Motivational time has united manufacturing industry
Edward James, managing director, Citizen Machinery UK Ltd
In the opinion of Citizen Machinery UK’s managing director Edward James, the Covid-19 pandemic has united the whole of the manufacturing sector to an extent never seen before in terms of the levels of selfless application by huge numbers of people to boost production of much-needed medical equipment. In this article he describes how the company he runs, a turning solution provider, is contributing in the battle to deliver more ventilators to the front line in hospitals:
Citizen became involved early on when it was contacted by the UK government’s consortium for ventilator production, which became known as Ventilator Challenge UK. The committee included representatives from the AMRC (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre) and Renishaw, who identified Citizen as the largest supplier of bar automatics in the UK and Ireland. This type of machine tool, especially the sliding-head variety with turn-milling capability, is critical to the rapid, efficient manufacture of components in very high volumes for making the extra ventilators needed by the NHS, 30,000 being the current target.
Accordingly, Citizen was given critical supplier status for the medical as well as the aerospace and defence sectors, although priority is being given to medical applications and is the only one being serviced at the moment.
At the outset, the government was considering building a factory to make ventilators parts and assemble them. However, we and others advising them suggested that the best route would be to enlist the help of the existing pool of first-class manufacturers and their supply chains already using our lathes and production equipment from other leading machine tool suppliers.
I gave them a list of about 50 companies that use Citizen turning centres, choosing firms that operate sufficient numbers of machines, hold ISO accreditation and have the right level of expertise and metrology capability. We knew many of them already make ventilator parts as well as similar types of medical and non-medical parts out of both normal materials and special alloys.
We had told all of our customers via social media that Citizen Machinery UK was still open for business and continuing to operate under government guidelines to support customers and prioritise any request for help in producing medical components.
Nearly all of the recommended contacts were approached by multinational firms, including Rolls-Royce, GKN and BAe, appointed by Ventilator Challenge UK to oversee supply chain management from purchasing through to ventilator assembly. The manufacturers were asked to change over their production to machining medical components and they immediately agreed to do so. As many of the firms recognised that additional capacity would be needed, it triggered multiple orders for new Citizen bar automatics from several companies and from additional manufacturers that became involved in the initiative through word-of-mouth recommendation.
In just over three weeks to mid-April 2020, 17 machines were prepared and delivered from stock, all of which are devoted to the production of medical parts. Transport is provided by Citizen’s dedicated team, J Parrish & Son, and for the rest of April sliding-head lathe deliveries are running at one per day. Extraordinarily, each is commissioned and operating on a customer’s shop floor in approximately 36 hours from receipt of the order, such is the urgency. Overlaid on this already hectic workload is a significant amount of re-purposing of existing turn-mill centres in the field to manufacture medical equipment.
There are examples of Citizen lathes having been reconfigured for making metal parts that are normally produced from stampings, forgings and castings. By far the largest proportion of resetting, however, has involved writing programs and providing tooling packages for turn-milling large quantities of plastic components from bar that are normally injection moulded, such as tubing connectors for ventilators. Often they are supplied from overseas, including China, but deliveries may have either stopped or the numbers available are insufficient.
The six-week lead-time to produce a new injection mould tool is too long; the parts are needed much faster than that. Our multi-axis sliding-head bar autos are ideal for turning such components at both ends and milling and drilling them in the same cycle so they come off complete, without the need for special fixturing and with minimal material wastage.
It needs a lot of work to identify parts that can be re-engineered in this way and then re-purpose a lathe to make them. A significant amount of CAD effort is required, plus complex CAM programming and post-processing.
Our applications department has been doing a lot of this in-house and at our customers’ factories, outsourcing what it cannot handle. One of our applications engineers has been working pro bono at a customer’s site for three weeks to help out with re-engineering medical components due to staff shortage.”
There are several reasons for Citizen fortunately finding itself in a good position to ship such a large number of lathes at short notice. One was the opening last year of a new turning centre of excellence in Brierley Hill with a showroom containing many demonstration machines. These, together with those on show at the Bushey headquarters, are available on short delivery.
The company in any case has a policy of supplying its machines and accessories from UK stock and more were available than usual, as extra had been brought in due to the possibility of a hard Brexit. Additional machines were in the UK, including some of the very latest models, ready to be shown at the now-postponed MACH exhibition.
Moreover, a bull run of sales had led to a backorder book of about eight weeks, with turning centres that were nearly ready for delivery able to be re-purposed at short notice and diverted urgently to medical component manufacturers. The original machine packages are being replaced from stock.
Naturally, these activities are only possible with healthy Citizen staff to implement them. Seeing the speed with which Covid-19 was spreading, we had pre-empted government advice by putting on hold in February all overseas travel, isolating the Bushey and Brierley Hill centres to avoid movement between them, and instigating working from home where feasible. The result is that of the 56 members of staff, 20 are furloughed but the other 36 are able to work, including all of the applications engineers, half of the service staff and many back office support personnel.
I am told that most of the turned parts have already been manufactured for the 30,000 extra ventilators, which is testament to the effort put in by us, other lathe suppliers and an army of willing and capable manufacturers in Britain and Ireland.
I would like to offer a big thank you to all our staff and suppliers who are helping to make this happen. Everyone is volunteering to work tirelessly around the clock, at weekends and even through their holidays.”
When the country finally comes through the pandemic, Citizen Machinery UK will find itself in a stronger position than previously as he predicts that demand for new machines will grow. It will be due to companies that are acquiring modern sliding-head turn-mill centres now, where in normal circumstances they would not have done so for several years, recognising earlier the benefits of the tighter tolerances and better surface finishes achievable compared with using their older lathes.
