The Trade Association for Precision Turned Parts and Machined Component Manufacturers in the UK
Posted in Technical Members News on 18th Mar 2020
The toolmaking division of Gateshead-based TDX, which supplies services and tools to the thin-film plastic thermoforming industry, mainly for food packaging applications, has started to automate its machine shop. The latest purchases have been a Japanese bar-fed turning centre and a German-built Hermle 5-axis machining centre with a 20-pallet storage system. The latter cell was supplied by UK, Ireland and Middle East agent Kingsbury during the summer of 2018 and has been working 24/7 ever since.
Two members of the management buyout team that purchased TDX in 2013, Neil Atkinson and David Renton, were especially pleased to progress the investment. Five-axis machining was usually the bottleneck at the 24,000 sq ft toolmaking facility and it normally fell to the two directors to go into the factory two or three times on both Saturday and Sunday to change over five non-automated 5-axis machining centres.
Since the Hermle C 250 with linked HSFlex automated pallet change system entered production, weekend visits have been unnecessary. Each aluminium thermoforming mould billet is pre-machined on one face and then milled on the other five sides internally and externally in one operation in from four to six hours. So 20 pallets equates to an average of 100 hours' machining on the Hermle, more than enough to keep the production cell busy non-stop from Friday afternoon to Monday morning.
Mr Atkinson said, "The automated milling cell has not only eliminated manual intervention at weekends but also requires minimal attendance during the week, freeing the operator for other tasks.
"We approached six potential suppliers, all of which carried out machining trials for us. Kingsbury demonstrated the fastest cycle time on the Hermle, approximately 10 per cent shorter than the best of the others.
"Equally importantly surface finish was also better, shortening the time spent on hand finishing our moulds. I estimate that they are polished 30 per cent quicker than moulds coming off our other 5-axis machines."
It is notable that there were two main pre-existing machine tool suppliers to the Gateshead firm. Mr Atkinson was directed to Hermle and its UK agent by a series of Internet searches. He admitted that it was a big step to move to a new supplier for the automated milling cell, but 18 months on he confirmed that the decision was correct. Not only has the machine been very reliable at producing the high precision moulds, but the service and technical backup from both the manufacturer and Kingsbury have been in his word, "fantastic".
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