UK Manufacturing - a driving force for innovation
UK manufacturing has come a long way since the smoky chimneys and gloomy factories of the Industrial Revolution. Today, the UK machine tool industry ? manufacturers, importers and the supporting cast of software, control, tooling, automation and work holding suppliers ? are all working to bring the best of the latest innovative technologies to British manufacturing and the world. And coupled with this, new manufacturing technologies in the UK are making it possible to produce things that could not be made before.
Andrew Manly, Director General of the Manufacturing Technologies Association
Machine tools have been at the heart of British innovation since the days of the Industrial Revolution ? indeed it?s hard to imagine any product in which machine tools have not had some role to play. And today, rather than being associated with the smoking chimneys and gloomy factories of the past, the British machine tool sector is at the leading edge of exciting advances in new materials, software, drives and controls and manufacturing methods.
New processes and techniques provide the advances in productivity, flexibility and quality that are allowing UK manufacturers to stay competitive in increasingly challenging international markets. And despite the increasing strength of low-wage cost economies, British manufacturing, and the UK machine tool industry that it relies on, is not merely surviving, it is innovating and thriving.
With the likes of Ford, Vauxhall, BMW, Nissan, Toyota, Honda and Peugeot manufacturing here, the UK probably has more world-class car companies represented than anywhere else in the world. It?s not just the automotive industry; Britain also plays a leading role in Airbus, the world?s leading aircraft manufacturer.
|UK manufacturers need to stay competitive in increasingly challenging international markets|
When you consider the supply chains serving these companies, the associated industries that have sprung up around them and then add in leading manufacturers in medical equipment, domestic appliances, the petrochemical and offshore industries, you can start to see the central role played by a vibrant and innovative machine tools industry.
Global companies value the UK as a place to develop and manufacture new machines, software and ancillary products, such as tooling, work holding, fixturing and handling systems.
In common with the sectors it serves, the UK machine tool industry is a part of a global industry. It no longer makes sense to simply talk in terms of British machine tools and imported machine tools. As well as its indigenous machine tool industry, the UK is also home to the European manufacturing operations of Japanese and US machine tool builders and is a base for manufacturers from other European countries.
For British manufacturers to succeed they need to have access to the best manufacturing technology in the world, wherever it is manufactured ? so imported machine tools also have a vital role to play in the success of British industry.
In many cases, along with manufacturers, the importers are providing more than just a machine, they may well use that machine as the basis on which to build a turnkey package ? often incorporating innovative programming, work-holding, tooling and automation equipment developed by UK engineers.
Britain is not just at the hub of an international network of machine tool supply, it is also a net exporter of manufacturing technology. According to analysis from the Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) ? the organisation that represents UK manufacturing industries ? the UK recorded a trade surplus of £21.1 million in 2004 ? an increase of nearly £9 million on the previous year.
The machine tool industry is part of a global indudtry
Grinding technology has been one of the strongest sectors for exports, and has also been an area of particular innovation ? with customer companies, machine tool manufactures and academic institutions working together to produce new, highly productive manufacturing methods. One-hit machining ? the ability to produce a complete component in one setup ? is a major driver for increased productivity and quality. Fewer setups mean less time wasted and less chance for inaccuracies to be introduced. Now one-hit machining of hard nickel alloys for jet engines has become a possibility thanks to new grinding processes that allow high rates of metal removal.
|UK recorded a trade surplus of £21.1 million in 2004 ? an increase of nearly £9 million on the previous year|
Working with Cranfield University, Holroyd has applied High Efficiency Deep Grinding (HEDG) methods to its Edgetek grinding machines to achieve high metalremoval rates and an optical-quality surface finish ?one-hit?. Traditionally the approach was to machine the metal in its unhardened state, heattreating it and then grinding the hardened component to its finished size. More recently ?creep feed? grinding has allowed more material to be removed in the hardened state, but with HEDG, cycle times are typically reduced three or four times compared to what was previously possible with the latest technology. Holroyd has been able to demonstrate to aerospace industry customers that its Edgetek SAM, 5- axis machine can produce a final finish for all surfaces on a complex, nickelalloy, nozzle guide vane in one-hit.
