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Tornos Electrifies Production for Aerospace Subcontractor
Tornos Electrifies Production for Aerospace Subcontractor
Tornos Electrifies Production for Aerospace Subcontractor
Tornos Electrifies Production for Aerospace Subcontractor

Tornos Electrifies Production for Aerospace Subcontractor

Added to MTDCNC by Tornos Technologies UK Ltd on 28 April 2016

As the epitome of high speed automated production, RE Thompson is an industry benchmark for its approach to automation and 'cost down' production, something that has enabled the aerospace subcontractor to double its turnover in just five years. To achieve this, the company has invested over £7m in plant and equipment, some of which has been installed at its new production facility in Andover. 

Opened in November 2015, the new 20,000sq/ft factory has so far welcomed a series of horizontal machining centres that are linked to a Fastems automation system. With 90% of RE Thompson production consisting of milled aerospace components, the Hampshire company recently made its first acquisition of a sliding head turning centre with the January arrival of a Tornos ST26.

Commenting upon the new Tornos purchase, RE Thompson's Head of Sales, Mr Matthew Shaw says: 'Our workload tends to be long term contracts with Tier 1 aerospace companies such as Meggitt, BAE Systems, GE and GKN. We primarily produce avionic housings, cockpit displays and also power and thermal management systems that are supplied to Boeing and Lockheed for installation on anything from the JSF to commercial airliners. One project we tendered for required 1,000 copper turned parts every week. After winning the business, we realised our Fixed headstock Turn/Mill centre was designed for larger parts and struggled to meet the production rates, so the search for a dedicated machine started.'

For RE Thompson, shopping for the right machine was simplified by a set of distinct parameters. Firstly, the family of six copper parts had some dimensional deviations across the range, so the turning centre had to have unparalleled flexibility with regard to tooling configurations. Secondly, the setting and programming times needed to be kept to a minimum to eliminate machine downtime. Additionally, the specified machine had to be capable of running for long periods unmanned with production times that are considered the 'benchmark of the industry'.  The Tornos ST26 ticked all the boxes and outperformed the other 3 machine tool vendors involved in the tender process.  

Turning On The Bottleneck

Their existing method was turning each part in 8.5 minutes, a production time that led RE Thompson to subcontract out some of its production to keep pace with the order. Commenting upon the situation, Mr Shaw recalls: 'Our existing fixed headstock lathe is an exceptional machine, but it's designed for larger complex parts with robust milling operations. We always knew we needed a slider for the project and it was more apparent as the fixed headstock capacity was being overloaded with the copper part project. Despite this, we took our time selecting the right machine for the job. After all, the contract requires 1,000 parts a week for 3 years. After 3 years, we can envisage the project potentially continuing for another decade, as aircraft projects tend to span upward of 15 years. The Tornos arrived in January and it wiped out subcontract work, freed capacity on the fixed headstock and has even given us extra turning capacity for parts up to 26mm diameter.'

The Tornos ST26 has achieved this by slashing the cycle time from 8.5minutes to less than 3 minutes per part. The power generation components for the 777 airliner consist of three different diameters and lengths that are all machined in 1000-off batches in just two days. In fact, the speed of the Tornos ST26 means the copper parts only take 30% of the machine capacity with other small jobs taking another 10% of capacity. This is now enabling RE Thompson to look for more orders for this workhorse. 

Why Pick The Tornos?

When looking at the various vendors, RE Thompson engineers wanted a machine tool partner with a 'can-do' attitude. Unlike alternate suppliers, Tornos recommended a machine that could be configured to the exact needs of the customer. As Mr Shaw says: 'The Tornos approach was very flexible to our needs, the machine has 36 tool positions that can be configured in a number of ways. This allows us to leave the core tool positions set for our main copper pin job whilst reconfiguring remaining platens and positions for alternate jobs. The result is that we keep our extremely short set-up and changeover times.'

The dedicated ST26 blew the previous machining time out of the water and also made a mockery of competing tenders. This is down to simultaneous front and rear working and the kinematics of the Tornos that keeps the tools close to the workpiece to shorten cycle times and keep tool indexing to less than 0.5 seconds.
The Next Step 

RE Thompson is completing the copper parts by running the Tornos ST26 for little over 12 hours a day, so the next step is 24 hour production. As Mr Shaw continues: 'The copper is a special grade that is impacting upon our tool life. The ST26 with its SBF 326e barfeed is geared for 24/7 production with its innovative multi-stacking system incorporated for non-stop production. The only thing holding the machine back from 24/7 production at present is tool life. We have tool probing on the machine and we also utilise the Tornos TISIS software to monitor the machine remotely, so we just have one final hurdle to overcome. Once we get past this, we'll be running lights-out and we will also cut our cycle times way below the existing 3 minutes per part.'

'As a business, we have always invested in the most current technology from industry leading brands. Brand loyalty is a key factor for our business. We bought the Tornos because the company was attentive to our needs, flexible with the machine configuration/package and they offered us next generation technology like the TISIS software.  The service and support has been exceptional and we have little doubt that when the opportunity arises, we'll be buying another Tornos,' concludes Mr Shaw.

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