The latest report (22 September) by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) shows that car manufacturing in the UK was 4.4% ahead of the corresponding year to date in 2010 – in fact, it climbed 10.7% in August alone. Engine production is performing even better, up 14.4% in August and 4.8% higher over the first eight months of the year.
This is all great news for a sector that's endured its fair share of knock-backs in recent years. In fact, the SMMT's chief executive, Paul Everitt, says more automotive industry growth is expected in 2012, with new investment fuelling the rise: "A manufacturing-led recovery is taking shape, with a recent wave of investment securing long-term growth for the sector."
The story is similar across mainland Europe where investment levels are also high. For example, sheet metalworking machinery specialist Trumpf (0844 482 0188) says that Volkswagen AG has recently confirmed a substantial order for its TruLaser Cell 8030 series laser cutting machines. The first phase of machines will be divided between Volkwagen's headquarters in Wolfsburg, and its sites in Kassel and Spain. The exciting news is that it forms part of a much bigger order that will ultimately see Trumpf deliver more than 50 machines to the auto giant during the next two years.
Image: Volkswagen has placed an order for more than 50 Trumpf TruLaser Cells
Volkswagen will be using the laser cutting machines in high volume production of hot-formed parts for car bodies. According to Trumpf, the carmaker chose the TruLaser Cell 8030 based on its high productivity, teaming it with the energy-saving, fibre-guided TruDisk laser.
Impressive investment levels in the automotive sector are prevalent not just at OEMs, but along the entire supply chain, as can be demonstrated at the Cirencester factory of precision stamping specialist Batten & Allen, where, in April, a new BSTA 510-125 high speed press from Bruderer UK (01582 560300) arrived on the shopfloor.
The 1,250 mm length of the machine's bolster plate allows room for two large progression dies to be mounted in-line for manufacturing complex components in one continuous operation. Alternatively, there is sufficient bed width for two tools to be mounted side by side and fed with separate coils. In both cases, production output is doubled.
Furthermore, punching capacity of 51 tons, which provides sufficient power for two tools to be used simultaneously, also enables heavier pressworking of other parts, if one tool is used.
Stamping speed is up to 1,050 strokes per minute, slower than the lighter duty presses on site, but still an impressive 17.5 hits per second.
A 50-ton Bruderer long-bed press, Batten & Allen's first of that size, was installed at Cirencester in 2006. It has been employed continually for fulfilling a long-running contract to make components for the automotive industry. Tools for producing parts have been routinely transferred from other presses on site to the larger machine to utilise its capacity. More recently, further contracts were awarded for producing fly-by-wire throttle system components destined for motorcycles. These parts also need heavier pressworking capability, so managing director Shawn Batten took the decision to install the BSTA 510-125 to provide additional capacity, as well as back-up for the first 50-ton press. As a point of note, twin Bruderer BSV75 servo feed units were specified on the new machine, a departure from conventional mechanically driven roll feeds.
Image: The Bruderer BSTA 510-125 provides additional capacity
"Accuracy of feeding is around plus or minus one thousandth of the pitch length, much the same as for mechanical roll or gripper feeds," says Alan Gilbert, maintenance manager at Batten & Allen. "However, the servo gives much more control, as it can be programmed to optimise the timing dynamics on ramp-up, dwell and ramp-down for any given job," he reports.
Managing director Shawn Batten says that mechanically driven roll feeds are still good for a majority of stamping work. Nevertheless, with the trend towards ever greater accuracy and complexity of parts, underpinned by SPC requirements and PPAP (production part approval process) in the automotive sector, servo feed technology is likely to be the norm for the company's future installations.
Commercial vehicle manufacturing is also growing in the UK and, again, for those able to demonstrate suitable investment levels, business is swift. A case in point is Kilrea-based SJC Hutchinson Engineering, a proven supplier to Northern Ireland's coach-building sector, which has recently installed a BLM Adige LT8 tube laser from BLM Group UK (01525 402555).
With a round tube processing capacity of 12 to 220 mm and a maximum square section capacity of 200 by 200 mm, the LT8 Lasertube is capable of profiling tube and section weighing up to 35 kg/m and is available with an automatic bundle loader and an automatic single bar loader, as is the case at Hutchinson, or with two automatic tube bundle loaders. The latter option doubles to 5,000 kg the amount of material that can be held ready to cut.
