Gearing up for the future.

Recent investments in new, high-performance machine tools and an advanced automation system from GF Machining Solutions has significantly increased ATD’s machining capacity and capabilities and has provided the company with all the machining fire power it needs to fulfil a new major manufacturing contract.

GF Machining Solutions, the milling, EDM, laser and Additive Manufacturing machine tool manufacturer, and automation and tooling systems specialist, has recently supplied three new machining centres, an automated workpiece pallet changer and a large-capacity die-sink machine to Automotive Trim Developments (ATD) Ltd.

ATD, established in 2000, is a UK-based group of companies focused on engineering and manufacturing complete interior trim and electro-mechanical assemblies primarily, but not exclusively, for the automotive sector.

The new Mikron machining centres, comprising two MILL E 700U (simultaneous 5-axis) machines and a MILL E 1200 (3-axis) machine, as well as a new System 3R Work Partner 1+ compact workpiece pallet change system, were delivered and installed at ATD’s new 7,000sq. ft. machine shop facility in Warwick in April 2022: the large-capacity AgieCharmilles FORM E 600 die-sink machine was installed at the company’s facility in late 2021.

The investment catalyst
The catalyst behind ATD’s investment in advanced machine tools and associated manufacturing technologies centred around its ability to firstly secure and then fulfil a new manufacturing contract with a leading UK-based car manufacturer.

The six-year contract to machine, assemble and supply high-quality centre consoles featuring a rear compartment deployable table, for a new, exclusive range of luxury SUVs accelerated ATD’s investment plans to create an advanced, well-resourced and fully functioning machine shop facility capable of handling the company’s existing and future machining requirements.

Says Paul Gibson, Operations Manager, ATD Warwick.

“In a drive to improve quality, control costs and better meet customers’ exacting lead times, we made the decision, at the start of the pandemic, to invest in, and create a high-quality machine shop that would not only meet all our future machining requirements – but also strengthen our portfolio of services to customers and make us more efficient and competitive.

“It was always our intention to create an in-house machining resource: the contract for machining the centre console components was the catalyst to get the ball rolling.”

Starting from scratch
The decision to create a new machine shop from scratch was bold but one entirely in keeping with the ATD’s mission, vision and ambitions.

Amongst the myriad of decisions that needed to be made to bring it to fruition included the following:

– Suitable premises, with sufficient floor space and the correct facilities, needed to be identified and acquired.
– Staff needed to be recruited and/or relocated from other ATD Group operations.
– Advanced machining and manufacturing technologies and equipment needed to be ordered, delivered and installed.
– Machining processes needed to be designed, proved out and optimised.

Remembers Paul Gibson

“It was a challenging time. But, with the resources available from Group, and by working in partnership with a number of preferred suppliers we got the machine shop up and running in a little under two years.”

Machine shop: advanced technologies
ATD’s new 7,000sq. ft machine shop is impressive and looks the part.

In addition to the three new Mikron machining centres, the Work Partner 1+ automatic pallet changer and the FORM E 600 die-sink machine, the facility also boasts two new (EOS M 290) metal 3D printing machines which were also acquired to help fulfil the centre console machining contract.

Other machines in the facility include another MILL E 700U (with 7-pallets), and an older VCE 1200 (3-axis) vertical machining centre – both acquired earlier by the Group.

Explains Paul Gibson:

“All of the machines (excluding the Additive Manufacturing machines) are GF Machining Solutions’ machines.

“We have a good relationship with GF Machining Solutions and our experience of working with the company previously, has always been positive.

“Although we did go out to market, prior to making the most recent investments, it was clear that no other machine tool manufacturer or supplier could provide the depth and breadth of advanced technologies we needed, nor the technical and applications support we required.”

The 5-axis manufacturing cell
The two Mikron MILL E 700U (5-axis) machines and WorkPartner 1+ have been integrated to create a flexible automated manufacturing cell.

The components, all machined from aluminium, are characterised by their complexity and intricacy. Geometric tolerances are tight (+/- 5 microns). Repeatability’s are critical. And surface finish requirements are equally exacting (Ra 0.2µm).

To increase the company’s productivity, the compact and modular Work Partner 1+ system supplied to ATD has 20 pallets and is being used to services both machines (10 pallets per machine).

