Specialist grinding machine maker Cinetic Landis has near-doubled its turnover, to £77 million, supported by an £8.5 million investment in manufacturing technology and a new assembly hall last year, plus a 40% boost to employment over 18 months – all a reaction to a continuous increase in business over the last five years and a massive order intake in 2011. It has also, over recent years, broadened its scope, in terms of application range for its existing machine tool technology, and is broadening it still further by moving into a new area: that of glass optics grinding.

The 420-employee company, which is located in what was one the UK's machine tool making heartlands – Keighley, West Yorkshire – probably vies, by value, with Worcester-based Yamazaki Mazak for the UK's machine tool production top spot, and in a typical year exports 95% of production. Locally, the company is second only to Rolls-Royce Barnoldswick as a private sector employer.

But this success story, prominent in the pages of Machinery in past years, has mostly operated under the radar since the mid-1990s; although it did briefly see high profile media coverage last month when Prime Minister David Cameron called in two days after this magazine.

Image: One of the assemble halls at Cinetic Landis; the company can assemble10 machines/month

A LITTLE HISTORY

There has been an engineering presence for some 350 years, in one shape or another, on the Cross Hills site today occupied by Cinetic Landis. This started out as a millwright/wheelright activity, but Cinetic Landis' roots can be traced back to 1837, when machine tool production commenced (under the Clapham Bros). The John Lund company was founded in 1932 when the business split – taking the machine tool activity and launching the Precimax grinding machine that year.

The firm became American-owned in 1958, upon acquisition by Landis Tool Co, with various changes of ownership thereafter, the most recent one seeing the then French public Fives Lilles group acquire it in 2005. Five Lilles has become plain Fives and is also now privately owned, as of 2007. In 2011, Fives had a turnover of €1.268 billion.

Cinetic Landis claims a global pre-eminence for its camshaft and crankshaft grinding machinery. Managing director Roger Coverdale, who charts his history with the company from 1970, puts its global market share at "close to 50%". The company, as Litton-owned Landis Lund (Litton purchased it in 1968), became automotive focused, developing cam and crankshaft grinders for the European market – as European and American engines "were fundamentally different".

Landis Lund developed the world's first production CNC cam lobe grinder in 1983, with the world's first CNC twin wheelhead orbital crankpin grinder developed in 1994. The company worked with Cranfield University's Cranfield Unit for Precision Engineering (CUPE) to develop the control for the machines. CUPE spun out a commercial company, Cranfield Precision Engineering, with this business acquired by Landis Lund in 1995 and now called Cranfield Precision.

It is Cranfield Precision executive software that still drives Cinetic Landis machines today, based on Siemens and Bosch Rexroth industrial hardware, because its performance is superior to standard CNC unit software. "We regularly benchmark our control with others in the market," Mr Coverdale offers.

Today, on the back of global automotive investment, the company has seen its turnover climb from its previously established £35-45 million level to last year's £77 million – "we were full to capacity, both here and in the US," Mr Coverdale says. And the company is targeting £85 million this year, with a view to maintaining a £75-£85 million level, he adds. Assembly capacity here, following expansion, is 10 machines/month, with its sister American plant able to build 6/month.

UK IS CENTRE OF ACTIVITY

The US plant is an assembly-only operation (since the late '90s), with Keighley offering a 'full service' machining and assembly capability, supplying machined parts and, latterly, standard assembled modules to the US; the UK also leads on machine development (supported by Cranfield Precision), a position it started to establish following its 1983 CNC cam lobe grinder development and which was cemented with the 1994 orbital crankpin grinder development.

Assembled and integrated in two locations, today the core engineered products are identical – the result of efforts to make it so since the late 90s – with all drawings held in Keighley and with machine customisation supported via standard mechanisms. In addition, the two companies no longer compete geographically, so the UK looks after Europe and the rest of the world, including India and China; the American operation, located in Hagerstown, Maryland, looks after the Americas.

Globally, Cinetic Landis claims the world's top automotive firms as its customers – Jaguar Land Rover, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, Ford, GM, Honda, Kia, PSA, Fiat Chrysler and Nissan, together with their suppliers. Crankshaft machine orders from the UK's Jaguar Land Rover and BMW feature currently, skewing the export/domestic ratio and highlighting the automotive resurgence on these shores.

