For those with some history in the industry, the name Ajax will be a well-known brand. Its pedigree stretches back to 1940, while it has had a variety of owners. Following its initial rescue from administration in 2001 by the Viking group, today Ajax Machine Tools International (01590 676000), as the company is now known, is located in Lymington, Hampshire, and has since 2002 been headed up by William Savin (pictured). A relationship with south coast-based machine tool supplier SEMCO was developed, which saw Ajax Machine Tools International sell that company's Taiwan-sourced Anilam 3000 controlled CNC machines alongside, for example, its own Fanuc-driven, cycle-controlled lathes into the UK market – Ajax did, and does, as a key part of its business, export other variously sourced manual and CNC machines to some 40 countries, as well as selling these into the UK market. Parts of Southampton-based SEMCO, established in 1938, were acquired by Ajax in 2005. Over a 25-year period, the relationship between SEMCO and Taiwan's Long Chang Machinery Co Ltd (also known as First Group) had seen 100s of turret milling machines and machining centres supplied into the UK, Mr Savin suggests, with the company also having fitted Anilam controls to Long Chang Machinery ironwork in the UK, particularly lathes and its 800 series box-way bed mill. (Long Chang is renowned for its heavy duty construction, reflected in the challenging manufacturing tasks, such as tank track parts, that SEMCO machines were put to work on.) LOCAL ASSEMBLY RAMP-UP After a pause, due to the demise of the Anilam 3000 control unit specifically in 2008/9 (Acu-Rite Companies Inc, which had merged with Anilam in 2002, merged with Heidenhain Corporation in 2009), Ajax Machine Tools International is now ramping up its UK-focused CNC machine tool activities again, with local assembly and 'tweaking' a central feature. This has been aided by the development and availability of the Heidenhain TNC 620 control (01444 247711), which offers a competitive replacement to the withdrawn Anilam 3000, boosted by solid local applications and training support out of Heidenhain GB's Burgess Hill, Sussex, location. A continued relationship with Long Chang Machinery and its recent willingness to fit Heidenhain controls further supports this effort. In the event, Ajax Machine Tools International's efforts in rejuvenating its UK-based CNC machine tool assembly efforts came with Heidenhain's TNC 320 (analogue control), with this fitted to a rejuvenated 800 series bed mill, in 2010 – supplied as the Ajax AJCBM 750. A machine without a toolchanger, the first has been installed in the UK, with a second in the company's showroom. A second, more central UK-focused CNC machine tool project is the AJV 700 vertical machining centre (700 mm X-axis – see previous page for more detail), this time featuring the Heidenhain TNC 620 control. Based again on Long Chang Machinery ironwork, the focus for this machine is aerospace work, particularly aluminium, and is derived from the V33 and V43 linear rail machines (Long Chang Machinery's first such machines some six or seven years ago, but having very large cross section rails). Ajax's top man explains: "The V33, although a linear rail machine, was capable of pushing a tonne of material at 33 m/min, so it wasn't really an aluminium machine. The AJV 700 is a development from this, along with a smaller machine, both using roller type guideways. There will be a whole range of machines brought to the UK market, in fact, both smaller and larger than the AJV 700." Image: The AJV 700 vertical machining centre - tailored for the UK market Having started the ball rolling, Ajax wanted to offer more flexibility. Mr Savin: "Long delivery times don't make us flexible; customers don't want to wait. We wanted to be more responsive and worked with Heidenhain here in the UK to develop appropriate CNC packages for local fitment. We also worked with Long Chang Machinery to get their agreement to supply bare iron to the UK. Not easy, because Taiwanese machine tool builders prefer to ship complete machines, but we had, via SEMCO, already done something similar, remember." This agreement was finally sealed in the latter part of last year, with the first two machines and CNC packages specified, with one presented at this month's Southern Manufacturing event. Elements of flexibility include two Z-axis heights (550 or 650 mm); a iTNC 530 or TNC 620 control; the ability to add a fourth axis (at UK assembly or in the field); the machine will be further developed to go faster than the current 48 m/min figure by some experimentation with ballscrew pitch values; while other elements of machine performance can be improved via local application-specific machine/control tuning. Close geographical support from Heidenhain GB underpins many of these elements, while regular technical discussion turns up more potential for local tailoring via exploitation of control capabilities. Some 50% or more of the value of the machine will be added in the UK, with this underlined by use of the Union Jack as part of the machine decal. NOT ONE FOR ALL "We will take developments step by step to tailor our machines for the UK market's requirements. People suffer because they have to buy machine tools made in Taiwan for a world market; we have no UK machine tool industry building for the local market. This shows itself in such areas as limited swarf clearance – the AJV 700 features a wash down system and central screw system that takes swarf through to the rear of the machine, for example. A typical