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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
From settees to satellites
From settees to satellites
Keywords Rye Technology, Rye Machinery, Machines, Manufacturing, Machining
The town of High Wycombe, in the UK, has been a major centre of furniture manufacturing for over 200 years. Many companies in the town existed, and still do, as suppliers or subcontractors to the furniture industry. One such company was Rye Machinery. Founded in the 1920s, it manufactured pressing and shaping machine tools for the town's traditional industry, and furniture manufacturers in general.
However, Rye Machinery now has a new name and a new purpose-built 20,000 square foot factory in the town's Merlin Centre. From the beginning of April, the company became Rye Technology, a new name to reflect the fast-changing nature of Rye's business, serving the aerospace, engineering, pattern-making, plastics as well as the furniture manufacturing industries world-wide (Plate 1).
Plate 1 Rye Technology staff outside their new purpose-built factory and offices in High Wycombe. Front row, from left, Adam Kingdon, Chris Harford and Toni Nagiel
Major changes in Rye's manufacturing and marketing strategies have brought new philosophies, new world-wide opportunities and new products. During 1999 the manufacturing strategy of the company was redesigned from scratch. Out went the traditional heavy machine shop, outdated manufacturing practices and heavy reliance on component stocks. In came specialised fast high-tech subcontracting of machine frame fabrications, just-in-time delivery, modular assembly techniques. Machine beds that once took four days to machine were now machined in little more than four hours. Machine lead times were drastically reduced. Customer service improved dramatically.
As major aerospace companies like Aerostructures Hamble, Chevron Aerospace and GKN Westland, high-technology automotive manufacturers like Superform Aluminium and leading engineering groups like the William Cook Group placed orders for the latest Rye Pentaxials, Rye planned its new factory, near the old premises in High Wycombe. A new high-tech environment for a much-improved range of machines, the factory has been designed and built for computer-aided manufacturing and twenty-first century engineering practices.
Rye Technology has a management team which not only has immense knowledge of the engineering and machine tool industries, but also has practical experience of the latest manufacturing practices, of new developments in sales, marketing and distribution and of the opening-up of export opportunities.
The company's new management team is headed by the managing director, Adam Kingdon (Plate 1). Adam is a graduate engineer with a track record of running manufacturing businesses, not only in the UK but also in France and Germany (he is fluent in both languages).
Toni Nagiel, Rye's new technical director, is recognised as one of the most knowledgeable and experienced designers of CMC routers in the world. At Rye since his apprenticeship, Toni has been responsible for the development of the entire range of Rye CNC machines and is in charge of design, engineering standards and applications.
Chris Harford, who has been appointed as Sales and Marketing director, has extensive experience in the metrology and machine tool industries and is travelling extensively to establish new overseas distribution for Rye Technology's latest machines.
Production director is John Reynolds, who has modernised the company's production capability and implemented the new manufacturing strategies.
Mike Thompson, finance director, has installed more rigorous financial controls and management information systems.
Completing the new management team is Steve Beeching, after-sales manager. Steve is responsible for managing customer contracts prior to delivery and handles project management during installation and commissioning of customers' machines. He is also the main point of contact for customers once their machines have been commissioned.
One of the most successful areas that Rye has diversified into is the aerospace industry. It has gone from producing machine tools for pressing and shaping furniture to manufacturing machines that are used to route composite panels for satellites.
A Rye MA2415 CNC router is currently being used by aerospace manufacturer Matra Marconi Space, based in Portsmouth, to machine complex satellite components in high-technology materials to extremely fine tolerances. Matra Marconi has 20 years' experience in the design and manufacture of spacecraft and satellite payloads and is currently in contracts to build the INMARSAT 111 satellites (used by British Telecom) and others such as SKYNET, WORLDSTAR, HOTBIRD and KOREASAT.
According to Keith Vacher, principal engineer of the Composites Technology Group at Matra Marconi, rapid growth in orders during the early 1990s, coupled with the increasing complexity of components and the frequent need to develop the design during manufacture, had made Matra Marconi's previous manual routeing techniques outdated.
"In the past we used hand routers using very expensive one-off tooling", he said. "At times, during assembly, we would find small degrees of inaccuracy which, when working to our standards, constituted major assembly interface problems. Having the jigs and panels remade or modified could take weeks out of our production schedule."
He explained that with the Rye CNC router, amending a program is done in a matter of minutes and the panels can be projected in just hours.
"The flexibility to modify and incorporate last-minute changes is vital to us", he said. "When we bought the CNC router, I thought it would be running for a couple of days a week, but in fact it is now being used all week."
Matra Marconi decided that it would move to a CNC router, and was keen to buy British, principally for the benefits of local engineering and software support. An engineer who had recently joined the company recommended that they look at Rye routers, so the Composites Technology Group took samples of their materials to the Rye Machinery factory at High Wycombe. After extensive discussions and machining trials, the MA 2415 was installed.
