04 June 2012
Fine-tuned machine shop
Upgrading its Mazak manufacturing technology has helped McLaren Racing make its fast cars' parts faster at its Woking Technology Centre, as Andrew Allcock explains
(Video shows Mazak Hyper Variaxis 630)
Officially opened in 2004, but a working building during 2003, the McLaren Technology Centre benefited from a complete suite of 15 new Mazak machines, with an emphasis on 5-axis and multi-functional machine tools. Mazak has been Official Supplier of machine tools to McLaren Racing since 1999, starting out by providing five machines at the operation's previous site.
Looking back, Simon Roberts, operation director for McLaren Racing, highlights a key benefit of that technology upgrade. "Before we moved to this building, we couldn't make 'uprights'* ourselves; we had to buy them in America or in Europe. They cost $12,000 dollars, if we had them made in the US; €12,000 in Europe; or £12,000, if they were made in the UK. The suppliers dictated price and delivery, and the lead time was 12 weeks – quite a long time. When we moved here, the four Mazak Variaxis machines gave us the capability, for the first time, to make uprights. The first one took us 11 weeks, from drawing to part on the car, but, working with Mazak and our in-house engineers, we got that down to eight weeks."
TECHNOLOGY UPGRADE, AGAIN
The company's Mazak technology has recently been further upgraded, since 2008, with the total complement now numbering 25 Mazak units. The latest machines are two Hyper Variaxis 630 5-axis machining centres, the first to be installed in the UK.
And Mr Roberts again uses uprights as a benchmark component to underline the benefit. "With the Hyper Variaxis 630s, we can machine these [uprights] in 24 hours, although it takes five weeks from drawing to part. But we have massively reduced, with high speed, 5-axis machining capability, the time it takes to make parts like that, and uprights are one of the most complex, highly loaded parts on the car." All uprights are now made in-house, in fact.
This improvement in its in-house manufacturing capability and performance is "just one example, since we have been in this building, of how we have fundamentally changed our make-buy sourcing through our in-house capability", the operations director highlights.
And he points out the key nature of the partnership with Mazak – a privately owned company that claims for itself the position of "the world's largest producer of computer-controlled metalcutting machine tools" and which declares annual sales of over €1.5 billion.
"When we chose Mazak, one of the things we needed in the partnership was a two-way exchange of information. We genuinely encourage Mazak engineers from the UK and Japan to understand what we find, what we learn, and also want to be on the leading of edge of what they are doing. We are the first company in the UK to install a Hyper Variaxis – we wanted to be at that leading edge.
"We are quite happy in doing that to take some of the risk. When you take a brand new machine tool, you're at the leading edge and could potentially have a few problems. But there have been no problems with the machines at all; both installed really well and progressed from commissioning, and are now running in anger."
The company does still have some Mazak machines of 2003 vintage, but these are still running well, Mr Roberts offers, adding that all machines are standard, apart from the colour – white.
Image: Futher investment at McLaren Racing's Woking Technology Centre machine shop is speeding manufacture of its parts for its racing cars - MP4-27, pictured
LEAD TIME REDUCTION
The central objective in the company's manufacturing strategy is, the operations director explains, to reduce lead times, and latest technology clearly delivers on that score. But more productive manufacturing technology has become even more important, following the introduction of the 'Resource Restriction Agreement' – the RRA places a ceiling on both headcount and team external spend, for example.
Mr Roberts again: "Every year, we are bringing more in-house. This year, there was a 15-20% increase in in-sourcing, but headcount is fixed, due to RRA, so everything we do these days has to be around working smarter."
And, apart from updating its manufacturing technology, part of working smarter has meant a change to working practices since the Technology Centre opened.
"When we first moved in, we weren't allowed to have any barfeeders, due to worries about noise and oil. But, working with Mazak, we now have modern barfeeders that are neither of those and are running two 5-axis Integrex lathes with barfeeders [Integrex Ti 150] for producing front wheel nuts, which are very, very complex – a fantastic step forward.
"At the other end of the shop, we have created some turning cells, where we have two automated machines and two manually loaded machines in a cell, with just two guys running them, day and night. They keep the automated machines running and, when they are not doing that, they feed the manually loaded machines."
The race team pressure under which the machine shop must operate puts the facility in further context. "We machine 3,200 parts for a racing car, with batches anything from six up to 50. But most fall in the six to 12-off area [the machine shop ships an average of 1,000 parts/week]. We're almost a jobbing shop, but we're running 24 hours a day – a day and a night shift – with a skeleton crew over the weekend," explains Mr Roberts. "But, if you look at our forward order book, six weeks from now there's nothing left in the shop. And yet, at the moment, we are 120% loaded. Everything we do comes at us with a very short lead time."
Organisationally, there have been changes, too. Every morning, production managers will meet with the planners for half an hour to go through the current status, covering 30-40 hot parts. The managers then act on that.
Mr Roberts picks up the story: "At the end of the day, at 16:30, we have an action review, with managers standing up and going through what they did and whether that is what they said they were going to do at the morning meeting – not in a negative way, but a positive way.
"We have some fantastic conversations, with production managers and setters saying that this or that went wrong, for whatever reason, and explaining how they responded to that to keep things moving. It took us a while to get this in and running, but that's what we do now and it pays dividends. If you wait till 8 o' clock the next morning, a lot can go wrong in that time."
