Impressed with the performance of its Lang Grip-Fix system for holding and locating parts in its multi-axis machining centres, Anotronic, based near Leighton Buzzard, chose the Lang Eco-Tower, from Thame Workholding, to automate its new Matsuura MX520 5-axis machining centre.
Since 1982 Anotronic has been offering spark eroding and machining services as well as supplying new EDM die sinking, EDM fast hole drills and electrochemical deburring machines. One of Its principal markets for subcontract machining and spark eroding is in the oil and gas sector, but it finds that demand fluctuates wildly, so it has invested in advanced, automated 5-axis machining technology to enable it to expand into new markets, smoothing out production requirements. Currently, in addition to the Matsuura the company has 14 EDM machines, 4 Wire EDM, nine Hurco machining centres (2-off 5 Axis) and three DMG / Mori Seiki turning centres.
The cost saving possible with raw material is one of the main factors which led Anotronic to invest in the Lang Grip-Fix system. Martin White, Managing Director of Anotronic says, 'We machine Inconel and titanium, which are very expensive. A 6ft x 4ft x 0.5in sheet of Inconel costs around £20,000. With a standard vice you need to grip on 5-10 mm of material, which produces a lot of waste. By using the Lang system, we can grip on just 3 mm and, with its form closure technology, we can take some very heavy cuts.' The company often uses an 80 mm face mill taking 1.5 mm cut depths, which uses around 60-70% spindle load on the machining centres, without any problems.
For delicate parts, the Lang Grip-Fix allows secure clamping without large clamping forces. Martin White adds, 'The form closure technology is very clever as it does not introduce excessive stress into the part. Hydraulic clamps can deform parts with their high clamping pressure.'
In addition to the material saving, using the Lang system has enabled Anotronic to save an operation. Previously it was cutting the blank by water jet, facing it to produce a datum and then turning it over to start machining. With Grip-Fix, it has been able to eliminate the facing operation and go directly to the machining stage. Martin White says, 'As well as saving 15-20% on our material costs, the 0.01mm repositioning accuracy means we can eliminate a facing operation and, if we need to rework parts, easily and accurately reloaded them to the machine.' In addition to using the system on its machines, Anotronic also uses Grip-Fix for its CNC CMM inspection machine’s and in its EDM hole drilling machines, where it is developing a 5-axis system for refurbishing the leading and trailing edge cooling holes in turbine blades.
In Martin White’s opinion automation is essential for productivity for 5-axis machining. With the new Matsuura and the Lang Eco Tower he can run 24 hours a day. 'The new machine and the Lang system just eats work. 100 off used to be a lot, now it is very easy. What used to take seven or eight operations can now be done in two, and one job which took three standard weeks can now be completed in three days with 24 hour running.'
The Eco-Tower uses a spiral configuration to store up to 60 Makro-Grip Automation Vices which slide by gravity down to the loading position. The air operated robot handling device removes the previous job from the machine and places it on an elevator to take it back to the top of the tower. The robot then picks the next job from the tower and loads it to the machine so that production can continue uninterrupted until all the vices on the tower have been completed. Martin White says, 'The system is simple and very effective. Thame worked directly with Matsuura to interface the automatic opening and closing of the machine door and the necessary steps required to clean swarf and coolant from the part with its Clean-Tec fan before unloading. Furthermore, because the system is air operated, no special guarding is required as it can easily be stopped by any obstruction, which greatly eases installation and running.'
Anotronic found that the Eco-Tower was a very cost effective solution, saving around £100,000 on a proprietary automation system. Martin White says, 'Even small quantities are worth loading onto the Eco-Tower. We have a very busy workshop, and it is difficult to monitor when a machine has stopped and needs reloading. With the Lang system, we can just load it and forget it. The increased spindle cutting time we get turns our night shift into day and eliminates any waiting between components during normal working hours. As well as making our life much easier, automation gives us more time to do other tasks and greatly reduces our hourly running costs, making us more competitive.'