"We looked at the others but were most impressed with Rye's service and support", explained Keith. "Rye have worked closely with us to improve our efficiency and by refining details, such as cutting speeds, feeds and cutter types, we were able to optimise our process."
In satellite manufacture, weight of components is a paramount consideration. Extensive research over many years has resulted in the development of sophisticated composite materials. Structures are constructed from flat panels usually consisting of two exterior skins made from strong lightweight rigid materials with a honeycomb structure between.
Steve Langworthy of the Composites Technology Group explained that a typical composite panel will have carbon fibre faceskins with an aluminium honeycomb between, although components for ground use, such as reflector dishes and radomes, are often made from glass fibre with a paper honeycomb.
"Using the Rye CNC router, we are also able to machine complex shaped laminates built off a mould", he said. "We have recently machined a cranked octagonal support cone, putting flanges top and bottom and drilling interface holes precisely on the router."
Matra Marconi also bought Rye's software package which enables them to create programs for the CNC controller directly from CAD computer files.
"This means we can put the program directly on to a 3.5" diskette and load it into the controller", said Steve Langworthy. "This new software removes the risk of entry errors with the consequent waste of expensive raw materials. It also saves hours of programming."
Machining high-spec aluminium alloys
Rye has also installed one of its pentaxial CNC machining centre at the Westland Aerospace Structures Division of GKN Westland in Yeovil (Plate 2). The machine is reported to have increased productivity and cut costs by making it unnecessary to subcontract several precision engineering operations. Used for machining aircraft components in various high-spec aluminium alloys, the five-axis Rye machine delivers what a spokesman for the company describes as "extremely fine tolerances, even for the aircraft industry".
Plate 2 A Rye Pentaxial CNC machining centre, installed at the Westland Aerospace Structures Division of GKN Westland in Yeovil
Components are manufactured at GKN Westland for several aerospace manufacturers, including Boeing, Northrop, Rockwell, Airbus and Short in Belfast, and include parts for door beams and wing assemblies on (for example) the Boeing 737 and 747. The components are therefore large and complex in shape, and frequently require machining at angles which would not be possible on a less versatile machine.
"These contracts made it necessary for GKN Westland to have new machines and technology capable of machining normal to surface", said Nick Belvin, product line manager for details and sub-assembly. "These are very, very tight tolerances in aluminium – tolerances which we and most other companies have never had to work to in the sheet metal industry."
The degree of precision required extended to many different operations, but notable among them was the drilling of holes in the components and the trimming of aluminium pressings to precise dimensions. Initially, some of the work was put out to precision sub-contractors while the project team set about finding the right machine capable of handling all the machining operations necessary to the tolerances required.
"We made all the usual approaches to about a dozen manufacturers, then met Rye at an exhibition", said Nick Belvin. "They were one of eight potential suppliers whose machines were evaluated during the purchasing process."
After an initial meeting at GKN Westland, the project team visited Rye Machinery in High Wycombe and discussed detailed specifications. "It was clear from the start that Rye had the right approach to our requirements", said Nick. "They were flexible and prepared to work at achieving exactly the right specification."
Nick Belvin and the other members of the project team talked to other users of Rye machines before deciding to buy, and emphasise that they retained an open mind on the issue of whether to buy British. "Rye clearly had an excellent track record and a lot of happy customers", he said. "At the end of the day, if British machines meet our specification at the right price, we buy British."
The Rye Pentaxial has twin tables, which either can be used on a shuttle basis to speed loading and unloading and maximise cutting time, or can be locked together to create one large table. The Pentaxial is capable of running complex machining programs which include several tool changes without interruption of machining.
The two tables run lengthwise through a fixed bridge, either separately or locked together, with feed speeds of up to 20 metres per minute. A special rapid positioning facility makes it possible to move the tables at 24 metres per minute. The controller has a built-in "teach-in" facility and a number of key features to boost efficiency.
After the head has been tilted, for example, there is automatic compensation for co-ordinate points which have been "taught in" with the head positioned vertically. The controller will also define a shape in the main machine's X, Y and Z axes and translate it through compound angles without any reprogramming. This is thought to have particular benefits, for example, when cutting circles on angular faces.
It is also said to be possible to treat a drilling or plunge-cutting stroke at a compound angle as a simple Z-axis movement, with the angle being automatically compensated for in all the other axes.
"We're achieving faster set-up than I ever expected because of the twin tables", said Nick Belvin. "And, of course, we no longer have to sub-contract the high-precision machining, which saves the company a great deal of money."
