When CNC programmer and machinist Mr John McNab was given a promotion opportunity by Bowyer Engineering to become the company's manufacturing engineer, the commonly banded phrase 'We've always done it like this' soon went out of the window. With a wealth of shop floor experience, the remit was to introduce new manufacturing techniques & processes, and the first step was the introduction of cutting tools from Industrial Tooling Corporation (ITC).
Previously using a combination of HSS, cobalt coated tools and indexible insert tooling, the Andover based subcontract manufacturer was witnessing poor tool life, indifferent surface finishes, excessive tool changeovers and downtime when machining its diverse range of materials that include super duplex, stainless steel, nimonics, inconel, aluminium and mild steel. Furthermore, with poor tool life increasing consumption, Bowyer Engineering was also witnessing unreliable delivery schedules. This was all instantly eradicated when the manufacturer of special purpose machines, instruments and test equipment and robotic fixtures invited ITC to review its tooling usage and philosophies. Combining the company's programming expertise with the tooling mastery of ITC's regional technical engineer Dave Cleeve, the benefits soon arrived.
With John McNab demonstrating his proficiency in delivering productivity gains and cost reductions, the now production manager, commented: "I worked with ITC at a previous company and knew the quality of their tooling. As soon as I got an opportunity to influence our tooling purchasing, we brought in ITC and initially trialled the Hanita VariDrill range on super duplex pressure release valves for the oil and gas sector. The introduction of new machining methodologies and tooling products was a step made easy by the support and combined input from the shop floor staff and management."
"The valves that are a monthly order; were previously burning a drill out on every 10 holes, the same VariDrill has now been running for 6 months and has drilled over 500 holes and it still shows no sign of needing to be replaced. Furthermore, operating at higher speeds and feeds and having through coolant, there is no need for a pecking cycle, so we have also reduced our cycle times by 75%."
The success gave the 38 employee business the confidence to order a consignment stock from ITC to eliminate the downtime created by poor delivery schedules from alternate tooling vendors. ITC repaid this faith by introducing its Hanita VariMill cutters for the roughing operations on its exotic materials. With VariMill stock at Bowyer including all diameters from 6 to 16mm, the stub length cutter proved the ideal solution for its 11 CNC VMC's that all produce parts within a 300mm work envelope.
As Mr McNab continued: "The VariMill instantly made an impression when compared to our previous cobalt coated rippers. We trialled the VariMill on a component for the aerospace sector in a batch of 120 parts, it reduced the cycle time from one hour to 12 minutes. This drastic reduction was the result of increased speeds and feeds and also our ability to re-program the tool paths to optimise productivity. A re-programming exercise we couldn't undertake with our previous tools."
Whilst the stub length VariMill was introduced to plates and parts of limited depth with great success, the longer cut length of ITC's 5021 Cupro coated 5-flute ripper was implemented to increase feed rates on exotic components that demanded greater cutting depths. Bowyer Engineering has also added ITC's 4032 Series of cutters with both a 0.5 and 1mm corner radius for scanning, profiling and the machining of complex surfaces and forms.
Between the VariMill, 5021 and 4032 Series, ITC has completely catered for Bowyer Engineering's rough machining needs on its steel, stainless steel and exotic materials. For aluminium roughing, the family owned business for over 65 years has brought ITC's 49N9 aluminium cutters into its stock. Commenting upon the use of solid carbide cutters for machining aluminium, Mr McNab said: "We were previously using indexible tools but we couldn't maximise the tool paths created by our EdgeCAM software that has a specific 'Waveform' cycle for rough machining. This is because side or plunge milling with indexible tools offers limited cutting depths, poor accuracy levels and edge finishes. The 49N9 Series enables us to machine at a depth of 1XD with 16mm diameter cutters, offering removal rates far superior to indexible tools."
Also part of the ever increasing consignment stock of ITC tools is the 3081 Series of finishing tools, the long reach 3091 Series and the recently launched line of VariTaps. Across its 11 machining centres, the combination of ITC tooling and innovative new machining techniques and tool paths has reduced overall cycle times by between 50-70%. Concluding upon this staggering figure, Mr McNab said: "We have increased our productivity by such an amount that we now have an extra 30-40% capacity that we can fill with new work. We are now on a sales drive to fill this unexpected capacity. Furthermore, the introduction of ITC tooling has cut our tooling costs by 50% each month whilst simultaneously reducing our monthly intake of tools. Overall, we are delighted with the quality, productivity, capacity and tool life benefits we achieve from the ITC range. What's more, all these benefits are costing us 50% less than before. It’s a win-win situation for Bowyer Engineering; we are delighted to be working with ITC."