Automation: Essential for 5-Axis Machining Productivity

What used to take seven or eight operations can now be done in two, and one job, which took three standard weeks can now be completed in three days with 24 hour running, according to the company's managing director.

Impressed with the performance of its Lang Grip-Fix system for holding and locating parts in its multi-axis machining centers, Anotronic, based near Leighton Buzzard, chose the Lang Eco-Tower, from Thame Workholding, to automate its Matsuura MX520 5-axis machining center.

The cost saving possible with raw material is one of the main factors which led Anotronic to invest in the Lang Grip-Fix system. Martin White, Managing Director of Anotronic says, “We machine Inconel and titanium, which are very expensive. A 6 ft x 4 ft x 0.5 in sheet of Inconel costs around £20,000. With a standard vice you need to grip on 5–10 mm of material, which produces a lot of waste. By using the Lang system, we can grip on just 3 mm and, with its form closure technology, we can take some very heavy cuts.” The company often uses an 80 mm face mill taking 1.5 mm cut depths, which uses around 60–70 percent spindle load on the machining centers, without any problems.

Matsuura MX520 5-axis machining center in action.

For delicate parts, the Lang Grip-Fix allows secure clamping without large clamping forces. White adds, “The form closure technology is very clever as it does not introduce excessive stress into the part. Hydraulic clamps can deform parts with their high clamping pressure.”

In addition to the material saving, using the Lang system has enabled Anotronic to save an operation. Previously it was cutting the blank by water jet, facing it to produce a datum and then turning it over to start machining. With Grip-Fix, it has been able to eliminate the facing operation and go directly to the machining stage.

White says, “As well as saving 15–20 percent on our material costs, the 0.01 mm repositioning accuracy means we can eliminate a facing operation and, if we need to rework parts, easily and accurately reloaded them to the machine.” In addition to using the system on its machines, Anotronic also uses Grip-Fix for its CNC CMM inspection machines and in its EDM hole drilling machines, where it is developing a 5-axis system for refurbishing the leading and trailing edge cooling holes in turbine blades.

In White’s opinion, automation is essential for productivity for 5-axis machining. With the Matsuura and the Lang Eco Tower he can run 24 hours a day. “The machine tool and the Lang system just eats work. 100 off used to be a lot, now it is very easy. What used to take seven or eight operations can now be done in two, and one job, which took three standard weeks can now be completed in three days with 24 hour running.”

The Eco-Tower uses a spiral configuration to store up to 60 Makro-Grip Automation Vises, which slide by gravity down to the loading position. The air operated robot handling device removes the previous job from the machine and places it on an elevator to take it back to the top of the tower.  The robot then picks the next job from the tower and loads it to the machine so that production can continue uninterrupted until all the vices on the tower have been completed.

White says, “The system is simple and very effective. Thame worked directly with Matsuura to interface the automatic opening and closing of the machine door and the necessary steps required to clean swarf and coolant from the part with its Clean-Tec fan before unloading. Furthermore, because the system is air operated, no special guarding is required as it can easily be stopped by any obstruction, which greatly eases installation and running.”

Anotronic found that the Eco-Tower was a very cost effective solution, saving around £100,000 on a proprietary automation system.

White says, “Even small quantities are worth loading onto the Eco-Tower. We have a very busy workshop, and it is difficult to monitor when a machine has stopped and needs reloading. With the Lang system, we can just load it and forget it. The increased spindle cutting time we get turns our night shift into day and eliminates any waiting between components during normal working hours. As well as making our life much easier, automation gives us more time to do other tasks and greatly reduces our hourly running costs, making us more competitive.”

Founded in 1946, Thame Workholding is a leading international provider of workholding solutions for all types of machining in both standard and special applications. Its 11,500 sq ft long Crendon facility houses over 15 state of the art CNC Machine Tools including simultaneous 5 Axis and Auto loading systems, CMM Inspection, Modeling CAD/CAM, sales and administration plus large stocks of all its standard products. It is accredited to Quality Standard ISO 9001:2008 with the scope to design, manufacture, assemble, and maintain all the workholding equipment it supplies.

As well as its own products, Thame Workholding also offers productivity solutions from Lang Technik, Samchully, HWR Spanntechnik and Horst Witte Geratebau.

Thame Workholding, Field End, Thame Road, Long Crendon, Aylesbury, Bucks HP18 9EJ England,  +44 (0) 1844 208050, FAX: +44 (0) 1844 201699,


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