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Qualiturn has minimised set-up times through ongoing investment in engineering software and computer-controlled storage systems for raw material and tools.

The latest investment, in June 2009, was the purchase of CADCAM software from OneCNC.

The Windows-based module has integrated functionality from CAD design though to machine posting.

The package allows electronic 3D data supplied by customers to be translated and converted rapidly into NC code for running on the company’s 16 Star sliding-head CNC lathes and two Miyano fixed-head mill-turn centres.

‘Customers are asking us to produce increasingly complicated components to even higher accuracies,’ said managing director, Nick Groom.

‘Until recently, we had to program 3D profiles manually, which often delayed the start of production.

‘The OneCNC software generates complex tool paths directly from the original CAD data, which is quick and eliminates the risk of human error.

‘We still write the remainder of the program at the machine control, as it is faster for simple routines.

‘The two parts are then merged to create the final code much more quickly than before.

‘It is also possible to simulate a cutting cycle on-screen to make sure a program will run as expected,’ he added.

Lead time from receipt of order to first article inspection of complex components is therefore faster than before, helping to reduce set-up time.

Assisting further in speeding changeover is rapid delivery of material and tools to the machines, helped by Qualiturn’s investment in a 7.5m-high tower for storing bar stock and a smaller version for housing tooling and machine attachments.

The latter was installed at the end of 2008, making it faster to access collets, bushes, toolholders and other items than when they were held in chests of drawers on the shop floor.

Some boxes of special cutting tools are also housed in the multi-level store along with toolholders for regularly repeating jobs, but most cutters and tips are stored in an Autocrib.

The subcontractor operates the multi-level tool store differently from the bar store.

The latter is linked directly into a PSL Datatrack production management system, which automatically calls up the bar and delivers it to an unloading area at floor level as a job starts its progression through the Hertford factory.

Within the tool store, the content of each shelf is similarly held within the Datatrack memory, but the operator manually keys in the appropriate shelf number at a control panel to access the tooling.

Speeding machine set-up not only makes smaller batches more economical but also reduces spindle downtime, helping to extract maximum productivity from all of the subcontractor’s plant.

Attendant technologies from job sales order processing and workshop scheduling through to CNC inspection and billing, all linked into and overseen by Datatrack, similarly contribute to maximising throughput.

So too does the speed of the latest CNC lathes, which have higher feed rates and spindle speeds and enhanced capabilities compared with machines that are just a decade old.

Qualiturn adopts a policy of renewing its machines after eight years at the latest.

The most recently installed Stars, for example, have up to 35m/min rapid feeds and are capable of cutting cycles that are twice as fast as older machines.

Along with quicker set-ups, the inherent speed of modern machines also helps to lower unit production costs.

A further contribution to this goal is Qualiturn’s consultancy service, whereby a new component design can be reappraised and suggestions made as to how it could be modified to reduce the cost of machining.

The service is provided at no extra charge, on the basis that the subcontractor’s service will give it a commercial advantage.

Real cost savings are possible.

Groom points to a recent aerospace job where Qualiturn engineers looked at different shaft diameter and material combinations to optimise production of a non-critical component.

In another example, a 15 per cent cost reduction was achieved when machining an automotive component by mill-turning it in one hit from 20mm diameter brass bar rather than using expensive extrusion.

Although 1,000-off is a typical batch size for Qualiturn and turnaround time is currently one to two weeks, Groom said that his company regularly produces 10,000 and 20,000-off, but less frequently since the start of the year.

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