Factory of the future invests with ETG
High technology machine tools and automation systems supplied through the Engineering Technology Group (ETG) are creating a manufacturing environment for an Evesham precision engineering company that will become the forerunner of a totally automated manufacturing centre.
Rotec Engineering Limited has a long standing commitment to investment in the latest machining systems and operates a variety of high-end machining centres and sliding head lathes manufacturing components for end users spanning agriculture to F1 and aerospace.
Its owners, however, have a strong belief that technology will be the cornerstone of future expansion and un-manned operation is a key constituent of their future plans.
Recent purchases from ETG of two Nakamura-Tome machining centres – an NTRX 300 multi-tasking machining centre and a AS 200 mill/turn centre – along with two Halter ‘Load Assistant’ load/unload robots will, the company believes, act as a proving ground for its proposed new manufacturing environment.
Under construction adjacent to its current premises is a purpose built, 22,000 sq. ft. factory unit into which all Rotec operations will move. The facility is already named ‘The Advanced Manufacturing Centre’.
“Manufacturing cannot stand still and at Rotec we are passionate about implementing the latest machines, technologies and support systems to create efficiencies and take costs out of production” explains Managing Director Paul Butler.
“While we adopt a no-compromise approach to precision and quality we manufacture components for an incredibly diverse inventory and often with very short runs. At the other end of the spectrum, larger batches machined from bar are highly suited the lights out, unmanned operation. Machine downtime, holes in production and setting times are therefore an issue in terms of lost production and increased costs.
“When looking to invest in new machines, we assessed features such as ease of programming, reliability, machine capability for single process manufacturing and any other features that will eliminate inefficiencies in the machining process.
“We have operated a Nakamura NTY3 that has not missed a beat in eight years of operation so when we were looking towards our next phase of investment, Nakamura’s figured strongly in our thinking. In my opinion, they are some of the best machines in the world, and with reliability and repeatability so much part of our thinking, it was an easy decision.”
The NTRX 300 is effectively the fusion of a lathe and 5 axis machine, and Rotec’s machine is the first of this model to be installed in the UK.
A heavy duty multi-tasking machining centre with full 5 axis capability, the X and Y axis travel on the machine ensure a machining range of 250mm wide, further enhanced by the X axis having a 125mm travel below the spindle centre to extend the machining range to 250mm square.
The B axis has a 225º rotation, and because of the 300’s reduced distance from the tool tip to the B-axis centre of rotation, the B axis resists cutting torques and retains stable machining performance. The X, Y and Z axes are all highly stable, being directly mounted to their respective ball screws to ensure backlash free, high speed and smooth movement.
Rotec’s machine was supplied with a bar feed which has a 65mm capacity, and the machine features Nakamura’s new Smart X control interfacing with the main control based on a Fanuc 31i-B5 5 axis system.
“The NTRX 300 offers an exceptional range of features for single process machining,” Paul Butler adds. “With the bar feed, we recently ran it across a weekend unmanned for over 20 hours on a component with a 20 minute cycle time. That created some astonishingly improved productivity figures but importantly keeps our business highly competitive.”
Paul is equally enthusiastic about the Nakamura AS 200 machine.
“Off such a small footprint (1.6m sq.) it offers some amazing capability, and for a multi-tasking turning centre with a single spindle, single turret in a heavy duty and compact machine represents exceptional value. The standard package is well equipped with a powerful milling drive and the machine features high rigidity multitasking for accurate and reliable machining.”
Rotec has been using its AS 200 in tandem with one of its two Halter Load Assistant robot arm loaders/unloaders that have been put to good use across the machines in its factory.
“They give us another dimension,” explains Paul Butler “and of course we can use them with our turning and milling centres in the workshop, whatever the machine.”
Using a Fanuc robot arm with the Halter smart control and smart loading system Halter has developed a conversational interface which eliminates actual robot programming. These offer manufacturers’ operating small and medium CNC lathes and machining centres affordable automation opportunities with the advantage that they can be moved from machine-to-machine for rapid changeover.
With the foresight to invest not just in machines but in the automation processes and components for unmanned operation, the future for Rotec and its plans for the Advanced Manufacturing Centre offer a view of how manufacturing even in the component and sub contract sector will need to adapt.