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Investing to ‘work smarter’ at Hollygate

Twin-pallet five-axis machining centres offer high levels of machine utilisation aircraft components manufacturer

Posted on 29 May 2020 and read 393 times
Investing to ‘work smarter’ at HollygateThe success of a Heckert HEC 800 X5 five-axis machining centre undertaking titanium machining at the Hyde Group’s Hollygate Aircraft Components company led to the installation of a similar machine at a sister company — Victoria Production Engineering — to process stainless-steel parts.

Both X5s — supplied by Birmingham-based Starrag UK Ltd (www.starrag.com) — have enabled the companies to ‘work smarter’ by introducing twin-pallet machining instead of single-station three-axis working; this has led to ‘unprecedented utilisation levels’.

Furthermore, features such as integrated spindle monitoring, high-pressure coolant and ‘excellent’ swarf removal support unmanned working, while a high level of tool-holding stability results in improved tool life.

Both companies are part of the Aero Products division of the Hyde Group — a North West-based engineering services provider that specialises in design, manufacture, tooling and support for a global ‘blue-chip’ customer base that includes such companies as Airbus, BAE Systems, Boeing, Embraer, GKN Aerospace, Leonardo, MBDA and Rolls-Royce.

Paul Mellor, divisional technical director, says that rising demand for a particular titanium workpiece at Stockport-based Hollygate spurred the search for “an improved way of working that would allow us to replace on a machine-for-machine basis and effectively gain ‘more from the same’ in terms of floor-space and manpower requirements — hence the installation of the initial Heckert HEC 800 X5.

One of my roles is to work with all 10 companies in the Aero Products division on investment plans that will meet both current and forecast demands — and ensure that we are installing fit-for-purpose and value-for-money production machinery.”

Demanding test

Mr Mellor added: “Our request for process improvements — based on using a test piece that required heavy roughing, pocket machining, long-edge profiling, and face and plunge milling — was sent to six potential machine suppliers; Starrag was the only one that could meet the brief.

“We have been cutting titanium for over 30 years, so seeing Starrag’s proposals for process improvement — based on the implementation of different feeds and speeds, for example, as well as the use of a trunnion table for four-/five-axis working — were ‘very interesting’, bearing in mind that the components in question had been designed for three-axis machining.

“We chose the five-axis Heckert HEC 800 X5 with an up-rated gear-driven spindle because we not only wanted improved access to certain machined features on this existing part but also needed a certain amount of future-proofing —
in terms of spindle power — for potential new work, while also being able to take advantage of any improvements in tooling technology.”

StarragWith a work envelope of 1,450 x 1,100 x 1,300mm, the Heckert HEC 800 X5 not only easily accommodates the existing titanium workpiece but also has the capacity for larger five-axis work, as it offers an 80-position tool magazine and 800 x 1,000mm pallets, which can accommodate loads up to 1,200kg.

Mr Mellor, who has been with the Group for 24 years (he started as a machine programmer/operator in 1995 and became divisional technical director in 2007), says that similar process improvement strategies were used for the stainless-steel workpieces being machined by Victoria Production Engineering in Manchester.

“Two aspects were of particular significance: Starrag’s introduction of the use of special hydraulic ‘sleeve’ clamping via the machine’s hydraulics system to consistently hold — but not deform — the thin-wall tubular parts; and the application of long-reach angle milling heads on the Heckert HEC 800 X5.

“The Heckert machine is used solely for internal milling on these pre-turned workpieces. The angle milling heads, which are either 280 or 375mm long, reach into the workpieces and perform all milling tasks. The heads are held and automatically changed by the machine’s tool changer.”

In conclusion, Mr Mellor said: “We want ‘best in class’ in everything we do as a group. We are always looking to improve, hence our six-year Sharing In Growth programme, which has focused on reduced lead times, on-time delivery and ‘right first time’ production — and has impacted all departments.

“This is now being followed by the group-wide quest for the SC21 performance standard, which embraces the importance of high-standard quality and delivery measures. It is all about producing components that are ‘right first time’ — every time. The Starrag machines and processes are fine examples of how we do that.”