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Keeping the ‘wheels turning’ at Tipton manufacturer

Tipton-based Image Wheels takes delivery of Proturn RLX 555 following MACH competition win

Posted on 24 Jun 2024. Edited by: John Hunter. Read 1570 times.
Keeping the ‘wheels turning’ at Tipton manufacturerImage Wheels wins £10,000 off any XYZ machine

Tipton-based Image Wheels recently won a competition hosted by Devon-based XYZ Machine Tools at MACH 2024 exhibition — the company received a generous £10,000 (plus VAT) discount on the purchase price of a new XYZ CNC machine of its choice. This forward-thinking manufacturing business opted for a brand new XYZ Proturn RLX 555 gap-bed lathe with ProtoTRAK control, aiming to boost its capacity and capabilities while at the same time counteracting the current skills shortage.

Founded in 1987, Image Wheels is now a leading UK manufacturer of alloy wheels to customers worldwide. The family-owned business produces both classic and modern high-grade alloy wheels to order, supplying over 50 styles in sizes ranging from 10-20in in diameter, with customisable widths and offsets. Applications include race cars, dragsters, classic cars, kit cars, trikes and off-road vehicles. Keeping pace with the company’s busy order book requires ongoing investment in the latest manufacturing technologies.

However, there is a notable industry skills challenge to navigate. Jason Worrall, works director at Image Wheels, said: “Finding CNC programmers, setters and operators who can hit the ground running is very difficult. Instead, we are gradually upskilling our existing manual machine operators, a task made easier by the ease-of-use of the ProtoTRAK control.”

XYZMr Worrall’s visit to MACH 2024 marked his first time at the exhibition, where he visited several stands to assess potential CNC turning machines. He continued: “I didn’t know about the competition to win a £10,000 discount on any XYZ machine until I got to the stand. I filled out an entry form there and then. XYZ’s area sales manager John Aspinall, who was familiar to us, telephoned me a few days after the show and I could tell by the excitement in his voice that I had won — it was a great feeling.”

The discount was applied to a Proturn RLX 555 gap-bed lathe, selected by Mr Worrall for its sizeable turning capacity, impressive versatility and it user-friendly ProtoTRAK control. The machine is already in situ at the company’s Tipton manufacturing facility.

Doubled capacity

He added: “We only really had one machine for producing large 20in diameter wheels, so with the addition of the RLX 555 we have effectively doubled our capacity for this type of work. Although it is our first XYZ machine, we employed a new operator at the back end of 2023 who has a lot of experience with the ProtoTRAK control, which means we can get the RLX 555 cutting metal and earning money straight away. Meanwhile, we will also train one of our existing manual machine operators on the ProtoTRAK control. This strategy will help us negate the current lack of experienced CNC operators available.”

Proturn lathes with the RLX 15.6in touchscreen ProtoTRAK control are ideal for one-off and low-volume production. As the simplest control on the market, machine shops can be making parts profitably in no time. Even an operator with no previous CNC experience can be producing complex parts within hours.

The new XYZ Proturn RLX 555 at Image Wheels will machine alloy wheels from castings, performing a range of turning, boring and profiling operations. The company produces its products from high-grade cast aluminium, typically in batches of two or four, and sometimes up to 20-off for a racing car team. The company, accredited to ISO 9001:2015, has manufactured components for record-breaking and championship-winning cars all over the world.

XYZProturn RLX 555 machines offer a swing-over-bed of 560mm, a spindle bore of 104mm and come with a 315mm three-jaw chuck as standard. Image Wheels opted for the 1m bed version, though the Proturn RLX 555 is also available with a 1.75m bed option. The machine supplied to Image Wheels includes numerous advanced options, including the DXF File Converter. Mr Worrall said: “Rather than using dimensioned drawings with complex profiles, we can simply output a DXF file, upload it into the machine, select the contour and away we go. It will accelerate our process and ensure less opportunity for error.”

Quality is paramount at this progressive manufacturing business. Image Wheels manufactures its products in accordance with British Standards, including BSAU 50 Part 2 Section 5C, BS ISO 4000-2 and BS ISO 16833. The company is a member of the British Standards Institute, and all wheel designs undergo tests by an independent company using FEA (finite element analysis).

Mr Worrall concluded: “Our main differentiator is our products, particularly their quality. There are very few alloy wheel manufacturers worldwide who can compete in the same way. Sure enough, all of us in this industry have business challenges to overcome, with skills proving one of the most prominent. However, with a bit of fortune that arrived by winning the XYZ competition at MACH, we have found the perfect way forward.”