Colne-based ELE Advanced Technologies Ltd
is a company with an aerospace pedigree that dates back to 1955 when Earby Light Engineers (ELE) was founded to manufacture compressor blades for Rolls-Royce. In the 65 years since, the company has expanded its scope by targeting the aerospace, power generation and automotive industry sectors.
In fact, the diversification into the automotive market, and in particular the commercial diesel market has seen the company open a production facility in Slovakia to supply global commercial diesel engine manufacturers.
In the last decade, the company has invested heavily in production equipment for the manufacture of IGT, aerospace and automotive power generation components and assemblies such as blades, vanes and a complete range of turbine components.
Part of this investment has included the installation of three Kitamura machining centres, with the latest machine arriving from East Sussex-based Dugard Machine Tools at the start of April — during the pandemic lockdown period.
The most recent purchase is the Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG/630, which is an identical model and specification to an HX500iG/630 that was installed in 2017. Plug in and play
David Dudley, ELE Advanced Technologies technical director, said: “The reason that we bought the third machine is that the process from the other two machines is such a repeatable process, we wanted a machine that we could plug in and play, and just start making components that will conform to specification perfectly.”
He added: “The parts we are making on the Kitamura machines are being installed on an industrial gas turbine engine and they are manufactured from exotic materials like nimonic. The parts have very tight tolerances and the materials are very difficult to machine.
“With the Kitamura machines, you can load a part, machine it and then be confident that when you put it on the CMM, everything will be 100% correct.”
Extending upon this point and referring to the long cycle times required with the parts, Mr Dudley said: “The beauty of the Mycenter HX500iG/630 machine is that we can now use ceramic end mills from NTK which allow us to remove material a lot faster than we have been able to in the past.
“This also gives us the ability to rough machine a lot faster and then come in with finishing tools for the final passes.”
Taking this productivity a step further, the Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG/630 machines have a 50 tool ATC as standard, along with a high-torque 12,000rpm dual contact BT50 spindle configuration and a twin pallet configuration. Twin pallet
Mr Dudley continued: “The reason for the twin pallet set-up is two-fold. Firstly, there is the obvious benefit that we can load one pallet while the other is ‘in-cycle’ which reduces our set-up times and keeps the spindles turning.
“Additionally, we are introducing a lot of new products all the time. With the twin pallet, we can use one pallet for production parts whilst simultaneously using the next pallet for development parts. This ensures we can get new projects up and running without disrupting production. This allows us to mix-and-match our production.”
Furthermore, the Kitamura HX500iG/630 machines incorporate a 500 x 500mm pallet with the facility for a 630mm pallet, if needed. Machining all faces with sufficient clearance is not an issue as the machines have an X, Y and Z-axis travel of 870 x 800 x 930mm.
Both Dugard and Kitamura actively promote the geometric precision of the machines and the hand-crafted manual scraping that makes the Mycenter range so precise.
Mr Dudley explained: “The three Kitamura machines are heavy-duty machines and we know we can load both pallets on each of the machines and we can be confident that the parts coming off the machine are right first time.
“From a productivity perspective, we run the machines at 12,000rpm with 60m/min rapids. Both the Kitamura HX500iG machines in this cell are identical. They have the same spindles, the same dual contact BT50 taper, tooling carousels and configurations.”
Looking more closely at the machining strategy and the potential for deflection when machining industrial gas turbine components, he said: “This was something we clearly had to consider when we were buying these machines, but the robustness of the Kitamura range means that deflection is not a factor we have to worry about.”
Mr Dudley concluded: “The service from Dugard has been quite fantastic. We bought the machine at the back end of 2019 and the delivery was scheduled during the height of the pandemic.
“We are in the north of England and Dugard is in East Sussex, but the company delivered the machine and got it up and running for us in a matter of weeks, which considering the circumstances of the pandemic was an excellent effort.”