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Neida Blue Aquires Star ST-38 sliding-head lathe

Neida Blue Aquires Star ST-38 sliding-head lathe

Added to MTDCNC by MTDCNC on 27 March 2012

Precision parts manufacturer, Neida Blue 62, has continued its investment in the latest mill-turn technology with the acquisition in 2011 of a Star ST-38 sliding-head lathe. The Freshwater factory on the Isle of Wight has 24 CNC machine tools for turning and prismatic machining, including multi-axis sliding-head bar lathes spanning the capacity range 16, 20, 32 and now 38 mm.

The Freshwater operation holds accreditations to both ISO 9001 and the automotive quality system standard, TS 16949. Precision components are produced for a wide range of industries including the aerospace and marine sectors, in addition to the automotive industry. A wide variety of materials are machined including stainless steels, nickel alloys and titanium. The majority of production involves high added value, close tolerance work, with less than 10 microns dimensional accuracy frequently held.

The first two Stars were inherited from Isle of Wight subcontractor, Blue 62, when Neida Products, Stoke-on-Trent, bought the company in 2005. Neida's policy is to invest in the latest machine tool technology. In Star's case, this involved the purchase of three 11-axis, twin-turret ECAS-32Ts, two of which were installed in 2011, and four SV-series sliders, all with extensive driven tooling and backworking capabilities.

The 12-axis, triple-turret ST-38 takes sliding-head technology a stage further in terms of productivity, however, according to Neida Blue 62's General Manager, Simon Fisher.

He said, "The 38 mm capacity lathe obviously allows us to turn bigger diameter bars than on the other Stars.

"However, the main reason for our investment in this machine revolves around its greater stability and the productivity gain, together with much quicker set up times, which gives us greater flexibility and competitiveness within the market.

"We really bought the ST-38 due to its very high mill-turning efficiency, resulting from the heavy duty build and additional power of the spindles and driven tooling, which uses the latest motor-control technology.

"Compared with the 32 mm Star ECAS and SV models, which themselves are capable of impressive throughput, the ST-38 achieves even higher productivity."

He listed the features that allow the machine to raise output. First, the lathe is of even more rigid build than other Stars and has higher driven tool power. It allows heavier milling, which represents up to one-third of some cycles. Whereas a 12 mm diameter, indexable carbide mill was the maximum size that could previously be employed, a 16 mm cutter can now be used.

In view of the machine's robustness, in practice it is reserved mainly for cutting 316 and 304 stainless steel components, for which purpose the machine has been fitted with a high-pressure coolant delivery system.

The second factor that leads to higher productivity on the ST-38 is the machine's faster acceleration and deceleration rates, which translates into shorter idle time during rapid traverse.

Third, as there are three 10-station turrets rather than two tool carriers, more cutters are resident in the working area, especially with multiple toolholder options in use. In addition, there are more live positions available.

It means that fewer cutters have to be changed between batches, normally between 200- and 3,000-off, so changeovers can be completed within minutes rather than hours. It gives the contract machinist the flexibility to respond to changing customer requirements more promptly, reduces the need for large production runs and allows quicker service in respect of development and prototype work.

The three-turret configuration also maximises the potential for one-hit machining, which is the norm, and can shorten cycle times when it is possible to program three tools to be in-cut simultaneously.

Mr Fisher continued, "Taking these factors into account, the ST-38 is up to 30 per cent more productive than our other sliders. The advantage is greater than we thought it was going to be.

"The latest Star sliding-head lathe technology amounts to a game-changing advance, not to mention the machine's bigger capacity, which takes it further into fixed-head territory."

The ST-38 incorporates Star&rsquos advanced motion control system for programming relatively simple turning operations, resulting in very high speed cycles on the machine. For parts involving a combination of simple and complex routines, the complete cycle can be made up from both motion control programming and traditional ISO code.

Stuart Bannister, Section Leader at the Isle of Wight factory, said that the effect of motion control programs running in the Fanuc 30i-A CNC system is to optimise the position and feed rate of each tool, allowing minimum cycle times to be achieved.

An added advantage is a significant reduction in non-cutting times, as tools are constantly positioned as close as possible to the component, ready for the next cut. It results in tight synchronisation between axis movements which he estimates can take a further 15 to 20 per cent out of some cycle times. Star ECAS lathes also enjoy this facility.

At a recent global presentation attended by Neida, it was suggested that customers now accept that product quality and price are to an extent norms across industry, but that the service provided by supplier companies is still highly variable. It vindicates Neida's strategy for growth since it was established in 1969, which has been built on high levels of customer service.

The group's philosophy is to invest in lean manufacture and one-hit machining using the best possible plant to give customers cost-effective acquisition of components and total flexibility of supply. The approach certainly paid off in 2011, a year in which turnover at Neida Blue 62 increased by 28 per cent.

It could not have been achieved without investment in people as well, however. It is noteworthy that of the 26 people on the Isle of Wight site, no less than six are in training. Three are apprentices and the others, manual machinists, are being upskilled to operate CNC plant. Neida finds that training staff internally leads to higher skill levels and better long-term retention.

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