The fact that Mori Seiki's (0844 800 7647) recent open day at the AMRC Rolls-Royce Factory of the Future was oversubscribed (an additional open day is scheduled for 12 May) is indicative of the interest levels in the technology developed by this innovative Japanese machine tool builder. The AMRC is a multi-million pound partnership, combining the scientific excellence and research of the University of Sheffield's faculty of engineering with the expertise and technological innovation of the world's leading aerospace and advanced manufacturing companies. Although the AMRC today has some 60 partners, it was, in fact, Mori Seiki (a tier one member) that supplied the first machine on site more than a decade ago and has in total invested £12 million to date.
This figure has been boosted by the recent installation of three machines to support the SAMULET (Strategic Affordable Manufacturing in the UK with Leading Environmental Technology) programme for the aerospace industry (see box). Winning the contract against a Government tender, the largest machine is a multi-tasking NT6600 high precision turn-mill centre, with Mori Seiki's proprietary DCG (Driven at the Centre of Gravity) technology, a feature that minimises vibration by pushing moving structural parts along their simulated centres of gravity. It has a 6.6 m turning length capacity and is capable of utilising boring bars up to 1.27 m long – the machine currently accommodates a large Silent Tools damped boring bar from Sandvik Coromant (0121 504 5500), another AMRC partner company. The boring bar utilises a Coromant Capto C8 coupling at the front end for quick-change capability, while the ATC offers tool change time of less than 10 seconds from any position on the spindle.
Image: Mori Seiki technology in place at the AMRC; the latest machine, the NT6600, is on the right
The NT6600 features the latest MAPPS MSX-711 IV CNC, 1,040 mm of travel in the X-axis and ±330 mm in the Y-axis – there is also a ±120° B-axis milling spindle positioned above twin steadies that support the workpiece. Coolant pressure of 70 bar is supplied and the machine also offers grinding capability.
This is, in fact, the UK's second NT6600 – the first model, a 4 m version, was installed at Castle Precision Engineering, a Glasgow-based subcontractor that specialises in critical precision components for industries that include aerospace (see Machinery, November 2009 or http://bit.ly/eMkTPR). According to Mori Seiki, Castle Precision is using the machine to perform innovative operations such as involute spline cutting on the outside diameter of Inconel components to ISO class 4 accuracies.
The second new machine is an NMV8000 5-axis vertical machining centre with 800 mm pallet. Also offering grinding capability, the machine features a 30 kW, 10,000 rpm spindle and rigid direct drive motor on both the B and C axes. Coolant pressure of 150 bar is supplied and for those wondering what this represents…Mori Seiki confirms it is more than enough to penetrate bone marrow, should anyone want to use their arm as a test piece!
Image: Mori Seiki "one of the leaders in the SAMULET project unit", says Steve Finn, Mori Seiki's vice president
The final machine of the trio is an NVL1350MC vertical turning lathe. Again offering 150 bar coolant pressure, this machine features a 3,000 rpm spindle for turning diameters up to 1.6 m. An 80-station ATC and driven tools support 2,000 mm in the X-axis, along with 800 mm in Z and 500 mm in Zb, giving the ability to take the entire ram up and down, depending upon the component.
As well as industrial engagement and technology transfer, Rolls-Royce uses the AMRC for applied research and, according to Scott Wood, the aero engine specialist's AMRC co-ordinator, this embraces programmes such as SAMULET.
"SAMULET will be a big project for Rolls-Royce in the next few years," he says. "Essentially, it will mean addressing how we model the entire manufacturing process, encompassing: machining method development; advanced fixture concepts; advanced cutting tools and machining strategies; and knowledge management.
"The architecture of a gas turbine engine is almost entirely machined parts," he continues. "All of these are critical and most are made from materials such as titanium or nickel-based alloys. We need to deliver capable manufacturing processes, and this is where the AMRC and its partners such as Mori Seiki can play a big part."
In 2009, Rolls-Royce announced it would invest £300 million in four UK factories, one of which – an advanced disc manufacturing facility – has come about, thanks to the ongoing success of AMRC projects. Discs are critical 'Group A' rotating parts used in fans, compressors and turbines, and Rolls-Royce's new facility has promised to deliver a step-change improvement in the manufacture of fan and turbine discs. The AMRC is working with Rolls-Royce to develop new techniques in this area, with the aim of reducing the number of different machining operations needed for each disc from 16 or 17 to just two or three. Achieving this would significantly increase Rolls-Royce's production capacity for these vital components and help reduce costs.
Outcomes like this are why the AMRC exists – to fulfil its aim of creating sustainable jobs and wealth. And, if anyone queries why aerospace is so important, the AMRC's commercial director Adrian Allen presents a straightforward answer: "There is an awful lot of metal on an aircraft and, quite simply, there are ways to machine these parts quicker."
In terms of SAMULET and beyond, the Mori Seiki machining cell at the AMRC will play a pivotal role in many programmes and projects. The arrival of the three new machines follows on from the news in November that Mori Seiki had opened an office at the technology centre on the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP) – next door to the AMRC – that will provide a base for the company's support of SAMULET.
"Mori Seiki has long been linked to the AMP through its AMRC membership and we are pleased that they have seen the value in the park and decided to increase their presence here," says Joe Anwyl, senior business development manager at the AMP. "The SAMULET project will be significant, both in terms of the new technology and processes it will develop, and also for the opportunities that companies in our region will have to benefit from the results of the project."
"Although a collaboration programme led by Rolls-Royce, Mori Seiki will be one of the leaders in the SAMULET project unit," adds Steve Finn, Mori Seiki's vice president. "We will be working hard to ensure the UK aerospace industry remains competitive through productivity and environmental improvements. Our increased presence at the AMRC and the AMP are the first steps in demonstrating this intent."
SAMULET is a collaborative programme between industry and academia, led by Rolls-Royce, working in a consortium alongside other high profile manufacturers, SMEs and top UK universities.
SAMULET will focus on productivity and environmental improvements, including reductions in raw material usage, efficient manufacturing processes and lower engine fuel consumption. Its aims will be achieved by developing new technologies and delivering a number of knowledge transfer initiatives; it will be closely linked with the advanced manufacturing research centres (in Sheffield, Glasgow, and Ansty near Coventry), and so strengthen the position of UK aerospace manufacturing and its supply chain.
The Technology Strategy Board is investing £28.5 million in the programme and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council £11.5 million. Further support is under discussion with regional bodies. The total cost of the project, including industry investment, is expected to be around £90 million.
First published in Machinery, May 2011