Additionally, most of the new turning centres currently being supplied have Citizen’s proprietary LFV programmable chipbreaking software built into the control’s operating system. Manufacturers are seeing the productivity benefits of this technology when machining traditionally long-chipping materials such as plastics, stainless steel and titanium.
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SCHUNK gripper plays a central role in AMRC Wales opening ceremony
In December, the University of Sheffield officially opened its Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC Cymru), a £20 m state-of-the-art research and development facility in North Wales. As a member of the AMRC, SCHUNK UK played an integral role in the opening ceremony, holding the ceremonial ribbon with a SCHUNK gripper for Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford to cut it.
Described by Welsh government ministers as a ‘game changer’ for the economies of Wales and the Northern Powerhouse, the AMRC Cymru is a purpose-built research and development facility close to the Airbus wing-manufacturing plant in Broughton.
It was officially opened by First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford and Economy and North Wales Minister Ken Skates, who accompanied Professor Koen Lamberts, president and vice-chancellor at the University of Sheffield, on a tour of the new building to see the new technologies that will be available to manufacturing companies across Wales.
Situated in the Deeside Enterprise Zone, the facility will operate from a 2,000 square metre open access research area focus with a focus on advanced manufacturing sectors such as the aerospace, automotive, nuclear and food. This region has a strong manufacturing base and AMRC Cymru will build on this, driving world-class research and expertise across the supply chain. It is predicted the new facility could increase Gross Value Added (GVA) to the Welsh economy by as much as £4 billion over the next 20 years.
Holding the ceremonial ribbon for the First Minister was a SCHUNK Co-act gripper attached to a Kuka Cobot that was mounted on a Kuka AGV. The new SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper is the latest addition to the SCHUNK Co-act gripper family and is a flexible system for gripping and moving of small to medium-sized workpieces in the areas of handling, assembly and electronics.
The long stroke of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper can cover a very wide range of workpieces, as the gripper fingers are particularly suited for positioning over the entire stroke. The robust parallel movement of the fingers ensures constant gripping force at a position over the entire stroke. Quick and easy to assemble, there is no height compensation required for the robot. The design of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper enables the gripper to be attached to the robot quickly and easily as the included adapter plate is attached to the robot flange using the supplied fastening material. Subsequently, due to the assembly quick-release fastener, the gripper can rapidly be attached to the adapter plate with the enclosed hexagon socket wrench.
The final step is to establish the electric connection and a starter kit is available for quick and easy installation of the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper. This contains all the necessary components to successfully mount the gripper onto the robot and to put it into operation. In essence, the new system offers long and freely programmable stroke for flexible workpiece handling with a gripping movement that incorporates parallel kinematics for constant gripping force over the entire stroke length.
With fast commissioning, programming and simple use of an intelligent servo gripper due to the ‘Plug & Work’ starter package, the SCHUNK EGH Co-act gripper offers optionally attachable flexible fingers for increased flexibility. This also increases the gripper’s range of application.
Pryor joins AMRC to showcase part traceability and data capture in smart factories
World leading marking, identification and traceability specialist Pryor Marking Technology has become a member of the prestigious University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC).
The AMRC is a network of world-class research and innovation centres working with advanced manufacturing companies around the world including Boeing, Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems.
As part of being a Tier 2 Member, Pryor has placed an advanced integrator laser marking system in the AMRC’s Factory 2050, the UK’s first state-of-the-art factory dedicated to research into reconfigurable digitally assisted assembly, components manufacturing and machining technologies.
The integrator laser is the first ever laser marking equipment in Factory 2050. It will be integrated into a fully automated robotic cell for marking parts and components to demonstrate part traceability and data capture in production assemblies.
The demonstration will involve two robots that will load the parts of a pen into the laser cabinet for marking and then assembling the parts into a working pen. Visitors will also be able to sign their name on a tablet linked to the system and the laser will engrave their signature on the pen.
David Ray, technical director at Pryor says: “This is an exciting collaboration sharing best practice in traceability. Product identity and data capture is becoming essential in modern manufacturing for multiple reasons including efficiency, quality assurance, anti-counterfeiting, recall actions and to meet increasing regulatory requirements.
“We’re delighted to be members of the AMRC and look forward to showcasing our solutions and contributing to research projects that will help develop the next generation of traceability systems for the smartest factories in the world.”
Both organisations are based in the Sheffield City Region and already partner on Pryor’s apprenticeship programme, using the AMRC’s training centre.
Pryor is leading the way with proven fibre laser marking technologies to address the growing need to mark components moving at high velocity through its range of ‘on-the-fly’ standalone and integrated laser systems.
The software links manufacturing data to uniquely identified components. Traceability is provided throughout the component manufacture and the product lifecycle, not just for materials but for all manufacturing variables that need to be monitored.
Pryor Marking Technology is a world leader in the manufacture and design of both traditional and innovative marking, identification and traceability solutions.
Founded in 1849 in Sheffield, UK, a hub of manufacturing and the birthplace of stainless steel, the company’s success is built on providing solutions for all manufacturing industries, with extensive expertise in aerospace and automotive standards.
Operating from sites in the UK, USA, France and India, Pryor serves an extensive customer base, supported by a comprehensive distributor network in countries across the globe.
The University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) is a world-class centre for research into advanced manufacturing technologies used in the aerospace, automotive, medical and other high-value manufacturing sectors.
The AMRC has a global reputation for helping companies overcome manufacturing problems and is a model for collaborative research involving universities, academics and industry worldwide.
Combining state-of-the-art technologies with the AMRC’s expertise in design and prototyping, machining, casting, welding, additive manufacturing, composites, robotics and automation, digital manufacturing and structural testing, has created a manufacturing resource far beyond anything previously available in the UK.
The AMRC is a member of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, a consortium of leading manufacturing and process research centres, backed by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK. More information can be found at www.amrc.co.uk