Over 1,000 CNC cam lobe grinders have been supplied, with more than 400 orbital crankshaft grinders delivered. Avowedly focused on high-tech production machinery, the split between camshaft and crankshaft grinders that was once 60/40 in favour of camshafts now sees crankshaft machines in the majority, with an 80/20 split – a reflection of the move by automotive companies to place camshaft work with sub-suppliers who tend to purchase a lower level of technology, the managing director explains.

But at its chosen level of technology, Mr Coverdale says that the company has fewer competitors today – others have moved to targeting the lower tech, lower bid route with sub-suppliers – while technology changes, such as the move to smaller, steel crankshafts, demand high-tech solutions. "These are less stable, but manufacturers still want to produce them in minimal separate set-ups/machines, at faster cycle times and to high levels of precision and surface finish," he explains. "There is also a trend to move away from undercuts on crankshafts, where the pins and mains were undercut, with a move back to fillet radii between diameter and sidewall, rather like truck crankshafts. The bad news is that these are difficult to grind, but that's also the good news, because, if it's harder to grind, we sell more machines." That's both because the challenge can be met with its machines, while some of these new crankshafts signal a return to a two-operation, semi-finish and finish grind regime, so require a two-machine solution.

ACCURATE AND DISTINCTIVE

Typical accuracy required in the case of a crankshaft, incidentally, is 2 microns roundness (CpK requirement), plus a finish that shows no faceting, such as might be induced via 'cogging' of the workhead motors that rotate the crankshaft.

Apart from its control software and orbital grinding technology, other distinguishing features of its machines are wear-free hydrostatic wheelhead spindles and wheelhead slideways, together with linear motors in the wheelhead axis. Today's wheel speeds are typically 100 m/sec for finishing and up to 200 m/sec for semi-finishing, while CBN grinding wheel technology is similarly typical. Increasing diagnostic capability, with axis logging and remote diagnostics capability, is a trend.

Well known in past years as an automotive cam and crankshaft specialist, it has successfully moved into the truck area and is now pushing into larger parts – crankshafts for small ships engines, diesel-electric locomotives and power generation units, for example. An 8.5 m orbital machine was under test in the new 30 by 90 m assembly hall during Machinery's March visit, with this going to Ziyang Locomotive, China. "We are pretty much the only supplier in the world for a grinding machine like that," underlines Mr Coverdale. The benefit of such an orbital machine is high quality and reduced cycle time. And even on a workpiece such as this, 1 micron roundness is being achieved on 380 mm diameter pins (although the requirement is not so tight, of course), together with the same high quality finish as for smaller components.

The machine on the shopfloor was the third for China, while a further seven such large machines have been supplied to German company Maschinenfabrik Alfing Kessler GmbH.

Image: Cinetic Landis is making larger crankshaft grinding machines more and more

In build, too, was the second phase of a new development of three LT1 machines for Audi's Hungarian operation, for the manufacture of camshaft segments, used in variable valve timing engine designs. Two twin-workhead, single-wheelhead machines grind the two different lobes, with a final similarly configured machine cleaning up the 'base circle' diameter to remove the witness mark between the two lobe grinding paths. By having twin-workheads, automated load/unload time is zero, approximately halving cycle time to 35 secs/part and offering 4,000 parts/day. Two Audi cells of three machines are to be made, these going to Dalian, China.

Looking more to the future, the company has worked with Cranfield Precision to develop a new product. "When we want to make a step-change in product, as with our orbital and hydrostatic technology, we bring in Cranfield Precision. In addition, the company works on products on its own, for blue-chip companies, but we insist that they must be high precision. There are spin-offs from that. We got linear motor technology, for example," explains the managing director.

Cranfield Precision has a long history in creating ultra-precision diamond turning and optics grinding machines and has been instrumental in the development of a novel twin turret machine concept. The combination of two rotary and one short linear axis provides a flexible platform for a range of OD and ID grinding processes. The first machines have targeted fine optics grinding of spherical, asperic and free-form lenses. The results are remarkable, with surface finishes below 100 nm Ra and form accuracies better than 0.5 microns over part diameters exceeding 75 mm in both glass and silicon. Three machines have been sold, with enquiries for grinding optics components with diameters from 100 mm to 400 mm in hand.