"With the LT8, we can provide customers with up to 40% savings, simply by eliminating multiple operations and the need for welding jigs," says managing director Mark Hutchinson. "This gives us an important competitive edge, but our biggest challenge, is making more people aware of the benefits of a tube laser."
Image: The LT8 Lasertube is capable of profiling tube and section weighing up to 35 kg/m
Of course, it's not always high volume production that drives investment in the automotive sector. With the UK becoming a hotbed of R&D, rapid prototyping capabilities are in high demand, as Birmingham-based Advanced Engineering UK Ltd (formerly RT Palmer Ltd) can testify, following orders won, thanks in part, to its use of CAM software from Edgecam (01233 506100).
Following substantial investment in new machinery, Edgecam, personnel and a 4,600 ft2 extension, business is booming at Advanced Engineering, with order books full for the foreseeable future. Predominantly motor industry manufacturers, with Jaguar Land Rover being a major customer, the company mainly machines from solid, rather than castings, which used to represent the lion's share. Components and products include engine blocks, wheels, interior and exterior trim, vents, grills, seat belt bezels and housings for electric window switches, all of which go through Edgecam programs.
While the company has three 5-axis mills from Yamazaki Mazak UK (01905 755755), most of its work is handled with 3+2 strategies, using the machine as an indexer, moving either the spindle, the head or the palette to the desired position, then carrying out 3-axis machining. Along with the 5-axis Mazaks, Advanced Engineering has six Mazak 4-axis vertical centres, with an order pending for two more.
Six 4-axis mills from Haas Automation (01603 760539) are also used, along with a Haas mini mill, and there are a further two of those on order.
Mr Penny says that, thanks to Edgecam, programming solid components is "ten times easier" than just five years ago: "The feature finder facility is particularly useful in locating all holes, pockets and slots. Before Edgecam, you had to measure the hole on the model, create your tool, then drill or tap or whatever was needed, but Edgecam not only finds the hole, it will also tell you if it's threaded or counter-bored and what size tools are required."
While the programming time Edgecam saves on prototypes varies considerably, depending on the complexity of each job, Mr Penny says that what previously took eight weeks without Edgecam can now be done in two days. Furthermore, the company has recently installed a release of Edgecam containing the new 'Flow Surface' cycle, which follows the flow of the surfaces, making it better suited for machining fillets and 3D surfaces.
Software is also proving pivotal at automotive component supplier Metalsa, based near Melbourne, Australia, where a portable measuring arm is being used in tandem with PowerShape CAD and PowerInspect measurement software from Delcam (0121 683 1000).
Metalsa is a manufacturer of chassis, suspension and body structures for both cars and commercial vehicles. Originally founded in Mexico, the company now also manufactures in North and South America, Germany and India, as well as in Australia – the latter supplies Toyota, GM-Holden and Ford. For example, the company makes and supplies more than 60 components for the Toyota Camry, including under-body and body-shell components.
Metalsa says that PowerInspect is its first choice, because it delivers a complete CAD-based inspection solution, adding that it surpasses traditional 2D inspection methods by offering the capability to inspect against all CAD data. With on-screen feedback and detailed graphical displays, quality engineers can gain immediate feedback for each measured point and inspection reports can be generated automatically in a customised format.
Positive automotive moves
Jaguar Land Rover is to invest £335 million in a new facility to manufacture low-emission powertrains to be located at i54 South Staffordshire, a business park near Wolverhampton. The base will create up to 750 highly skilled engineering and manufacturing posts, but thousands more highly skilled manufacturing jobs will be created in the supply chain and the wider UK economy, it is claimed. Jaguar Land Rover directly employs more than 19,000 people in the UK and supports up to 140,000 jobs in total through the supply chain, dealer network and wider economy.
The all-new family of four-cylinder engines will increase JLR's capability to offer high performance engines with class-leading levels of refinement, whilst ensuring continued significant reductions in vehicle emissions.
In other news, automotive company CPP is purchasing the previous Jaguar home in Browns Lane, Coventry from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands.
The company already owns off-road vehicle producer Bowler and is in protracted negotiations to buy sports car company Spyker from its Dutch owners. CPP, which currently has a site in Coventry, will submit planning applications before the end of this year and plans to bring all its existing facilities on to the single, 23-acre Browns Lane site within five years.
Joint owner Vladimir Antonov has said: "It will help CPP to create 100s of new jobs, establish advanced new facilities and is a major investment into the economy of the city and the surrounding region."
First published in Machinery, November 2011