Latest figures from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) state that car registrations rose 11.5 per cent in April to 148,793, a 10th successive monthly increase. Perhaps more encouragingly for the supply chain is that UK-built cars again outpaced the market, growing by 25.5 per cent.
The SMMT has now upwardly revised its 2010 registration forecast to 1.924 million units following the strong start to the year. UK van and coach registrations also climbed in April. "As our new government establishes itself, the priority must be sustaining and strengthening the economic recovery, with particular focus on encouraging the availability of more and better priced finance for businesses and consumers," says Paul Everitt, SMMT chief executive. "April was another good month for the UK motor industry, with private buyers responding positively, despite the end of the scrappage scheme."
The automotive supply chain is already feeling the warm glow of a return towards normal trading conditions. Clitheroe Engineering, for instance, a Lancashire sub-contractor, says it now expects turnover this year to return to 2008 levels after a 9 per cent fall in 2009. The company specialises in the manufacture of hydraulic components, notably for automotive industry customers. "We see 2010 as a year of re-structuring, with significant levels of capital expenditure, including a new building on our existing site and other initiatives aimed at taking our company to its next stage of development," says operations director Helen Meloy.
Image: Clitheroe Engineering expects turnover to return to 2008 this year. The company has invested heavily to get a competitive edge, incuding this Mori Seiki NH5000.
The return to previous levels of business enables the company to proceed with several initiatives that were put on the back-burner. The first will be the purchase of a new ERP system from Emax (08700 780132), which will be followed by at least two more machine tools on the shopfloor. One will be an NH5000 horizontal machining centre from Mori Seiki (0844 800 7647), while the second will be another Puma 2500SY CNC lathe, with 76 mm bar capacity, from Mills CNC (01926 736736). A further capital purchase will be a CNC co-ordinate measuring machine from Mitutoyo (01264 353123).
A new quality control officer was appointed at Clitheroe in February. She is the first of six recruits planned for this year, while it is expected that an apprentice will also be taken on, the first since the company was established in 1973.
Another sector of the automotive supply chain likely to see a boost is tool and die, which should witness the ignition of projects previously shelved due to the recession.
One manufacturer of automotive pressure die cast tooling concurring with this sentiment is West Bromwich-based 3Dimensional Ltd (picture, page 85), which is using a newly installed Sodick AQ537L linear motor wire EDM from Sodi-Tech (02476 511677) to reduce the number of set-ups (from five to one) required to produce large tooling inserts.
Around 80 per cent of revenue at 3Dimensional is driven by the automotive sector. Companies supplied include Aston Martin, Borg Warner, BMW, Dura, Ford, GM, Land Rover, Nissan, Perkins, Renault, Saab and Toyota. The pressure die cast tools produced by the company are used to make large components, such as gearbox housings and door panels. Although the company deals mainly with tier one foundries, 3Dimensional has to liaise directly with automotive OEMs on a regular basis. Key to these relationships is the ability to demonstrate best practice manufacturing.
"Until recently, we operated a wire EDM with a small working area of 320 by 220 mm," explains the company's managing director, Jason Callaghan. "As we make die casting tools up to 15 tonnes in weight, some of the inserts are quite substantial. Using our small EDM would sometimes require four or five re-positions to get a job finished. However, with our Sodick AQ537L, which has a working area of 600 by 570 mm, we can leave a job running unattended overnight, safe in the knowledge that one set-up is enough to find it complete in the morning."
Image: Unmanned, overnight running can be safely achieved on 3Dimensional 's Sodick AQ537L
Another toolmaker supplying this sector is BK Tooling of Bishop's Stortford, which has developed a 'smart' production method that covers all aspects of tool design and manufacture. Understanding that the fewer times a part is moved, the more accurately it can be made, the company has formulated an approach that includes the use of OMP probes from Renishaw (01453 524111), a Refix table and tooling from System 3R (02476 538653), plus a bespoke pallet system for electrodes and inserts.
The company has also recently installed an XYZ 1060 machining centre from XYZ Machine Tools (01823 674200) to cope with increasing demand for its mould tools, while the recent adoption of VISI Flow from Vero Software (01242 542040) has proved to be hugely beneficial during a project for the rear passenger arm rest for a prestige automotive company, renowned for comfort and style. The client CAD data was provided as a STEP file and imported directly into VISI Modelling as a single solid body. After the model had been translated from car position into line of draw, the split line and core and cavity surface sets were created using VISI Analysis.
