10 Jul 2012
UK companies invest to maintain growth
FMS, new machines and tooling supplier partnerships are highlighted as key success factors
Back in 2006, Clitheroe Light Engineering invested in what was then a ‘state of the art’ flexible manufacturing system. This was recently expanded, and the family-owned business continues to go from strength to strength as a result.
With 35 employees, Clitheroe Light Engineering is probably not typical of manufacturers making major investment in automated systems. However, the management team’s installation of the Mori Seiki/Fastems FMS has taken the company to new heights, resulting in the extension to the system.
Clitheroe’s managing director Helen Meloy says: “Since installing the first system, we have seen demand grow from existing and new customers. This meant that the decision to invest a further £1.4 million in expanding our manufacturing capacity was a fairly easy one to make; and discussions with our long-term customers that showed they were positive about growth in their businesses added further to our confidence in the investment.” The addition of two more Mori Seiki NH 5000 machining centres brings the total in the FMS to seven. The machines are supported by a 92-pallet Fastems work-handling system. This additional capacity was quickly taken up by the manufacture of hydraulic manifolds for existing customers in the mining and construction sectors, and this has led to further expansion; Clitheroe extended its factory by a further 1,000m2 and installed a number of Daewoo Puma mill-turn centres.
Helen Meloy says: “Where other sub-contracting companies have focused on buying stand-alone machines, we have spent over £4 million on automated manufacturing over the past six years. Any capital equipment that we buy as we move the business forward will be automated to some degree. While the emphasis over this six-year period has been on expanding our manufacturing capacity, we are also making certain that our employees are fully up to speed and are capable of increasing the capacity that we have. This is particularly the case within our FMS, as the skills needed to fully utilise this technology are a rare commodity.”
The FMS operates 24/7, while stand-alone machining centres run for 16hr per day, with up to 50% of that time unmanned. This level of operation puts pressure on other areas of the business, including the supply of raw material and cutting tools. The latter has been addressed via a long-term partnership with Sheffield-based WNT (UK) Ltd (www.wnt.de/en-en/), which has installed three of its Tool Service vending machines to service the 240-tool carousels on each of the Mori Seiki machines, as well as
other machines within the factory.
The availability of cutting tools round-the-clock is a valuable resource for Clitheroe, but the key element of the partnership with WNT is the service and advice provided by its technical sales team. “We enjoy working with WNT, as they understand the needs of small to medium-size sub-contracting companies like ours,” says Helen Meloy. “We certainly value the knowledge that Nigel Walls, our local sales engineer, gives us. He works closely with us and goes through each application systematically to provide the best solution for our business. It is re-assuring that he is an engineer first and a salesman second.” A major benefit of Tool Service for a business the size of Clitheroe is the reduction in administration. Tool stocks are monitored by WNT and replenished on a weekly basis (or more frequently, if demand increases), yet only a single invoice is issued for the entire cutting-tool usage in a month. The Tool Service system has also simplified tool management, which can include relating tool use to particular employees, machines and jobs, although Helen Meloy feels that this level of monitoring is not required at this point in time.
With a history dating back to 1927, Delapena Honing Equipment has witnessed many ups and downs along the way. Now, with a new management team, it is looking forward to a strong future as one of the UK’s few indigenous machine tool builders.
Probably the darkest hour for Delapena was in May 2006, when it was faced with liquidation by its then owners. The intervention of current managing director David Arthur saw the beginning of a remarkable turn-round — one that is continuing with investment in new manufacturing technology, people and processes.
Cheltenham-based Delapena gained fresh impetus in January 2010 when the company recruited Martin Elliott as operations manager; he took up the challenge of implementing a long-term plan of change that has already resulted in 10 new engineering recruits joining the business and modern manufacturing disciplines being put in place. One of the key areas addressed by Mr Elliott was the manufacture of components for the range of honing machines produced by Delapena. “When I joined the company, some 70% of machined components were sub-contracted. A review of the cost involved fully justified buying three XYZ machines, the latest of which has a fourth-axis capability. We now manufacture 95% of our components in-house.”
The purchase of the XYZ machines brought Delapena into contact with WNT (UK) — a partnership that has resulted in further productivity gains through cycle-time reductions. The first component that WNT and Delapena looked at had a cycle time of 90min, but that was reduced to 30min by applying modern tooling technology and re-engineering the part. Delapena’s partnership with WNT is enhanced by the synergies between the two companies, especially in the area of staff recruitment, with both businesses targeting people who have the skills required to drive the business forward. Mr Elliot says: “We are seeing massive opportunities to improve cycle times through the application of the latest in cutting-tool technology and the re-engineering of parts. Moreover, the work we are doing is also having a direct impact on improving the overall quality of the honing equipment we are manufacturing; and with 17,000 parts on our database, there is a lot of work still to be done.”
The technical support from WNT is backed up by its ability to respond quickly to the technical requests and ensure that tools are delivered as and when they are needed. “The volume of individual parts that we may be called on to supply is such that it simply isn’t possible to stock cutting tools to produce them all, so knowing that we can get anything from the WNT range delivered overnight is extremely reassuring. It gives us the flexibility we need.”