In 1979, Harlow based TK Fabrications opened its garage door for business. Almost forty years after the father and son company was conceived, the third generation of the family business is filling its impressive new factory with high-end machine tools. The latest acquisition to land on the shop-floor is a high powered FANUC ROBODRILL D21MiA5 5-axis machining centre.
As a manufacturer that exclusively machines plastic and composite materials, TK Fabrications has a machine shop packed with high-end turning centres, machining centres and routing machines. These machines are tasked with manufacturing anything from prototype to 1000+ batch runs that are supplied to customers around the UK, Europe, China, Malaysia and the USA. FANUC has been supporting the growth of the subcontract company since 2002.
Recalling the introduction to FANUC machine tools, Company Director, Mr Sam Howlett says: “The first FANUC ROBODRILL, a T14iB arrived in 2002 with a 4th axis Nikken rotary unit, which was fantastic. We then bought a used FANUC machine and we had the FANUC engineers to do some work on the machine to keep it up to the required specifications. We kept that machine for 5 years. Now, we’ve invested in the new high-powered 5-axis ROBODRILL D21MiA5 and its outstanding.”
Reliability – A Key to Success
The reason that TK Fabrications has continually invested in FANUC technology is two-fold. Firstly, the performance has been astounding; and secondly, the reliability is unsurpassed. Referring to the reliability of the FANUC brand over the 16 year duration, Mr Howlett says: “Throughout our ongoing growth period, FANUC has helped our small business to save money, telling us we didn’t need a service contract because the machines don’t breakdown. They were 100% right! After all these years, the machines have never broken-down. We’ve had FANUC come in and do some work, such as lowering a machine after putting a Microloc unit on. They have also done some other retrofit work, but never a breakdown.”
This reliability is a critical aspect to any subcontract manufacturer. As Mr Howlett says: “The ability to get finished parts out of the door to meet customer deadlines is a critical factor for any subcontractor. Failure to meet deadlines has consequences; luckily we buy FANUC machines so this isn’t an issue. In the last year, we manufactured over 155,000 components with 98% delivered on-time and the remaining 2% delivered early. FANUC machines play a considerable role in achieving these statistics by never failing us. Any machine tool failure would be detrimental to these statistics.”
ROBODRILL Cuts Cycle Times By More Than 50%
From a productivity perspective, the FANUC machine tools have always been streets ahead. “Even the older FANUC machines have a 15,000rpm spindle with a 54m/min rapid traverse, how much faster do machines get and how much faster do we need it!” Despite the glowing productivity endorsement of the ROBODRILL Series, the latest high-powered 5-axis ROBODRILL D21MiA5 has taken TK Fabrications to the next level.
As Mr Howlett states: “The new FANUC ROBODRILL D21MiA5 is swallowing work from the other machines on our shop floor. Its giving us more capacity throughout the factory and this is because the new ROBODRILL is so much faster than our existing plant list.”
This is demonstrated with a plastic component that has a total machining time of 2 minutes 53 seconds, a time that includes drilling an 170mm deep hole and then rotating the part to a secondary set-up for machining all faces. This part was previously machined in a 6 minutes on an alternate machine, cutting cycle times by over 50%.
Another rectangular plastic part machined on the new ROBODRILL D21MiA5 is clamped with two Lang vices and drilled to a depth of 300mm. This part is being machined in less than 5 minutes on the FANUC ROBODRILL D21MiA5. The previous total machining time was over 20 minutes.
FANUC Delivers the Ideal Solution
The 3+2 configuration of the FANUC ROBODRILL D21MiA5 is ideal for TK Fabrications, as it has no specific requirement for full simultaneous 5-axis machining. As Mr Howlett mentions: “The process to configure the machine from 3+2 to full simultaneous 5-axis is dead-simple for FANUC to configure, and we thought we would have requested it by now. However, almost all our jobs only require 3+2 machining and with the capability of the new FANUC, it is increasingly close to capacity with no simultaneous 5-axis work going through it. This is because it is drawing more work from less productive machines.”
Tailored To the Customers’ Needs
The new ROBODRILL D21MiA5 incorporates a BIG PLUS BBT spindle configuration and a more than sufficient space in the X, Y and Z axes. In fact, TK Fabrications specified the latest addition with a riser block at the rear of the machine to lift the 5-axis unit 50mm. The purpose of this is to give the company greater swing capacity. This facilitates the machining of larger components over 90 degrees.
Primarily machining plastics and composite materials, TK Fabrications runs every machine with no coolant. With the FANUC ROBODRILL, this has seen a central dust-extraction system fitted to remove airborne dust is collected via extraction. “The airborne particles are collected via the extraction unit and the machine base is cleaned every 30-40 parts to remove chips. The swarf is automatically blown from the work area as we have a through tool air blast. This keeps the cutting tools at an optimal temperature, clears the work envelop and improves processes such as tapping and deep hole drilling. The air blast works at 90psi and it has been a revelation for us. It stops the tapping process from binding-up, deep-hole drilling is more productive and we’re extending our tool life significantly.”
In conclusion, Mr Howlett says: “FANUC have been an outstanding machine tool partner for us. The reliability and machine-uptime is amazing. The service and support team are extremely helpful and supportive and the technology, speed and capability of the ROBODRILL Series is perfect for our business.”