2008 was a watershed year for Cheltenham-based precision manufacturing specialist Future Advanced Manufacture Ltd (Future AM).
The company, prior to then, was primarily involved with R & D projects with a specific focus and strength being on creating and developing aerodynamic solutions and wind tunnel models for a range of aerospace customers.
This type of specialist work, which accounted for some 75% of Future AM’s annual turnover, often provided high margins but was unpredictable and the length of time required to complete projects (and be paid for them) caused resourcing and cash-flow issues.
Comments managing director, Craig Peterson:
'It was a case of feast or famine. Back then only 25% of our turnover derived from production and repeat manufacture, and to secure the future of the company, we realised we had to re-balance our order book in favour of securing more high-volume precision production work.'
A successful management buyout led by Peterson (completed in 2008) signalled the first step in the company’s change of direction...then the economic downturn occurred.
Continues Craig Peterson:
'Whilst the downturn created problems, and meant that we were in fire-fighting mode for a few months, it did serve the purpose of reinforcing our belief that a reliance on R & D projects was an unsustainable business strategy.'
The economic recovery, experienced in 2010, provided the opportunity for the company to put its plans into operation – and this required the implementation of an ambitious investment programme.
Remembers Craig Peterson:
'Our technology and manufacturing infrastructure weren’t necessarily geared up to making the transition to handle more production work. We knew we needed to upgrade our manufacturing capacity and capabilities to be able to provide customers with competitively-priced, high-quality precision parts - delivered on time and in budget.'
To improve its turning capacity and capabilities Future AM began investing in Doosan Puma lathes supplied by Mills CNC.
The company already had experience of Doosan turning technology having invested in a number of Puma lathes in the late 1990’s. Whilst these machines were still operating satisfactorily they weren’t technologically advanced enough to spearhead Future AM’s new ‘production-led’ direction.
Explains Craig Peterson:
'There is an internal and external perception that needed to be addressed. You can’t make claims to customers about your high-quality manufacturing credentials if you haven’t got the requisite technology in place. The same perception issues exist with staff. It was clear that we needed to walk the talk.'
In 2010 Future AM invested in a new, sophisticated Puma 400LB lathe, and followed this up by purchasing a Puma 2600M and a Puma 400B in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
All three Puma lathes are being used to manufacture small batch high-precision, complex parts for the aerospace, oil and gas and medical sectors from a diverse range of materials that include -: titanium, beryllium, molybdenum and high-tensile nickel and chrome-steels such as Inconel.
Comments Craig Peterson:
'Puma lathes are accurate and reliable, and represent good value.
'Customers, especially those in the oil and gas sector, know that we can deliver on our promises when they know (or see) that we have the latest and most advanced Puma lathes in our facility.
'Since their installation the lathes haven’t missed a beat, and can operate around the clock.'
The type of work undertaken on the two large Puma 400 machines regularly involves the machining of hard and difficult-to-machine materials (like Inconel 718) to exacting tolerances (+/- 20 microns on parts 1 metre long or longer), and high surface finishes (Ra 1.6µm).
Puma 400B and Puma 400LB lathes are designed for heavy-duty machining operations and are equipped with powerful high-torque 26kW 2000 (gear-driven) spindles. The 400LB is a long-bed machine with a maximum turning length of 2100mm.
The smaller new frame 10' chuck/76mm bar diameter Puma 2600M enables Future AM to machine parts to completion in reduced set-ups, thanks to its 5.5kW 5,000rpm driven tool capability.
Says Craig Peterson:
'The Doosan machines deliver great performance and high process reliability.
'They, along with other major investments made in multi-tasking mill-turn centres, 5-axis machines and CMM equipment, as well as the introduction of a sophisticated MRP2 production scheduling and out-process management system and our ISO 9001: 2008 and recently acquired AS9100: Rev C certification demonstrates how far we’ve come in a relatively short space of time.
'We have re-balanced our business so that 70% of our turnover now derives from production work and 30% from R & D.
'The investment in Doosan turning technology has been more than instrumental in helping us achieve our objectives.'