The Mikron 5-axis machines are able to machine complex, high-precision to completion in a single set up. They have a rigid design and build and are equipped with the latest Heidenhain control (TNC 640) with touchscreen capabilities.

The machines also feature fully-supported, directly-driven rotary tilting tables that ensure accuracy and process reliability and 36kW/20,000rpm StepTec OptiCool motor spindles deliver the high accuracy required – even during long machining runs and extended periods of operation.

To facilitate lights out, unattended operations the machines have large tool changers (60-position), efficient swarf management systems, tool and workpiece probes, large coolant tanks and integrated thermal compensation.

MILL E 700U machines are equally adept at performing high material removal and fine finishing operations – both of which are pre-requisites for machining the aluminium centre console parts – where precision and aesthetics go hand in hand.

Explains Paul Gibson:

“MILL E 700U machines are usually equipped with 5- or 7-pallets.

“However, from talking over our machining requirements with GF Machining Solutions, it became clear that we could significantly improve our productivity and operational efficiencies by integrating both machines to a high-capacity System 3R automatic pallet changer instead of using the machines’ standard automation configuration.

“The System 3R pallet changer with its vertical pallet stacking configuration is compact, and the 20-pallets available (10 per machine) enable us to achieve uninterrupted machining of prototypes, pre-production and production parts, as well as giving us the ability to meet the customer’s stringent delivery schedules.”

“The creation of the cell with the two Mikron machines and the 20-pallet WorkPartner 1+ involved GF Machining Solutions designing, developing and implementing a turnkey solution for us. The skill and expertise of the company’s technical staff has enabled us to benefit from a bespoke, state-of-the art and future-proof machining and automation solution.”

The MILL E 1200
The new, next generation MILL E 1200 (3-axis) vertical machining centre acquired by ATD to machine the centre console components was the first of its kind installed anywhere in the UK.

The ergonomically-designed machine is equipped with a temperature-controlled HSK – A63 high-speed 26kW/20,000rpm spindle, a 60-position ATC, linear guides, a high-efficiency swarf management system, the Heidenhain TNC 620 control, and features a large worktable (1450mm x 600mm), with a 1200kg maximum table load.

Since being installed the MILL E 1200 has been put through its paces machining multiple parts (prototypes, pre-production and production) to high accuracies and mirror surface finishes in a single set up.

Says Paul Gibson:

“The MILL E 1200 is a real workhorse and provides us with best-in-class milling flexibility and process efficiency.

The FORM E 600
The large-capacity FORM E 600 EDM die-sink machine was installed at ATD’s machine shop facility in October 2021 and was the company’s first machine to be acquired in relation to the centre console machining contract.

The machine, with its large work envelope and integrated 6-position electrode/tool changer, is the major component of a fully-automated turnkey EDM solution designed by GF Machining Solutions.

The machine is being used to ‘spark’ high-accuracy, small diameter D-shaped holes (H7) in the high-value ‘club table’ components and is the final machining process to be performed on these parts before they are sent for finishing, polishing and assembly.

The turnkey solution involves bespoke fixturing enabling multiple parts to be machined, using small copper electrodes, in a single set up, and a powerful and sophisticated software program that drives the machining process.

Says Paul Gibson:

“We approached GF Machining Solutions to help us design an optimised automated die-sink machining solution that was accurate, repeatable, easy to understand and implement for machine operators and that would facilitate lights-out, unattended operations.

“The delivery of the FORM E 600 with its innovative fixturing exceeded our expectations and represents a first-class, cost-effective solution.

The new contract
With all its technology and processes in place, ATD Warwick is gearing up for full production of the centre console parts.

To facilitate continuous production ATD is increasing its headcount (from three to eleven members of staff) and is actively recruiting milling setters/operators and 3D printing operators for its day shift and new weekend shift.

The company expects to be machining 20 complete consoles per week (each console comprises 12 different high-precision machined components).

Concludes Paul Gibson:

“The new machine shop, with its advanced technologies, will transform ATD’s performance and productivity.

“The investment in GF Machining Solutions’ machine tools, automation systems and turnkey solutions has made us competitive and better prepared to, not only fulfil the console contract, but to also win new business in the future.”

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