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Investing, automating . . . and expanding

Sub-contractor invests in five-axis cell with pallet storage and retrieval system — and more follows

Posted on 30 Mar 2020 and read 891 times
Investing, automating  . . .  and expandingFounded in 1984 and having moved several times to larger premises to cope with almost continuous growth in turnover, Norjon Precision Engineering expanded yet again at the end of 2018; it acquired an adjacent unit on the Quay West Business Centre in Gosport, enlarging the factory to 17,500ft2.

Alongside this increase in shopfloor space, the sub-contractor has invested substantial sums annually, with £2 million spent during 2018 and 2019 and £1.2 million spent on capital plant in the first quarter of 2020.

A pivotal moment in Norjon’s development was the decision in 2016 by owner and managing director Kevin Fox to automate a large proportion of the company’s production.

One of the latest machine acquisitions was a Hermle C 400 five-axis milling centre fitted with the manufacturer’s HS Flex automated storage and retrieval system for eight 500 x 400mm pallets.

The turn-key cell, with touch-screen control for ‘smart’ order management and connectivity for remote monitoring, was supplied in October 2019 by Gosport-based Kingsbury (www.kingsburyuk.com).

This joined another two automated Hermle five-axis cells (delivered in 2018) — a C 22 U and a C 12 U, both equipped with Erowa storage systems for exchanging smaller pallets.

Another Hermle C 12 U, this time equipped with a Dutch-made Halter robotic system for automated component loading and unloading, was delivered in February and will work round the clock machining vehicle engine parts; and with a further two machines scheduled for installation, Norjon will soon be operating nine of these German-built five-axis machines.

Mr Fox said: “In 2016, we often made batches of six-off prismatic parts of fairly high complexity.

“Even though we are a long-time user of five-axis equipment, which helps to make components in one hit and mitigate some of the time and cost of manufacture, it was easy to lose money on those jobs, with all the programming and setting that was needed; so we took the decision to go after contracts for much larger batches of components — more like 50- or 60-off, but still complex in nature and requiring substantial machining time.

“When one of our established customers in the medical industry ordered larger volumes of parts that we were already making, it was the trigger for us to move towards automation with the purchase of our first Hermle five-axis cell.”

Minimal supervision

Norjon now operates five automated prismatic machining centres, including one from another supplier.

Mr Fox said they allow virtually continuous production, with minimal operator supervision throughout the night and at weekends, as well as during the day.

“The factory really sings now, whereas before some machines might not be running, as they would be waiting for fixtures or programs; the difference is amazing.”

The C 400 with HS Flex has been installed in the factory extension, together with the existing C 20 and a spark eroder.

With storage for eight pallets on four levels and extended tool capacity (totalling 81 positions), the Hermle was bought to fulfil a contract requiring the delivery of 10 assemblies per week to a customer in the automotive industry.

The two parts, which are towards the larger end of compon-ents produced by Norjon, require 10hr and 5hr machining respectively from solid aluminium (and were initially milled and drilled on an un-automated C 400).

Mr Fox says considerable extra capacity has been gained, due to the HS Flex running unattended for long periods.

Norjon now concentrates on working for four large companies in the medical, food, automotive and marine propulsion industries.

In the case of the latter sector, it has recently become a preferred supplier to BAE Systems Maritime, which was the reason for installing the first Hermle mill-turn centre, as it allows turning of parts up to 800mm in diameter and prismatic machining within an 800 x 800 x 550mm work envelope.

The new C 52 MT will extend Norjon’s mill-turn capacity to a nominal 1m cube.

Mr Fox concluded: “We started buying five-axis Hermles back in 2007, as we could achieve an almost polished finish when machining aluminium and brass thermoforming moulds for the production of plastic food packaging.

“For our latest round of investment, we have returned to the same manufacturer, due to our good experience with its machines over the years, its strong offering in automation involving its own and third-party solutions, and the excellent back-up provided by Kingsbury.”