plus-630.

Short said: ‘The Matsuura has so far performed very well and we are now ramping up to full production on the Matsuura.

‘Because of the productivity gains we are transferring more products across than originally planned to be processed by the H.Plus-630.

‘Our cycle times are 30-40 per cent quicker than previously achieved due to the speed of machine, tooling innovations and revised method of fixturing.

‘When we are fully operational, we expect to be running the H.Plus-630 on a two-shift system with the spindle cutting for at least 74 hours per week,’ he added.

Matsuura Machinery

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