12 Apr 2012
A new venture — manufacturing
Following the installation of a turning centre, Ash Safety no longer sub-contracts its machining
Ash Safety has established an enviable reputation for assembling, servicing and hiring out advanced high-quality safety equipment, as well as providing City & Guilds-accredited training for users of its equipment.
However, company founder André Beard does not always play it safe, having decided recently to move into the ‘riskier world’ of manufacturing in a bid to take advantage of the difficult times facing a number of his competitors. He has also invested in test equipment that allows his Honiton-based business to assess and certify other companies’ safety products, thereby creating a new income stream as an approved test centre.
Before installing a new XYZ TC 320 LTY turning centre in 2011, various components were being machined on a sub-contract basis; this situation entailed Mr Beard holding stock to avoid problems caused by late deliveries — a situation that impacted on cash flow and also inhibited product design and development. Another factor that influenced his decision to begin manufacturing was his determination to boost the skills of his employees, with the longer-term intention of identifying individuals who could eventually take over the day-to-day management of the company.
In this aspect of the business, he has been helped by the Business Link High Growth Skills Service, which prompted the implementation of a company-wide appraisal process; it also provided access to a series of free ‘workshops’ covering the strategic, financial management and marketing skills needed to take the business forward in the years ahead. Moreover, help and applications advice have been readily forthcoming from the supplier of the turning centre — Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools Ltd (www.xyzmachinetools.com - Tel: 01823 674200).
The TC 320 LTY has a 45hp main spindle capable of 3,300rev/min, plus a Y axis that can travel 50mm above and below the centre-line, making easy work of components that would otherwise require separate milling and turning operations. Canned cycles cater for common machining functions such as stock removal against contour; and the simple conversational programming of the Siemens 828D ShopTurn control means that the entire sequence from drawing to finished part takes the minimum number of operator key-strokes. “I wanted a machine that could complete my components in a single set-up,” says Mr Beard. “Once the programming and the tooling were sorted, I didn’t want anyone touching the machine — apart from loading a new length of bar. Despite not having worked a machine tool since my teens, I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve. In fact, as soon as XYZ realised that I could get my head around programming the Siemens control system, they helped me write some of the more difficult programs. The applications people involved have been brilliant.”
To date, the most difficult part to program has been a 74mm-long brass pawl that is one of six such components used in a safety-locking mechanism. There are no turning operations involved, and this component would traditionally be classified as a milling job. Instead, it is machined from 32mm-diameter bar using driven tools at 90deg to the Z axis to drill, ream, pocket, engrave and profile. The original intention was then to part-off in conventional fashion, but that is not how it is actually done. Instead an 8mm-diameter milling cutter is used to machine a small tab, leaving just enough material in place to allow what is now a fully machined component to fall away under its own weight.
“If I had opted to mill this particular component, it would have needed someone to be on hand ready to turn the part over, making it a two set-up job,” says Mr Beard. “I can’t spare the people or the time, and that’s why I bought this turning centre. I am an engineer in that I design these parts, but I do look at their manufacture rather differently. We program on the machine straight from drawing and then run a graphical simulation to ensure that what we want to machine is going to be what comes out at the end.
“I fully expect to write off some tooling in pursuit of optimum feeds and speeds, but the cost is insignificant by comparison to what we had been paying to have these parts made — and waiting anything up to 12 weeks for them to arrive. I no longer have to hold up to £1/2 million of stock, and I can make design changes wherever I happen to be. I can download the amended data to a USB and then to the machine control. How simple is that? Moreover, I know for a fact that I can set every tool on this turning centre in 15min or less, which is another good reason why I am now looking forward to the installation of a 52mm bar-capacity XYZ Compact Turn 52 LTY with Y axis and live-tooling capability.”