Machining centres case file: reshoring bicycle components with help from a fourth axis

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Superstar Components has reshored bicycle component production from Taiwan with the help of a Fanuc Robodrill D21MiA5 machining centre (500, 400, 330 mm; X,Y,Z) fitted with a Fanuc direct-drive fourth-axis and a Fanuc M-10iA 10M robot loading system.

Started 10 years ago as a bedroom-based business selling bicycle brake pads, Neil Wilkinson’s Lincoln operation quickly progressed to sourcing manufactured products from Taiwan for cycling enthusiasts.

Explains Wilkinson: “I bought the machine because it’s a cost-effective solution to solve a logistics problem I had. I was getting parts [pedal sets] produced in Taiwan, where the majority of the bicycle industry is based.
The production lead times with suppliers started off very short, but over the years the lead times increased considerably – up to 7-8 months in some cases. We have now brought this work back in house to the UK, to gain control over the process and the lead times.”

Initially prototyping pedal sets using a manually-loaded machining centre having a fourth axis, Superstar Components still had large scale production made overseas.
The cycle parts specialist then moved some pedal sets to the UK, but the machine-plus-fourth-axis set-up wasn’t fast enough. A fully automated system was investigated, with Fanuc called in (02476 639669).

Says Wilkinson: “I was originally looking for a robot solution provider to upgrade an existing machine. However, the Fanuc solution proved too good to miss, as they do the machine tool, the fourth-axis table, the robot and the complete integration, all in-house. This turnkey project made things fast and easy. The complete solution was delivered as one finished product.”

Productivity improvement beyond 85% has been achieved with the Fanuc Robodrill. “My expectation was to streamline the process and get rid of any problems and inconsistencies that arise from manual labour and importing,” says Superstar Components’ owner, who adds: “The upside to the machine is that it has double the spindle speed I was expecting and this has significantly improved our surface finishes. I have been impressed with everything about the Fanuc machine. I presumed that when I first bought the machine, the size of our cuts would be limited by the [BT30] spindle, but as we cut aluminium, we really push the cutting tools, with big cuts and high feed rates.

“Rumour among engineers is that a BT30 is a little flaky, but if nobody told me the Robodrill was a BT30, we wouldn’t know any different. I run the machine like a BT40;
the tools run very hard and fast. The machine build and the [24,000 rpm] spindle are very rigid, robust and powerful.

“The Robodrill has taken Superstar Components from being a niche product manufacturer with a higher price point to a company that can now manufacture pedals for other companies at prices comparable with Taiwan. We can do this whilst achieving significantly better quality levels. This is all down to the Fanuc machine and its capabilities.”

In support of the turnkey package, Superstar Components designed fourth-axis tooling in cooperation with a company in Leicester. This allows the company to quickly swap out tooling, pallets and robot grippers, enter a new program and have the machine produce a new profile. “It’s very easy to set up a new job with a new profile,” confirms Wilkinson.

Running costs are also cited as a positive factor. “We knew the Fanuc machines were going to be more energy efficient than our existing machines, but when we truly looked at the cost, the Robodrill is costing us £0.30 to £0.40 per hour on the spindle; it’s virtually nothing,” he offers, continuing: “This is less than a third of the cost of our other machine tools. We run this machine 24 hours a day, as the pedal sets have a 28-hour cycle time. Sometimes the Robodrill can run for weeks without stopping. When you run a machine continuously, this saving definitely adds up. Whilst it isn’t always a deciding factor in a machine purchase, it’s something that is already making us consider getting a second machine.”

This article was published in the July 2016 issue of Machinery magazine.