Research into turn-milling at Queen’s University

Belfast university aims to help manufacturers improve their manufacturing capabilities

Posted on 30 Oct 2018 and read 933 times
Research into turn-milling at Queen’s UniversityA £7.5 million advanced-manufacturing technology facility was launched in June this year at Queen’s University Belfast.

Its aim is to give manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland and beyond — from one-man-bands through SMEs to large multi-national OEMs — a range of services designed to improve their production efficiency.

These services include consultancy, collaborative research and development, industrial training, ‘intervention for problem solving’ and cycle-time reduction — and they are designed to take manufacturing processes from product inception through to pre-production.

Acquiring the new equipment required by the facility, which is based at the Northern Ireland Technology Centre (NITC — and is located within the university, took 21 months and saw the installation of seven new metal-cutting machine tools, as well as a host of inspection and scientific equipment.

The NITC is developing into a regional centre of excellence for machining titanium, as well as aluminium structural components for aircraft; it is also working closely with leading global aerospace companies.

Indeed, it has completed more than 50 knowledge-transfer partnerships for Innovate UK, an area in which the university as a whole is said to “lead the way across Britain and Northern Ireland”.

The lathe ordered in the first round of investment was a twin-spindle Index G220 turn-mill centre supplied by Gosport-based Kingsbury (, the sole agent in the UK and Ireland for the German machine tool manufacturer.

It was installed in January this year and was immediately put to use “optimising a production process” for an air-bearing manufacturer in England, while the company was waiting for its own G220 machine to arrive.

Ideal solution

The availability of a similar machine in Northern Ireland, together with NITC staff on hand to investigate various applications and develop efficient Industry 4.0-compliant process routes, was an ideal solution — plus the centre was able to machine batches of air bearing components and thereby mitigate a recurring production bottleneck in the bearing manufacturer’s factory.

Colm Higgins, head of the NITC, said: “The Index turn-mill machine is currently being used to evaluate the possibility of raising the efficiency of rough-turning stainless-steel bar.

“In collaboration with our customer, we are hoping to develop a technique that replaces single-point turning with a process that uses a milling cutter in the B-axis spindle.

“Spreading the cutting load across several inserts — rather than just one — as the bar is turning will considerably increase the feed per tooth and hence the metal removal rate, leading to reduced cycle times.

“Admittedly, accuracy and surface finish would not be as good, but for a roughing operation, that does not matter.

“We are also reviewing other turn-milling processes for this manufacturer.”

The Index G220 at Queen’s University Belfast has a 65mm bar capacity and is fitted with an LNS short-bar feeder. Furthermore, the B-axis spindle is positioned above the spindle centre-line and is supplied with cutters from a 140-tool magazine.

There is also a lower turret with 18 driven stations; moreover, both tool carriers can move in X, Y and Z — and operate at either spindle.

Similar development projects are highlighting the capabilities of the six other new machine tools installed at the NITC, all of which are machining centres.

Four are parallel-kinematic machines, an area of particular focus for Mr Higgins and his team of 12 engineers — a head-count that will increase by 50% by the end of 2018.

The other two machines are a conventional five-axis model and a three-axis vertical-spindle model.

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