"Before starting the tool design," explains Bob Tunks, owner of BK Tooling, "I decided to run a plastic filling simulation, as the component has a thick and thin end, so I was a little nervous about filling from one gate position. I was surprised to see how well it filled – much better than I expected. Most importantly, however, the system highlighted areas where sink marks would occur, due to internal voids. Historically, the predictive results from VISI Flow have accurately matched the actual moulding conditions, so, after further analysis, the tool design was modified to core out the problem areas."
The 3D tool design was complete within two weeks, based around a Meusburger die set and standard component library, while the entire mould was designed, cut and built within five weeks. The castings and forgings market is almost certain to see demand increase, in line with rising car sales. When machining castings and forgings, spindle power is not the issue, as the depth of material removed is typically around 1 mm. It is high axis feed rates that are essential to enable the cutter to get around the castings quickly.
Image: BK Tooling is using VISI software from Vero Software and has particular praise for the VISI Flow element
To help match these requirements, the largest aluminium die caster in the UK and a first-tier supplier to the automotive industry, JVM Castings, has invested in machining centres supplied by Whitehouse Machine Tools (01926 852725).
To machine large castings at JVM's Worcester factory, a new OKK HP400 4-axis horizontal machining centre has been installed to complement four similar OKK machines, one of which is a 5-axis model. One of the OKK horizontal machining centres is devoted to producing left- and right-hand body parts, such as door frame pillars and transmission tunnel elements. The other four machines manufacture three varieties of sump for the 5-litre V8 engine powering the Land Rover Discovery, Range Rover Sport and Jaguar XF saloon.
"The beauty of the HP400 is that it accelerates in the linear axes at around 1 g to 60 m/min rapid traverse in all axes, which is fast for a machine with ballscrew drives," says Kevin Jones, engineering manager at JVM. "In addition, the BIG Plus 40-taper spindle is powerful (22 kW/12,000 rpm,) and rigid for a machine of this size and speed."
Image:JVM's OKK has 1 G acceleration, reaching 60 m/min, fast for a ballscrew machine, says the company
Following the award in 2008 of a contract to supply half a million machined aluminium brackets for Ford, JVM produced batch samples in October last year and started full production in May 2010. The cast components are a fuel pump bracket and a vacuum pump mounting bracket for the new Ford Sigma diesel engine. The parts are much smaller than the structural vehicle components produced at Worcester, so needed to be produced on a more compact machine. High speed was again imperative to keep down unit cost.
The machine that stood out was the TC-32BN QT from Brother, another Japanese machine tool builder, also represented in the UK, coincidentally, by Whitehouse Machine Tools. Supplied as a turnkey package by Whitehouse, the 4-axis Brother cell was delivered with proven programs, hydraulic automatic fixtures, complete with air sensing and tooling. Bespoke trunnion-and-tailstock rotary indexing units are fitted on both pallets to accommodate the two component types.
Image; This Brother machine was supplied to JVM as a turnkey package
While demands on manufacturing processes will be high, quality procedures are expected to be under equal pressure. Nowhere are tolerances tighter than in the electronic unit injector (EUI) systems made by Delphi at its Stonehouse plant in Gloucestershire.
EUI systems comprise an individual camshaft-plunger pump for each cylinder that is capable of delivering fuel at pressures up to 2,500 bar. These high injection pressures are essential to enable engines to meet current and future emissions legislation, but require manufacturing tolerances often in the sub-micron region. An international truck manufacturer recently challenged Delphi Stonehouse to tighten the geometric tolerances on the interface between the EUIs from 100 to 30 µm.
Image: Delphi was impressed with Aberlink's Axiom Too technology
Having deemed dedicated fixtures as being too inflexible, the solution selected to measure this tightened tolerance was a pair of Axiom Too CMMs from Aberlink (01453 884461). Will Johnson, Delphi's quality manager, concludes the story. "The high speed of our new Aberlink CMMs will enable us to keep up with the current unit inspection volume of 2,000 units per week, and also our projected maximum throughput of 3,000 units."
£400,000-plus China order
The combination of deep hole drilling expertise from Mollart Engineering (0208 391 2282) and tooling partner Botek's application knowledge, has secured the UK machine tool builder a first time order for drilling fuel rails for a new automotive fuel injection plant in China.
"This is an important order and follows closely from our winning a three-machine contract in Eastern Europe during the first quarter of 2010 for producing similar components. In total, the four machines are valued at over £400,000," says managing director Guy Mollart.
At the Chinese plant, the Mollart twin-spindle gun-drill will produce a range of holes between 9 and 12 mm diameter by up to 750 mm deep in high grade forged steel. Due to the growing number of variants to be scheduled through the manually loaded machine, it was the ability of the Mollart application to be changed over within 10 minutes that proved to be an important factor in meeting the purchasing engineer's requirements.