Pneumatrol has become a leading manufacturer and solution provider of pneumatic and electro-magnetic valves, with customers across the globe using its products in the process, rail, energy and industrial market sectors. The company’s products make use of a variety of materials, with a recent introduction being 316 stainless steel solenoid valves.

To ensure that it meets the demands of its global customer base, Pneumatrol has a policy of ongoing training as an integral part of its business model. During a review of its machining processes, it was revealed that much of the application knowledge of the older skilled setters needed updating, while concerns were raised that the younger apprentices were not being taught the best way to utilise modern cutting tools.

The company employs a mix of skilled people, ranging from highly experienced setters, through adult NVQ trainees, to young apprentice, and each of these groups had a different approach to the use and application of cutting tools.

The solution was to work with WNT (UK) to provide up-to-date knowledge of cutting data for all staff responsible for programming and setting the various turning and machining centres. “Bringing all of our people together at the same time enabled WNT to present the training in a structured way, which made perfect sense to us. The result is that we are already seeing the benefits,” explains Paul Brammer, Pneumatrol’s machine shop manager.

The initial training, with further sessions planned for the future, consisted of a full-day session involving two groups at Pneumatrol’s factory. As a starting point, the groups worked through the WNT catalogue, gaining an insight into the large amount of cutting data that is available within it. This was followed by more detailed specific examples, using Pneumatrol’s own products, to see how the cutting data could be improved.

Says Adrian Fitts, WNT’s business development manager: “This type of training is typical of what we can provide to customers. What we often find is that customers fall into a routine of using cutting data that they are familiar with, meaning they therefore miss out on the productivity gains that can be achieved through correct application of these modern tools. However, by working with them on specific training initiatives, as at Pneumatrol, or on case-by-case applications, we often find that they can make significant productivity gains. These gains have a positive effect on their tooling budgets and can free up valuable machine time, reduce overtime costs and, of course improve profitability for our customers.”

Since the training day, Pneumatrol has started working through its portfolio of pneumatic valves and reviewing all of the cutting data. The results so far have generated significant savings in both consumable tooling costs and, more specifically, cycle times. Says Brammer: “Our first task was to look at specific long-running jobs and, without changing any of the tools that we use, simply by looking at the cutting data on these first 12 components we have reduced the average cycle time per component by around 84 seconds. Given the volumes involved, that equates to almost 1,800 hours/year saving, simply by applying the optimum cutting speeds and feeds.”

REPLICATE SAVINGS ELSEWHERE

The task now is to work through the rest of Pneumatrol’s catalogue of parts and replicate these savings where possible. The reduction in cycle time is only one of the benefits gained from the WNT training exercise. Applying the correct cutting data has also seen improved surface finishes, with Brammer explaining that on one part a burnishing operation used to be undertaken; now the finish is to the correct standard after boring. The machine tools are also faring better, as they are not working as hard, and tool life and swarf control have also improved, reducing consumable costs and positively impacting on the lights-out weekend running that Pneumatrol operates.

Brammer again: “Our consumable tooling bill has fallen by around 38% since the training, thanks to the improved performance of the existing tools. In anyone’s book, that has to be deemed a massive success. With the improvements in productivity, we are moving closer to our target of becoming World Class, in terms of our Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE), which is a key performance indicator for Pneumatrol. While we are using fewer of the existing tools, the success of the training has led us to further review our cutting tool supply and WNT will benefit from increased business as we switch more tools over to WNT. We already purchase a high percentage of our cutting tools from WNT and utilise their tool vending system to maximise availability and cash flow, this will only increase, thanks to the gains we are making.”

A second round of training provided by WNT will be undertaken, with this looking at methodology and how processes can be improved through better implementation of existing and new tooling solutions. The training from WNT is a part of its technical support activities and, depending on the size of client, it can be delivered at the customer’s premises, as in the case of Pneumatrol or, if preferred, they have the option of attending regular training days held at WNT’s Technical Centre in Sheffield and at various other locations around the country.

TRAINING IN GENERAL AND THE INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPE

Machinery asked WNT (UK) if there are any regular themes that crop up during the company’s training events. The range is broad, but skills shortages are seeing the price of good operators being bid up, it offers. Adrian Fitts, WNT’s business development manager, explains the company’s training approach more generally: “There are no common application issues that we get asked to look at. With a product range as wide as ours, we get asked for assistance with all sorts of applications.

“In terms of training requirements, the main areas are as follows: identifying the correct cutting data for a given material, and then calculating what depth and width of cut, and what rpm and table feed that equates to; identifying what type of tool is most suitable for an application, solid carbide, indexable insert, HSS, etc; identification of tool/insert geometry, which cutting tool is the right one for a given material, but also which tool is suitable for roughing, finishing, slotting, profile milling etc.

“There is a general lack of skilled people within the industry, so employers are looking to enhance the skills of the staff they have by giving them training suited to their daily tasks.

“We are finding that a machine shop will often have one highly skilled person who has responsibility for all machining applications across the machine shop, and then a number of semi-skilled operators who actually set and run the machines. It is these latter people that are more and having their current skills enhanced by us when we run our training sessions.

“Employers are now taking on apprentices regularly, as they cannot find skilled staff, so we are also being asked to assist with the training of apprentices, both by their employer and, more and more, by the colleges that the apprentices are attending.

“This means that salaries for highly skilled staff are on the increase, as they are now a sought-after resource. They are well paid individuals and have employers actively approaching them with jobs, either directly or through recruitment agencies.”

This article was originally published in the Challenging Materials supplement of the August 2015 issue of Machinery magazine.