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Quest for productivity leads to Nakamura

Posted on 27 Nov 2021 and read 2212 times
Quest for productivity leads to NakamuraDundee-based Quest Precision Engineering Ltd has been on a trajectory of continuous growth since managing director Gordon Deuchars joined the business three years ago. Operating out of a 20,000ft2 facility and serving customers in a wide variety of industry sectors, the Scottish sub-contract manufacturer has recently bought two Nakamura-Tome turning centres from Engineering Technology Group’s (ETG) Scottish distribution partner RAM Engineering and Tooling.

With customers in the oil and gas, electronics, automotive and aerospace industries, the ISO9001:2015 certified company is well versed in machining everything from simple to the most complex of components from a wide range of materials including stainless steel, plastics and aluminium through to exotic materials such as duplex, Inconel and Monel.

It is this requirement for one-hit machining of complex parts from challenging materials that led to the installation of the first Nakamura-Tome turning centre in December 2019, in the guise of a twin-spindle, twin turret WT150II. The impact an success of the new machine resulted in a second machine being ordered and installed just four months later.

Prior to this, Quest was machining autonomous valves for the oil and gas industry in five operations on four machine tools. Unfortunately, the production of the complex 2in diameter Inconel 718 valves that control the flow of oil from wells was time-consuming and not cost-effective enough for Quest to compete with an existing Chinese supplier, leaving the 22-employee company with small-batch work and R&D projects. To win more of the business from the overseas supplier, Quest needed to increase productivity and reduce costs — the answer was found in the form of the Nakamura-Tome WT150II.

NakamuraMr Deuchars recalled: “There are 25-30 different valves in the family of parts and for us to win more business, we had to increase throughput and reduce costs to be cost-competitive with China. I contacted Ross Milne at RAM Engineering & Tooling and within less than four weeks, we were provided machine specifications, viewed the WT150II, made our purchasing decision, had a turnkey solution developed for the valves, and had the machine installed and running with a complete turnkey solution.”

Depending upon the variant, the valves typically have a cycle time from 2 to 4hr with the majority of valves being processed in 3hr on four machine tools with an additional 25% set-up time across the numerous machines. With valve batches running from prototype to five-off and through to production runs of 1,000-off, producing such volumes on the existing machine tools was unfeasible. However, the installation of the twin-turret, twin-spindle Nakamura-Tome WT150II immediately remedied the situation.

50% reduction in cycle times

Manufacturing the valves in one hit on the WT150II reduced cycle times by 50% to 1.5hr while freeing capacity and labour requirements throughout the shopfloor. The impact was so immediate that Quest went out and bought a second WT150II.

Mr Deuchars continued: “The WT150II made such a difference to our production and set-ups that we ordered a second machine within weeks.

“Instead of using multiple machines and up to five staff on the valves, we now have one operator running the two Nakamuras. With one staff member running the machines by day and another at night, the two WT150II machines have increased our productivity by 500%, making us cost-competitive with China. Furthermore, the new machines have reduced our tooling costs considerably due to the machine set-up and rigidity.”

The result of investing in the two Nakamura machines has been a significant uptick in business from this particular offshore customer. Mr Deucars added: “We have invested in five machine tools during the coronavirus pandemic and the Nakamura machines have made a huge impact on our business. While business levels are not yet at pre-Covid levels, the investment has positioned our business well for the future.

Nakamura“With regard to our offshore customer, the challenge it had with component supply from China was proximity. Now, if this customer wants to undertake any R&D work, amend or inspect any components, they can easily visit our facility to discuss projects, look at our production methods and equipment and investigate opportunities to enhance and develop their product lines.”

“Since investing in the Nakamura machines, we have won more business from this customer and the Nakamuras are 95% dedicated to producing the Inconel valves. I have bought machines of most brands and types down the years, but never Nakamuras. However, the reputation of these machines preceded them. In this instance, we knew we needed a twin-turret, twin-spindle machine to achieve efficient one-hit machining.

“When we looked at the WT150II, the build quality and innovation in the machine was as apparent as the reputation of the brand. What we also needed was an immediate solution without suffering from the lead-time issues of so many machine tool vendors at present. Ross at RAM Engineering fulfilled all of our needs.”

Mr Deuchars concluded: “Within the next two years, we want to take our staff level up to 40 and also invest upward of £1.7 million in the business. By investing in high-end technology like the Nakamura-Tome WT150II machines, we will certainly grow our market share of the sub-contracting industry in Scotland — and we are confident that we can help UK manufacturers to reshore more work.”

“The WT150II machines have improved and streamlined productivity reduced costs and enabled us to better allocate our staff. Additionally, the machines have freed almost 15% of capacity from the rest of our facility. We will build upon this over the next couple of years and more Nakamura machines will certainly be central to our investment plans.”