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Dah Lih VMCs and Hwacheon long bed lathes at Walker AEC
Dah Lih VMCs and Hwacheon long bed lathes at Walker AEC

Dah Lih VMCs and Hwacheon long bed lathes at Walker AEC

Added to MTDCNC by Ward Hi Tech Limited on 16 September 2013

Over the course of the past 10 months, specialist CNC machine tool distributor Ward Hi-Tech has supplied six high specification machine tools to Poole-based aerospace manufacturer, Walker AEC. The mix of Dah Lih vertical machining centres and Hwacheon long bed lathes have been set to work on multiple tasks that include high value hydraulic manifold and landing gear projects. Indeed, Walker AEC has just ordered a seventh machine (a Hwacheon Hi-Tech 700 long bed lathe), which is currently being modified by Ward Hi-Tech to incorporate deep-hole drilling functionality.

Established in 1974, Walker AEC is a family owned and run manufacturer specialising in aerospace parts that include landing gear components, fuselage drain valve bodies, complex hydraulic manifolds, throttle pedestal parts, flight control components and bearing retaining rings to name but a few. Products manufactured by the company appear on a range of commercial and military aircraft, where high quality and competitive prices are paramount.

Walker AEC sees itself as an aerospace supply chain partner able to add value and deliver a complete service to OEMs and tier one aerospace manufacturers. Based on this ethos the company has grown to employ 40 people and has a current order book value of £6 million. In fact, 2013 is proving a year of significant growth – Walker AEC secured order intake worth £2 million in June and July alone.

Of course, success of this ilk doesn’t happen by accident. A combination of management guile and the latest manufacturing technologies makes Walker AEC an extremely attractive proposition. The company’s commitment to continuous improvement programmes is one of its many differentiating attributes. This philosophy has seen no less than six CNC machine tools installed in the past 10 months – all supplied by Ward Hi-Tech.

'Ward Hi-Tech has been very supportive to our business over the years,' states Managing Director Martyn Walker. 'We prefer a single source for our machine tools for a number of reasons. Firstly, we can have the same controls on every machine, which provides total manufacturing flexibility as we can move jobs and operators around as necessary. Tooling is also interchangeable – this is important because our batch sizes are typically 5-, 10- or 20-off. As a result, quick set-up is paramount.'

In late 2012 Ward Hi-Tech supplied three Dah Lih vertical machining centres to Walker AEC. Three months later, two Hwacheon Hi-TECH 300 long bed lathes and a Dah Lih MCV-720 vertical machining centre were also installed.

'The beauty of using a machine tool supplier such as Ward Hi-Tech is that they handle everything – the machine, tooling, finance, installation, commissioning, training, applications, maintenance – they take away the headaches,' says Mr Walker. 'Every deal we’ve done with Ward Hi-Tech has been tailored to meet our specific requirements.'

Finance options such as Ward Hi-Tech’s ‘buy now pay later’ deals are fairly unique in the machine tool industry.   The ability to provide a production CNC lathe or machining centre against a structured ‘drip fed’ deposit and defer any further finance payments for a significant period has been an invaluable assist to many Ward Hi-Tech customers as they add capital equipment to an existing production facility.  Ultimately Ward Hi-Tech can offer tailored, flexible funding based on specific cash flow requirements.

This form of funding assistance has helped Walker AEC invest in machines like the Dah Lih MCV series of vertical machining centres, which combine an extremely robust structure with high specifications and many additional features not normally found on comparable competitor models. All of the Dah Lih machines supplied to Walker AEC by Ward Hi-Tech are equipped with a fourth axis to facilitate the machining of complex parts such as landing gear components, hydraulic manifolds and valves. These components are often produced from materials such as aluminium through to exotic metals and frequently feature extremely tight tolerances.

'We have a reputation for taking work that few others will touch,' says Mr Walker. 'Of course, our in-house machining capability is a big help in this regard. We prefer Dah Lih because they are reliable machines that last forever,' says Mr Walker. 'We took our very first Dah Lih in 1989 and it only went out the door in 2007 after 18 years’ hard labour.'

The adoption of Hwacheon turning technology is a more recent initiative at Walker AEC. Recommended by Ward Hi-Tech, Mr Walker says the machines are both 'accurate, reliable and robust'. Models such as the Hwacheon Hi-TECH long bed series feature ultra-modern design, high build quality and can include a wide range of options to meet almost any application.

Such has been the success of the Hwacheon Hi-TECH 300 heavy duty lathes at Walker AEC, that the company has recently placed an order for a third, this time a Hi-TECH 700 model. This large machine offers a turning length of up to 2000 mm, a 24' chuck and 700 mm maximum turning diameter. However, this particular machine will offer far more than turning operations.

'The Hi-TECH 700 will be tailored with deep-hole drilling attachments to reduce the amount of outsourcing we currently undertake for this activity,' says Mr Walker. 'It’s a move that will provide considerable competitive advantage by allowing us to produce holes up to 36' deep on landing gear components – all in a single set-up. The integration of deep-hole drilling is being handled by Ward Hi-Tech and is a great example of the added value they offer.'

This level of innovation is helping fuel the technical capability available from Walker AEC. In combination with the company’s reputation for rapid response, it makes for an extremely successful formula sure to spur even further growth moving forward.

Aside from organic growth, Walker AEC is also growing by acquisition having recently taken over QA Precision Engineering Ltd. Also based in Poole, QA Precision is now a subsidiary of Walker AEC operating at the high end of the commercial aerospace market. The business has considerable scope for expansion and is already receiving investment from its new parent – since March 2013, shop floor employee numbers have doubled from five to 10, for example.

'Both facilities are extremely busy and the future looks extremely bright,' concludes Mr Walker. 'Machining technology is a big factor in our success and I’m very happy with Ward Hi-Tech as our machine tool partner. When the time is right there could be more capital investment in the pipeline to help meet growing demand for our manufacturing services.'

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