More than £2 million has been spent upgrading the Heller Machine Tools manufacturing plant and headquarters.
The administrative and applications engineering departments have benefitted from a comprehensive makeover, a new customer area for machine demonstrations has been added, and production of horizontal machining centres has risen by some 30%.
The Worcestershire factory started operating in 1995, 21 years after the UK subsidiary of Heller Maschinenfabrik GmbH was formed.
As part of the latest upgrade, activities in Redditch have expanded into the assembly of five-axis machines in addition to four-axis models — all destined for world markets.
The site is also a ‘global competence centre’ for high-precision turn-key projects and “innovative manufacturing solutions”.
David Evans, operations manager at the plant, said: “As part of our expansion, we recently installed an 11-station Strothmann flow line and a new logistics system for the manufacture of horizontal machining centres.
“Originally, our machine assembly was purely a ‘mechanical process’ on a flow line, and the machine had to be lifted off to be finished in a separate part of the factory.
“When we first moved from the block assembly of machines in one location to the old flow line, there was an immediate 20% increase in productivity.
“The new Strothmann system has resulted in a further reduction of at least 20% in overall assembly time, and we intend to improve on that further by making the process even leaner.”
The mechanical assembly of horizontal machining centres is completed at the first four stations in the line (all bed assembly is carried out off-line, and the casting is delivered to the first Strothmann carriage with the linear guideways already fitted).
Most of the pre-assembled groups of components are added at this first station, including the machine column, the pallet changer and the ‘energy unit’ powering the hydraulics and pneumatics.
The carriage is raised pneumatically and pushed along rails set in the floor to the next station location, where the air pressure is released to allow the carriage to sink to the floor — a process that takes about 2min.
The main part of the work here is to attach the electrical cabinet, which is craned across from another part of the factory.
Some of the ancillary equipment (including cables and pipework) is also fitted.
At the third station, two further ‘major groups’ are added — the tool magazine and changer assembly and the machine guarding. Station four completes the mechanical assembly phase and sees all of the pipework and cabling routed.
Electrical commissioning, which can take from two to four days (depending on the technicality of the software, customisation and everything else that needs to be completed), occupies the next one or two stations.
Later stations in the line are used in a similarly flexible manner, according to the amount of work required; this includes geometric alignment and laser calibration of the axes.
The last part of the process is to machine an NAS (National Aerospace Standard) test piece, which is inspected by an independent team of metrology staff to give the customer a guarantee of the machine’s accuracy.
Once each horizontal machining centre reaches the end of the line and is removed for despatch, the Strothmann carriage is lifted by crane and carried back to the start of the line to begin the process again.
At every stage of the manufacturing process, the work carried out on the machine is documented by the individuals concerned, providing full traceability as required in order to comply with the factory’s ISO 9001 accreditation.
Matthias Meyer, Heller’s managing director in the UK, said: “The fact that we manufacture these machines here is of benefit to our customers in the UK and Ireland.
“Not only do our staff have a level of product knowledge that is much deeper than it would be otherwise, we can also call on shopfloor operatives — who are all apprentice-trained — to help out with installation, commissioning and service, if required.
“Another benefit is that customers are welcome to visit us and see their machining centre being built, if it happens to be a model that we produce at Redditch.
“That said, whatever machine they are buying, they can see the quality of engineering input, which is standard across all of our factories.”