approach would be small drawers at the front of the machine. "We will be working with a local fabrication company to tailor areas of the machine as necessary, while we are also working with another supplier on a through-spindle coolant system to be fitted in the UK, which will be shown at Southern Manufacturing. The bare machine is configured to accept certain capabilities, but we will realise those in the UK via local fitment and tailoring." And with Heidenhain located close by, any control work that is required can be undertaken locally, too, of course. Already Ajax Machine Tools International has invested in Renishaw laser calibration equipment to support its machine assembly ambitions and Mr Savin highlights an interesting related point about Taiwan-made world machine tools. "In Taiwan, average temperatures are around 30 °C, while here in the UK they are 15/16 °C. The coefficient of expansion of steel is around 12 microns/m per °C, so laser calibration undertaken in Taiwan will be negatively affected by the temperature difference between there and here. We are going to laser calibrate in the UK, possibly even at the installation stage. If we set a machine up in the user's factory, it is never going to be better than that. "We are taking Ajax to the next level; offering better service and a better package for the local market to those companies that are looking for a Heidenhain-controlled CNC machine tool – although Fanuc will also be available, but fitted at source. We already have one of our 800 series bedmills with TNC 320 installed in a blue-chip automotive company and that's the sort of customer we want to cultivate. My experience over several years of selling machining centres is that there is a high demand for Heidenhain controls. "I believe that there is still a large number of machine tools fitted with Heidenhain, or Cincinnati Acramatic, that remain to be replaced in the UK, and there isn't an existing machine tool supplier focused on that market and able to offer a sensible delivery. For us, the worst case is likely to be a 3-month delivery, but, because I will be holding some stock and be able to tailor machines locally, we should be able to beat that, offering deliveries of down to one month." LOCAL CONTROL EXPERTISE Heidenhain GB managing director Neil Prescott adds: "We will be supporting Ajax's efforts. We will not hold off ordering on Germany until a firm order is placed, for example. And, once this activity gets some momentum, we will make sure we hold stock of core components." And having put the machine together electrically, Mr Savin also suggests that service will be faster, as a superior knowledge and understanding will exist within Ajax, while it is similarly so from the Heidenhain side, adds Mr Prescott – locally tailored and fitted controls means that that knowledge is local, too. For Ajax, same-day service is a target, while next-day is offered, if not. And, like installation and training, service is supported by Ajax's in-house personnel. There are already two AJV 700s in the field, with a further five on order (four of which will be configured locally). And in addition to expanding the AJV range, Ajax is also looking to bring in a Long Chang machine that will be extensively modified to serve a CNC milling machine-type market; something a little more manual than a machining centre, but more of a machining centre than a turret mill and which will also feature Heidenhain TNC 620. So, UK control assembly and tailoring, but UK manufacture of a complete machine tool? It is not ruled out, but it will take time, Mr Savin concludes. Box item 1 of 2 Machine specification in brief – AJV 700 The AJV 700 vertical machining centre, to be tailored locally in the UK, has X, Y and Z travels of 700, 400 and 550 mm, (650 mm option), a 17 kW spindle delivering either 10,000 or 12,000 rpm, 48 m/min rapid traverse and Heidenhain TNC 620 control (iTNC 530 option). A ready-to-run package, including a starter tooling set, can be had for under £50,000. Three options of control – TNC 620, iTNC 530 and TNC 620 single-panel version - will be offered with the AJV 700, all drawing on a number of common parts – drive pack, motors, hardware – which helps make possible the use of a single machine configuration from Long Chang Machinery, with control and feature/function availability configured locally, including the addition of a fourth axis. Box item 2 of 2 Heidenhain controls Heidenhain's TNC 320 was launched some six years ago (see Machinery article, with the TNC 620 launched around four years ago, but getting its major UK airing at MACH 2010. Having 3-, 4- or 5-axis simultaneous capability, the latter is a digital version of the TNC 320, which itself was the first of a new generation of controls. The CNC kernel (operating system) was all new, and far more modular and flexible than before, for which read greater opportunity to add functions. The iTNC 530, a high-end system of some 12 years' standing and the company's most popular control, uses the previous generation, non-modular kernel. The TNC 640 mill-turn control, recently highlighted at MACH 2012, is the start of the new high-end modular kernel controls, but it does not yet offer a number of advanced facilities that are available from the iTNC 530, which continues for the foreseeable future. But while controls change, the Heidenhain programming language stays constant and programs generated for earlier control generations will run on the latest models, too. These are big advantages for Ajax, Mr Savin argues. First published in Machinery, February 2013