Innovative measurement technology is enabling manufacturers to build certainty into their products
Also contributing to grinding exports, Hardinge has announced that it has received an order for 18 ?Viper? CNC FGC grinding centres for machining from solid the root profiles of aircraft engine turbine blades. VIPER is the result of a partnership forged between Rolls-Royce Derby and a core of specialist companies including Bridgeport. VIPER which stands for ?vitreous improved performance extreme removal? process was developed by Rolls Royce at Derby as an alternative to conventional creep feed grinding for machining nickel alloys. Rolls-Royce then worked together with Leicester-based Bridgeport to create the multi-axis grinding centres.
Again, multiple machining operations can be achieved in one setup, enabling cost-efficient manufacturing of single components or small batches in a lean manufacturing environment. Not all innovations have to involve new processes though ? sometimes it is a case of improving existing methods by applying the latest technology. Jones and Shipman has succeeded in taking the complexity out of the grinding process by transferring it?s specialist grindingprocess knowledge into it?s own ?Easy? software suite, which is combined with the latest GE-Fanuc® touch-screen control technology. The result is an easy-to-use system that allows inexperienced and experienced operators alike to be immediately productive with almost no set up times. This combination of technology allows up to 4 axis and 3 spindles to be controlled on cylindrical machines and up to 4 axis on surface grinders, simplifying complex components in addition to reducing the number of times they need to be loaded on the machine.
At the heart of one-hit machining is the ability to work in multiple axis without having to re-clamp the workpiece, and one of the global players in the manufacture of multiaxis machining centres and lathes, Yamazaki Mazak, has its European manufacturing base in Worcester, England.
|For British manufacturers to succeed they need to have access to the best manufacturing technology in the world|
Underlining the global nature of innovation and product development in the machine tool sector, and the strength of UK engineering, the Mazak Group asked the Worcester factory to develop and manufacture Y-axis versions of its Nexus lathe.
Some 80 and 85% of the two versions will be exported to mainland Europe and the Middle East. Modular design of the Nexus range will also allow the new UK design to be manufactured in Japan, the US and Singapore.
The decision to design and make these machines at Worcester was also infl uenced by trends in the UK machine tool market. In 1996/97 twoaxis machines accounted for 77% of lathe production at Worcester. This year 73% of production will be accounted for by multi-axis lathes ? a complete about turn as the European market gets to grips with adopting advanced manufacturing techniques.
To stay competitive it is not enough for manufacturers to invest in automated production technology, cut out unskilled labour content and apply the production engineering skills to get the most out of their equipment ? they also need to make sure that quality is second to none. Innovative measurement technology is enabling manufacturers to build this certainty into their products. Renishaw?s latest five-axis technology for co-ordinate measuring machines, for example, allows companies to measure parts to a greater accuracy than ever before, and Bowers Metrology has perfected digital instruments that can measure holes to an accuracy of .001 mm and can operate in the most hostile machining environments.
Producing things that have not been made before
The machine tool industry is not just an innovator in its own right though, it is a driving force for innovation in its customer industries. First of all, it provides customer industries with access to the worldclass manufacturing technology that gives them the productivity, cost efficiencies and quality to stay competitive and provide a stable base on which to develop new products. Secondly, the fl exibility of today?s machine tools that allows the economic production of batches as small as one, combined with one-hit techniques that cut tooling costs, and advanced CADCAM systems that can slash the lead time from design concept to component make it easier to bring new products to market. And thirdly, new manufacturing technologies can make it possible to produce things that simply could not be made before.
It?s the continuing role of the UK machine tool industry ? manufacturers, importers and the full supporting cast of software, control, tooling, automation and work holding suppliers ? to bring the best of the latest innovative technologies to British manufacturing and, indeed, the world.
The Manufacturing Technologies Association (MTA) is fortunate to be able to represent all of these strands, which allows them to present a balanced view of the machine tool and manufacturing technology sector and its customer industries. By helping members to sell their products ? both in this country and globally, MTA is working for the benefit of the UK manufacturing industry in general and, therefore, the economy as a whole.
The MTA does more than just help members sell their products though. It also keeps members up to date with the latest technical developments and initiates activities to stimulate innovation and growth ? giving members the tools to drive the development of new methods and products.
The MTA is also looking to secure the long-term health of UK manufacturing by helping to create the climate in which the engineers of tomorrow can thrive. Supporting education initiatives such as specialist engineering schools, for example, and working to improve the image of engineering and promote engineering as a career.
For more information visit www.mta.org.uk