UK-based engineering solutions provider SST Technology (SST), Eynsham, Oxford, part of Polar Technology Group, has reported an increase in production after implementing automation solutions from MSP, Alnwick, Northumberland, UK, into its Additive Manufacturing division. The company states it is now producing up to seven times more parts a week, and has seen a reduction in setup time from four hours to twenty-five minutes, and halving of machining cycle times from fifteen to seven and a half hours.
Before MSP’s products were introduced to SST’s process, a highly skilled operator would manually locate the part in the fixture to ensure the alignment was accurate before machining. This involved multiple steps and was extremely time-consuming to achieve the necessary accuracy. Coupled with the human error caused by the manual elements, this resulted in a vast amount of machine downtime and scrapped parts.
There was also no simple way to test or adjust the accuracy of their machines to ensure they were operating to a high standard, as it involved using complex machine kinematics and the use of advanced measuring tools before machining took place, further increasing machine downtime.
“Machine downtime was, on average, five to six hours a day before MSP. 100% of my time was being used to fix issues on this project and it required an incredible amount of time from other senior level people in the business to resolve other problems – it was all hands on deck,” stated Thomas Clanfield, Quality Manager at SST.
Because it was such a time-consuming task to create a quality part, SST were having to find a balance between speed and quality: either invest more time in the manual part setup and risk the detrimental effect on productivity, or run with a poorer setup to keep up with production, but risk a heightened chance of scrapping a part.
To solve SST’s first challenge, MSP’s NC-PartLocator software was installed on SST’s machine to automate part setup by calculating precise alignments for each machining operation. This removed the need for manual alignment, originally performed by a highly skilled operator.
“Before MSP, we were losing more parts than we were creating good parts, and we couldn’t manufacture in one operation,” commented Brad Airey, Operations Manager at SST. “We had to put the part on the machine, probe it, do rough cuts, measure it, put it back on the machine, re-cut it. With the introduction of MSP, not only can we remove all of these manual steps, but we can now check everything before cutting the part and resolve any problems that previously resulted in scrap parts.”
The second challenge was resolved using MSP’s NC-Checker software. NC-Checker ensures the machine tool’s geometric performance is accurate enough for the part to be machined correctly. It produces automatic ‘benchmark’ reports for users to understand the performance and accuracy of the machine tool, before any machining begins.
“NC-Checker gives us the confidence to trust that our machine will always make a good part. This enables us to focus solely on the machining of the part, without having to worry about issues related to the machine itself. And this benefit is not just specific to this job, it also extends to all our future machining work and projects at SST,” Airey continued.
Thomas Clanfield concluded, “Integrating MSP into the final machining process of our additive manufactured components has transformed the reliability and consistency of this process. It has also given us confidence to embark on new projects with new, similarly challenging parts, safe in the knowledge the MSP will help us achieve our goals.”
SST has stated that automation has transformed its machine and part setup into such a simple process, that, with minimal training, novice operators are able to run the machine 24 hours a day, alongside multiple other machines. The company is now in discussions to implement MSP into their composite machining processes.