Established in 1988, Essex subcontractor TNC Precision Engineering Ltd has expanded its sliding head capacity to facilitate an application for a prismatic component previously manufactured overseas.
Boasting steady year-on-year growth operating in a range of quality-critical industries including medical, defence, broadcasting, automotive and motorsport, TNC has become a leading subcontractor in the UK at the forefront of precision component manufacturing. Employing a team of highly-skilled engineers, TNC has built a reputation on its ability to offer comprehensive solutions to complex technical challenges. This is supported by the company’s dedication to a consistently high standard of customer service and its commitment to 100% component quality backed by its ISO 9001 certification.
As a renowned engineering company with a vast array of highly-complex components in its portfolio, TNC is no stranger to receiving intricate projects from its range of OEM, blue-chip and SME customers. When a particularly interesting prismatic component currently manufactured overseas landed on the desk of TNC’s Director, Stephen Westall, he knew it would align perfectly with the company’s ethos and allow him to push the boundaries of TNC’s capabilities.
With a facility that offers nearly 2,000 hours of machining potential per week through its manual and CNC-operated turning, milling and grinding machines already approaching its full capacity, the company set out to invest in a new lathe to continue its ongoing investment programme and expand its production capacity for the new component.
TNC has four Star machines already on-site and a relationship with Star GB dating back nearly a decade. The organisation entrusted the market-leading sliding head lathe supplier to provide a cycle time study and recommend a machine suitable for the project.
With a target cycle time between 3-4 minutes needed for TNC to make the component profitable using aircraft-grade aluminium 7075, the applications department at Star GB were confident that the component could be manufactured within the required parameters. Armed with this knowledge and despite not being a route TNC would typically consider, the company commissioned a full turnkey package with Star GB. This would allow the company to achieve a short timeframe to begin manufacture and enable the company to hit the ground running following machine delivery and installation.
The machine required for the project was one of Star’s most advanced guide bush/non-guide bush models, the SV-38R. This high-specification machine combines the fast processing ability of a traditional platen-type sliding head lathe with the flexibility of a turret machine to enable simultaneous machining operations. The turret includes an independent Z3 axis, allowing two different features to be machined at the same time using Star’s ‘super-position’ control mode.
Through a combination of utilising the machine’s balanced milling capability, specifically selected tooling and comprehensive process development, the final cycle time achieved was just 3 minutes and 13 seconds. Stephen Westall says: “For this type of component, we would typically be looking at a 5-axis machine, but from our estimations, they simply couldn’t get anywhere near this cycle time. The balanced milling capability of the SV-38R is a game-changer and it’s going to open a world of opportunities for us.”
Adding to the competitive cycle time, TNC is also taking advantage of the machine’s lights-out capabilities to further increase productivity. Mr Westall continues: “My first question from the start was ‘will this machine run lights-out over long weekends?’ Star gave us the confidence that their sliding head machines are built for running unmanned over long periods – and after nearly 6 months with the machine running around 20 hours per day – I am happy to say it hasn’t let us down.”
With approximately 31,000 units to manufacture per annum, TNC is eager to place new projects onto the machine and make full use of its advanced functionality. Offering a machining diameter of up to 42mm alongside its powerful spindle motors and overlapped machining possibilities, TNC now have the ability to increase productivity and process a range of complex parts in a single set-up.
As with any new machine and especially a model as well-equipped as the SV-38R, learning to program, set and operate the new investment was an initial concern for TNC. With previous experience using smaller diameter Star machines, as well as older models, the user-friendly FANUC control allowed the company to quickly get up to speed. This was alongside comprehensive training from Star GB both on-site and at its facility in Derby.
Mr Westall says: “The training we received from Star was excellent and the support we’ve received has been second-to-none. If we need help, we can call engineers directly or phone the office where we are quickly transferred to the correct person without having to spend time navigating switchboards. All in all, dealing with Star has been easy and straightforward from start to finish.”
The implementation of the SV-38R has not only been a success for TNC; the end customer is pleased with the speed of supply and the quality of the parts – finally resolving lead time and quality issues that are often typical when sourcing components from overseas suppliers.
Stephen Totty, Managing Director of Star GB says: “It is great to see companies such as TNC realising that the potential of sliding head goes far beyond simply turning. More companies are taking on complex applications and this example from TNC sets a precedent for more exciting projects to come in the future.”
Looking ahead, the company is forecasting continued growth and has recently invested in an additional facility which will house a number of existing milling machines. The move will allow for more available space in the workshop for further investment into machine tools and inspection equipment, enabling TNC to keep pace with the fast-moving industries it supplies.