The company also applies continuous improvement techniques. "We effectively run a version of Total Production System, but we don't call it that, as we don't want to confuse production initiatives with focus on the race," explains the operations director. "It's more subtle. We introduced this in 2006, and each day before tea break managers will go through any safety issues, team issues, production issues and cost issues [overtime, consumables, subcontract]. We have live costs and the budget on display on the shopfloor.
"At this time of year [March], we are probably making about 50% of all parts in- house, with the rest subcontracted. By displaying cost and budget information, we are incentivising managers to save money, as they personally have to put the orders out [re the Resource Restriction Agreement external spend]."
The company uses both Seiki Systems and Jobshop (now Javelin) to help manage the shopfloor workload and track part progress, but "one of the things we've learnt, talking to military strategists, is not to over-manage the area", Mr Roberts explains, adding: "Even if we had a plan for today, I can guarantee something will be 'crashed' in. We try to keep a light touch on the flow of work."
Returning to the benefits of latest manufacturing technology and the new Hyper Variaxis machines, Ian Greenfield, senior production engineer, McLaren Racing, further underscores their importance and offers more tales of success for these latest Mazak machines.
"The HyperVariaxis offers us a significant increase in capacity, both in terms of the number of machines within the factory and also the size of the machines, in particular the machining envelope.
"We already have a number of small 5-axis machines, but we had no large, super-fast, dynamic machines capable of machining the main case insert or rear crash structure of the car at the speed and quality we require. We wanted a machine, or pair of machines, which could handle the more complex long lead items that have traditionally been made by subcontractors."
Image: Ian Greenfield, left, discusses production matters with machine shop manager Malcolm Jones
The new machines are, currently, being used exclusively on machining parts for the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes race car, including the rear crash structure, which is a complex titanium component; and the rear wing pylon, which has a complex titanium surface. In addition, the machines are being used for the rear end main case insert, a titanium component with a billet weight of 60 kg and a final weight of less than 4 kg.
"The rear crash structure is one of the most complex parts of the car and the first ever part we machined on the Hyper Variaxis," says Mr Greenfield. "It was a real test for the machine and the guys running it."
He continues: "We are running the machines 24 hours a day, 6 days a week at the moment. We have made 20 rear crash structures, each taking in excess of 125 hours per unit. The machines run unmanned, as they are equipped with an oversize tool magazine and a swarf management system."
Previously, the team used subcontractors to machine a number of the parts, as it did not have the machine capacity to take on this type of work. "These components would have been made on 3-axis machines with multiple set-ups and operations," Mr Greenfield explains. "Having two identical machines of our own allows us to machine components simultaneously. When we need a pair for the car, we make a pair."
And the team has already identified quantifiable improvements from the new machines. Mr Greenfield again: "We ran two identical jobs, one on the older Variaxis 500 machine, which has served us well, and one on the new Hyper Variaxis. The tooling, programming and materials were identical, but the new machine demonstrated a 100% improvement in tool life on the roughing cycle.
"We also use the latest roughing cycles from our CAM system on the new machine, which allows us to utilise the high feed rate of about 50,000 mm/min between cuts. The load on the cutting tool is also kept constant, with the bespoke coolant system washing away the swarf. As a result, the roughing times have been greatly reduced, compared to our other machines, by approximately 25% when machining titanium. This is really only possible using the Hyper Variaxis machines, because of the rapid feed rates and the acceleration and deceleration curves."
With Yamazaki Mazak having extended its role as Official Supplier of CNC machine tools to the Vodafone McLaren Mercedes Formula One team at the end of last year up to 2014, the pair will, no doubt, be working hard to deliver more such benefits over the coming race seasons.
*Uprights are the vertical structures that support the rear aerofoil
Box item 1
Some things McLaren won't subcontract, due to security issues. Mr Roberts: "Uprights are all made in-house, and another part that we will never subcontract is chassis and front wings. I'd ideally like to do rear wings, too. But we don't sub out a complete rear wing. You have to trust your suppliers; they have to sign confidentiality agreements, but it's not in their interest to breach them, anyway."
Box item 2
Front wing clinches it – Mazak delivers it
Installed in 2008, the Mazak Vortex 815/120-II 5-axs machine was instrumental in helping the McLaren F1 team's Louis Hamilton to victory in the Hungarian grand prix in the 2009 season, explains Mazak's European marketing manager, Damien Clough. This was because the team could produce more aerodynamic package design iterations, as the aluminium mould tools used to produce them could be made faster on the machine, roughing parts in 45 minutes not the 4 hours previously required. Several designs were generated and produced over that weekend, with parts being flown by private jet between the UK and Budapest to support this feat.
Box item 3
McLaren Racing – the complete Mazak run-down
Three off FJV250s - Double column vertical machining centre
Four off VRX500-5M - Variaxis 5-axis machining centre
Two off SQT200MY - Super Quick Turn lathe with milling function and Y-axis
Two off SQT250MY - Super Quick Turn lathe with milling function and Y-axis
Two off INT100-2Y Integrex - multi-tasking machine with Y-axis
Two off INT300-2Y Integrex - multi-tasking machine with Y-axis
Two off QTNX100MSY-2 - Quick Turn Nexus lathe with milling function, second spindle and Y-axis
VORTEX 815/120 - 5-axis vertical machining centre
VTC80030SR - vertical travelling-column 5-axis vertical machining centre
Two off INTi150 - Integrex multi-tasking machine with Y-axis
Two off QTN100MY - Quick Turn Nexus lathe with milling function and Y-axis
Two off HVRX630 Hyper Variaxis – 5-axis machining centre with linear motors
First published in Machinery, June 2012
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