CNC Routing relies on ITC when cutting high-demand 'sneeze screens'

3 min read

​CNC Routing is stepping up to support the NHS and critical infrastructure projects with the help of Tamworth-based cutting tool specialists ITC.

Founded in 2005, the West Midlands company has a well-established position serving the automotive, retail, healthcare and industrial sectors with its design, routing, finishing, fabrication, installation and building services. The company has three AXYZ routing machines, each having a twin-head facility. So, when one of its customers became overrun with the production of critical ‘sneeze screens’ for supermarkets during the Covid-19 pandemic, the 26-employee business stepped in to help.

Explains Chris Noble, head of design and technical at CNC Routing: “Just a week ago we were commissioned to manufacture 8,000 acrylic, PETG and polycarbonate ‘sneeze screens’ for supermarket checkouts. Machined from 3,050 by 2,050mm sheets, the screens are manufactured in two sizes of 600 mm wide by 750 mm high and 750 mm wide by 1 m high, with panel thicknesses ranging from 3 to 6 mm. With the screens being supplied to more than a dozen supermarket chains, each with various till and checkout dimensions, the different sized screens require both hole position and dimensional variations. This has resulted in our company producing more than 12 different screen variants.”

As soon as the order arrived on the Friday, the company placed an order with ITC and tools were subsequently delivered on the Saturday morning. Discussing why the company turned to cutting tools from ITC, Noble continues: “We have been successfully working with ITC for over 12 years and they supply all the cutting tools for machining our plastic components. The service, support and technical advice is only surpassed by the quality of their cutting tools.

“The ability to supply 60 cutting tools on a Saturday morning as a next-day delivery service during the Coronavirus pandemic speaks volumes for ITC and its service. But from a technical perspective, we were having issues some years ago with our cutting tools gripping parts and lifting thin sheets from the vacuum bed of the AXYZ machines during processing. ITC’s Sally Hunt provided first class technical support by investigating our existing tools, materials and cutting parameters, subsequently supplying new tools and machining strategies that resolved our issues. Since then, we’ve had every confidence in Sally and the tools from ITC.”

Observing UK government and WHO safe working guidelines, CNC Routing has moved many of its office-based staff to homeworking whilst the huge influx of work has now seen the business change from a two-shift to a three-shift pattern. “As a business, we are conscious of the health and safety of our staff, and all employees are provided with suitable PPE. By moving to 24-hour production with three shifts, our shopfloor staff levels are naturally reduced. Furthermore, each of our three AXYZ routing machines is 3 m apart, so our factory floor automatically exercises ‘social distancing’.”

From a production perspective, the company has one AXYZ router with bed dimensions of 4 880 by 2,635 mm, and two further machines having a slightly smaller bed. This means CNC Routing can place four 8’ by 4’ sheets on the machine bed at any one time. “The large machine beds allow us to set up four parts at a time. Additionally, each machine incorporates a twin cutting head, which we can set at different widths. For the ‘sneeze sheets’, we have spaced the cutting heads at a distance of 1,230mm apart, so we can cut two sheets simultaneously. With three twin-spindle routers running 24 hours a day, the performance and reliability of the ITC solid carbide routing tools is essential.”

Initially, CNC Routing placed an order for 60-off 180-2362-10-E 6 mm Clearcut Series single-flute routers from ITC. Says Noble: “From experience, we know that these tools perform really well, have exceptional tool life and with the upward spiral flute geometry they are perfect for machining thin sheets without lifting from the vacuum bed. This confidence in the 180 Clearcut Series has been confirmed, as we have run the tools at 24,000 rpm up to the full 6 mm depth of cut at cutting speeds of 7 m/min. These machining parameters are beyond the recommended cutting conditions, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Luckily, the quality of the ITC Clearcut Series can handle the increased speeds and feeds with ease.

“Despite running at significantly increased machining parameters, the 6 mm diameter tools can comfortably process more than 50 sheets before we have to change the tool. After cutting 50 sheets, the cutting performance and edge finishes are as good as they are on the very first sheet that we cut with a new tool. The only reason we change the tools after machining 50 sheets is because the protective film over the acrylic, PETG and polycarbonate ‘sneeze screen’ sheets begins to fray slightly and ‘fluff up’.”

The company has already manufactured 8,000 ‘sneeze screens’ in a week and the company has another 8,000 to produce imminently.

Concludes Noble: “We are currently in the process of machining ‘sneeze screens’ for supermarkets, and as the longevity of this situation continues and ‘non-essential’ retail companies re-open their doors for business; we expect to be making these sheets for everything from pharmacies and hardware stores to pet stores and other retail outlets. Added to this, we also have a healthy order book with the healthcare sector for furniture and storage units and lockers that has to be fulfilled imminently. As a business, we are very lucky that we can give all of our routing capacity to these essential services. We can do this as our regular retail work is naturally ‘on-pause’. But regardless of whether we are making sneeze screens, furniture or storage units for the health service, we know that we can rely on specialist cutting tools from ITC, even during a crisis.”