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Lotus F1 invests in six new 5 axis machines

Lotus F1 invests in six new 5 axis machines

Added to MTDCNC by MTDCNC on 08 April 2013

Lotus F1 Team invests in six new 5-axis machines from GF AgieCharmilles as a route to boosting productivity and improving performance.

GF AgieCharmilles the EDM, milling and laser machine tool specialist has recently supplied Lotus F1 Team with six new 5-axis machining centres – all with integrated automation.

The six new HPM 450U machines were installed at Lotus F1 Team’s machine shop in Enstone (Oxfordshire), during August 2012 where they formed the major part of an extensive refurbishment and technology upgrade programme designed to improve the operation’s manufacturing capabilities and capacity.

Now some six months down the line, since the machines were first installed, Richard Smith, Lotus F1 Team’s Machine Shop Manager, says:

'We made a strategic decision to increase our 5-axis milling capabilities and fully embrace the concept of ‘one-hit’ machining. As a consequence of our actions we have experienced (and are experiencing) dramatic productivity gains, improved asset (machine tool) utilisation, increased and more consistent part accuracies and reductions in the cost-per-part.'

Prior to the HPM 450U investment Lotus F1 Team relied heavily on its 3-axis machining centres to manufacture a range of high-precision, complex parts.

Although the machines were performing adequately issues regarding their productivity, in particular the amount of time spent on job set-ups, were becoming a cause for concern.

Explains Richard Smith:

'We weren’t as efficient or effective as we could, or wanted to, be.

'We were spending too much time setting up jobs on our 3-axis machines, and in designing and making bespoke fixtures to enable us to machine components on them.

'As well as having an impact on productivity such ‘stop-start’ production was also affecting part accuracies owing to the amount of work-handling involved.

'We knew that the nature and type of manufacturing we are involved in (e.g. low volume, high-precision, complex part production) was ideal for 5-axis machining, and that adopting ‘one-hit’ manufacturing would enable us to raise our game.'

Working on the axiom that ‘you can machine a 3-axis job on a 5-axis machine but you can’t machine a 5-axis job on a 3-axis machine’, Lotus F1 Team made the decision to replace its 3-axis machine tools with six new 5-axis machines, and to make the change ‘in one fell swoop’.

5-axis machine tool selection

Comments Richard Smith:

'We needed the machines to be identical in all respects so as to allow us to standardise our new 5-axis manufacturing operation'.

This standardisation went much further than selecting identical machines and included tooling and work-holding etc.

Explains Richard Smith:

'We wanted maximum flexibility and total compatibility. If one of the new machines went down in the future (for whatever reason), we needed to be able to transfer the work (quickly and seamlessly) to one of the others.

'The standardisation approach also enabled our programmers and operators to be proficient in the use and operation of all the new machines in the shortest time possible.'

Having made the decision Lotus F1 Team set about identifying and selecting the most effective 5-axis machine tool solution and drew up a list of key requirements that needed to be met.

These included the size (footprint) of the machines; their capacity and capabilities (with specific reference to their integrated automation); their availability and cost; and the level of after-sales service and support provided by the selected machine tool manufacturer/supplier.

The HPM 450U machines

GF AgieCharmilles HPM 450U machines fulfilled Lotus F1 Team’s purchase criteria.

The HPM 450U’s are high-performance, compact and cost-competitive 5-axis machines equipped with direct-drive rotary torque tables capable of handling routine milling and drilling operations right through to 3 + 2 positional and full simultaneous 5-axis machining.

The machines’ cutting performance is enhanced by their powerful spindles (30kW 20,000rpm) and their integrated automation (7-station pallet changer and 120-position tool changer) and range of SMART technology software modules ensure high-productivity (24/7), manufacturing flexibility and a reliable machining process.

The HPM 450U machines are versatile and are ideal for machining everything from aluminium, steels and Stainless right through to hard and more difficult-to-machine materials. If high stock removal is required the HPM 450U’s do not disappoint and the same is true if, and when, super-fine surface finishes are the objective.

Another reason why the HPM 450U machines were purchased concerned the quality and responsiveness of the service and support provided by Agie Charmilles in the UK.

Concludes Richard Smith:

'Since their installation the HPM 450U machines have performed to our high expectations. As a consequence we have been able to significantly improve our productivity and quality through one-hit machining.'

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