HEL motorcycle component production

West Country manufacturer installs turn-key milling cells for machining braking-system parts

Posted on 04 Dec 2018 and read 1246 times
HEL motorcycle component productionThe motorcycle after-market parts specialist HEL Performance (www.helperformance.com) was established 20 years ago; for the past 10 years, it manufactured its brake-line fittings in-house from stainless-steel bar using an array of sliding-head CNC lathes, of which 14 are currently in use.

The company’s aim was to have full control over not only the design but also the production and quality of these products.

Therefore, Exeter-based HEL Performance could not have moved further away from its ‘comfort zone’ earlier this year, when it decided to make two new families of prismatically machined components (master cylinders and radially mounted brake calipers) from solid aluminium billets; and recognising that turn-key production systems were needed, managing director Simon Lane researched the market for a suitable machine tool supplier.

This exercise resulted in the purchase of three Speedio machining centres — built by the Japanese company Brother and supplied by Kenilworth-based Whitehouse Machine Tools Ltd (www.wmtcnc.com).

Complete with tooling, fixtures and programs, two of the machines are S700X1 four-axis 21-station turret-type models installed in March and June, while the third is an M140X2 trunnion-type five-axis machine with a 22-position tool magazine. This was installed in August.

Mr Lane said: “With no track record of prismatic machining, we undertook a research project — in conjunction with the University of the West of England in Bristol — to study the feasibility of producing the new parts, and we subsequently installed a second-hand three-axis mill to produce some components to get a feel for the process.

“However, it became clear that this type of 40-taper machine would be too slow for economical series production, so we opted for 30-taper machining centres, which are extremely fast and ideal for milling aluminium continuously.”

HEL 2The cutting feed rate in the 700 x 400 x 300mm axes of the S700X1s is 30m/min (the rapid-traverse rate is significantly faster), and the tool change time is 1.4sec chip-to-chip (performed at the same time as X- and Y-axis movements and rotation of the indexer).

Moreover, the machines are compact, with a footprint just above 4.5m2, while Brother’s latest CNC-C00 control provides fast processing, a wide range of functions and high levels of machining accuracy.

The M140X2 has the same control and is similarly fast throughout its 200 x 440 x 305mm work envelope. The maximum cutting feed rate is identical, and non-cutting motions take place simultaneously in all five axes to minimise idle time.

The spindle has a 0.2sec start/stop time, while the turning table accelerates from zero to 2,000rev/min in less than 0.3sec. A trunnion holding force of 400Nm without the need for mechanical clamping delivers high-speed indexing combined with rigidity when milling parts at an angle.

Saving energy

A particular benefit of these modern Brother machines is that they have been designed with energy-saving measures in mind, including LED lighting and power regeneration from the high-efficiency motors.

Indeed, power consumption is up to 80% less compared with the manufacturer’s earlier machining centres; this is of particular help to HEL Performance, as its factory is located in the Devon countryside at the end of an electricity spur.

Had machines requiring more power been installed, it would have been necessary to invest in a new sub-station to provide sufficient power.

The S700X1 machines are currently devoted to producing either ‘100’ or ‘108’ caliper sets in two operations, using bespoke four-station fixtures on either side of a trunnion, so that two completed components come off each machine every time the doors open.

In the M140X2, one master cylinder is produced in two operations in a total cycle time of 1hr.

When fully operational, each of the three Speedio machines will produce around 100 components per week, based on a single 8hr shift per weekday.

HELMr Lane foresees quantities rising four-fold in the next five years, and he has already expressed interest in acquiring a Brother Feedio robotic component-handling system to increase production efficiency and introduce unattended running overnight.

Moreover, positioning the automation unit to the side allows it to serve two machines, while maintaining accessibility to the working areas of the Speedios from the front.

In conclusion, Mr Lane said: “While many after-market parts in our industry are produced from castings or forgings, we specialise in machining ours from solid billet.

“Customers really appreciate the beautiful fettled finish we achieve and often visit our factory to see the parts being made.

“Word spreads quickly in the motorcycling world, and several manufacturers of British heritage brands, having heard of our new production capacity, have already asked us whether we would consider making other prismatically machined bike parts — including top yokes, engine covers, fork stanchions and various brackets.

“Having top-class highly productive equipment like the Brother machines allows us to seriously consider these proposals, with their potential to expand and grow our business considerably.”

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