A different machine concept is needed for parts in excess of 500 mm diameter and Cranfield Precision has again drawn on its experience. A static bridge machine concept is the basis for the OGM range, which can grind large optics to micron precision for workpieces up to 2 m in diameter. The first machine, an OGM1200 (1,200 mm diameter), will be delivered early next year.

In addition, Cinetic Landis is working closely with Zeeko (a UK specialist manufacturer of free-form, free-abrasive polishing machines) to deliver turnkey optics processing equipment, from blanks to finished products.

A useful addition to its range, yes, but the automotive/engine market, and related camshaft and crankshaft machines will remain the mainstay for Cinetic Landis. Electric cars are not seen taking a large slice of the market: hybrids are considered the likely larger success and those have traditional parts. The company's success, quiet or not, looks set to continue.

Extended article from here

Product range in brief

The company has three sizes of its core machine range, LTe size 1, 2 and 3. LT1 is mainly a camshaft machine, but which can handle small crankshafts, with a capacity that runs from 200 to 1,200 mm centre distance.

The LT2e, which is the company's main product line, is for crankshafts, but is also used on large camshafts, and this has a capacity of 500 to 1,500 mm in twin wheelhead version and 2,500 and 3,000 mm for a single wheelhead unit.

The LT3e is a large crankshaft grinder, with capacities of from 4,500 mm to 8,500 mm (8,500 kg), or greater on demand.

Complete range details at Cinetic Landis website

Expansion and investment

Having spent £8.5 million, managing director Roger Coverdale says that, if business goes as planned, then there will be a further £2 million/year over the next five years to upgrade its manufacturing facilities.

The Keighley site boasts a number of older CNC and manual machines throughout its plant. For example, there is a '80s Fritz Werner FMS that is still running; that will be replaced by another round-the-clock system. The company has just installed a WFL M65 mill-turn centre, a CNC tube bender for hydraulic pipe bending, a 2 m by 2 m pallet SHW Powerspeed 6 horizontal machining centre and intends to complement that with a further similar, if not identical, machine. Investment in Adcole customer component measurement technology has also been made. The grinding section is next in line for investment.

The new 30 by 90 m assembly bay was built over the existing fabrication area, so all fabrication, taking in small junction boxes, internal guards, wheel guards, hydraulic power units, has been outsourced. "We've tried to keep work local, but it was not easy to find suppliers. Either the companies weren't there or they were small and we had to encourage them to grow," Mr Coverdale offers. "Many companies didn't believe us. They thought, 'you're going to give us some work, but when times get tough, you'll take it all back'. I said no, we will never do that work again; the building's gone."

In similar vein, it has also removed some machining capacity, putting out smaller, higher volume parts to subcontractors. "High precision parts are made in house, however. All parts that are part of our product differentiation, such as hydrostatic slideways and bearings are made in house, and those that impact quality, price and delivery." Similar problems were encountered in placing this work outside, in terms of staying local and convincing suppliers that the work wouldn't be pulled back, too.

Hiring 120 people also proved problematic, with some 1,000 interviewed, and with more training required for those employed than was envisaged, "which has slowed us down a bit," the managing director reveals.

The new assembly hall also offers more delivery bays for incoming goods, including a lorry well; the existing halls, although accommodating two lorry wells, created a bottleneck, due to having to accommodate both incoming and outgoing goods.

Build it yourself

What do you do when you can't get the high precision machine tool you need fast enough or at the right price? Well, as a machine tool builder and with Cranfield Precision as a subsidiary, you design and build one yourself. The resulting HPB43 is employed for the high precision boring of larger hydrostatic bearing housings, achieving roundness of 5-7 micron on 500 mm diameter bores (the company has a smaller Dixi machine). Previously such parts had to be sourced outside, and to buy a machine would have meant £2.5 million and a two-year wait. It was the wait that was the real issue. This is now a product offered by Cranfield Precision (See here).

First published in Machinery, April 2013