Wing component milling
A third example of Rye's penetration of the aerospace industry comes from Chevron Aerospace, which reports an overall reduction of approximately 75 per cent in machining time on a key Airbus aluminium wing component. This has been achieved by using a Rye Pentaxial CNC router for the latter stages of the machining process (Plate 3). Chevron manufactures for BAe Systems the leading edge wing box for the Airbus A240-600 passenger jet at its Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, site, one of three Chevron Aerospace locations in the UK. Machined from ABMC 1029, the leading edge wing box is the structure from which the aircraft's leading edge flaps operate.
Plate 3 Chevron Aeropace uses a Rye Pentaxial CNC router for the latter stages of the machining process of the Airbus A240-600 passenger jet's leading edge wing box
Fraser Williams, sales director of Chevron Aerospace, explained that the work on leading edge components for BAe Systems had been in development for more than a year, and that the first aircraft set had been delivered to BAe Systems in December 1999. Keith Summers, general manager of the Engineering Division at Mansfield, went on to explain that experience in the early stages of the development process had shown that using the company's MCH-1000 five-axis milling machine for the whole machining process had taken longer than anticipated. This was because of extensive detailed five-axis operations at the end of the machining cycle when the winding edges on the leading edge of the wing were created. Assessment showed that the power of the milling machine was not critical to this phase of the operation since little metal was actually being removed.
"We realised that we could speed up the whole operation dramatically if we could use a much lighter and faster five-axis machine for the final machining on the outer dimensions", he said. "So, during the autumn of 1999, we started looking around and visiting manufacturers."
The key requirements when managing director Haydn Martin and Keith Summers investigated which machines were available were fast five-axis machining, a high degree of precision and readily available technical support. When they visited Rye Machinery in High Wycombe, they realised that the Rye Pentaxial was the right machine for the job.
"We liked the speed of the Rye on the five-axis work", said Keith Summers. "Rye have a lot of experience of setting up their Pentaxial machines for our kind of work, and, of course, the entire manufacturing team is not far away from us down the motorway to provide support when we need it."
A further key issue for Chevron Aerospace was getting a machine into their factory and working in the shortest possible time. The Rye management team looked at Chevron's problem and decided that the best approach would be to offer Chevron Aerospace an existing Pentaxial machine on loan until the new Pentaxial could be delivered in May 2000. The loaned machine was installed in early January and was soon taking a key role in production.
"Using the much higher speed of the Rye Pentaxial for the final stages of machining actually saves 75 per cent of the total machining time for the leading edge wing box", said Keith Summers. "We see the use of the Pentaxial as creating a lot more capacity on the MCH 1000 milling machine, and creating that capacity at a fraction of the price of any other machine that could do the job."
Chevron Aerospace in fact ordered two CNC routers from Rye which were delivered in late Spring 2000. As well as a new Pentaxial to take over the work currently being carried out by the machine on loan, Chevron has ordered a four-axis MA2515 TP twin table CNC router for its fabrication works at Nottingham.
The Pentaxial 1515 TP has two moving tables each 1,500mm 1,500mm, which can if required be synchronised together to form one table 1,500 3,000mm. Above these the fixed overhead gantry carries the moving head assembly which provides rigid and precise travels of 2,540mm on the table axes, 3,500mm on the gantry axis and 710mm in the vertical axis, with feed rates of up to 20m/min in each axis and rapid capability of 24m/min. Rotational axis movement is 360degs in the fourth axis and 210degs in the fifth axis with a max speed of 6,840deg/min. All movements are controlled by a state-of-the-art BWO CNC 900 computer control system which, due to its powerful software, has many superior functions for the control of five-axis simultaneous movement.
The secret behind the Pentaxial's capabilities is said to be the rotary axes assemblies, which are built to micron tolerances and have the rigidity to carry the 10kW ISO 40 spindle with a speed range of 1,000-18,000 rpm. A 12-station toolchanger plus an air droplet lubrication system provide the necessary tooling requirements.
The MA 2515 TP four-axis CNC router will have twin moving tables and a fixed overhead gantry carrying the moving heads. These provide movement of 3,000mm on the table axes, 3,500mm on the beam axis and 180mm on the vertical axis. Feed rates are 24m/min. In this case the controller is an Osai 10/310 with digital drives and ethernet communications.
The machine has two 7.5kW automatic routerheads each with its own eight-station toolchanger mounted adjacent to it. The infinitely variable speed range of 3,000 to 20,000rpm provides for a variety of tool types. The spindle centres are adjustable with digital readout positioning and can be used simultaneously to double output or individually to mask the t/c time. The adjustment caters for different component nesting patterns when machining aluminium sheet, thus minimising material wastage.
"We shall be using the Rye Pentaxial for many other jobs in addition to the Airbus leading edge wing boxes", said Keith Summers. "It will also be machining extruded parts and many different components where its high speed will reduce costs while maintaining our high standards of precision."
No doubt in the near future Rye Technologies will inform us that it has supplied a machine tool for manufacturing seats, only this time it will be aircraft seats.