Ionic Engineering, a dedicated user of CNC sliding head turn-mill centres from Citizen Machinery UK, is now exporting half of its sub-contract machined components across Europe and into the USA, largely related to the switchgear, safety valve and electrical sectors. As a result of this continued success, sales have doubled since 2008 when the first Citizen L20-VIII was installed and the company is now spending some £400,000 on a machine shop extension and new equipment.
Managing Director Ian Fitzwater attributes much of the success of his 22 people business and especially the turn-milling of components up to 42 mm diameter to his team of three, plus a recent trainee operator that are involved with the turning section under Works Manager Neil Titmus. He said: “Our turning section team has certainly been able to exploit the full capabilities of the Citizen-supplied machines on many, mostly difficult components.”
In the ensuing seven years, his five progressive purchases of Citizen sliding heads and one Miyano fixed head turning centre has meant the company has benefited from the continuous improvements in the machines’ design. In particular, he maintains, the applied production technology has helped to not only maintain the UK and overseas customer base and its changing demands but also importantly, draw in new business from new as well as existing companies.
Qualifying its progressive order book, Ionic is now investing £400,000 on new machinery for its turning and milling sections plus, by September, expanding of its 8,000 ft2 production shop with another 2,700 ft2 extension. This area will become the turning centre, housing the Citizens and Miyano, which then provides extra floor area in the main factory for new machining centres and support services. The company also has a further 2,000 ft2 just down the road and a sheetmetal facility.
Said Mr Fitzwater: “We have never been so busy, with 80 per cent of exports going to Europe and the balance to America.” He cites his latest machine order for a Citizen A32-VIIPL as bringing even greater flexibility when it is installed, facilitating wider applications being undertaken largely due to the number of tools that the machine can carry.
When he compares the new A32 specification against a Citizen L20X installed just two years ago, he maintains the new machine will take over certain well-proven components from the L-Series machine bringing the benefit of increased productivity from its heavier duty cutting cycle capability. In addition, the faster processing software and the added ability to overlap more tools in an operation will aid improved spindle utilisation and free-up the L20X to accommodate more complex components.
With some 75 per cent of orders being repeat, he said: “We are expecting some key component cycles to be up to 50 per cent faster and because our batches tend to be mainly between 50 and 200, setting will also be quicker due to access and the tool layout. This will also help our lead times which can often be as tight as two weeks from order to despatch.” In fact, he quips: “We feel we can often deliver parts from stock material in a shorter time than our material supplier can bring in the bar stock.”
Ionic Engineering was formed in 1988 when Mr Fitzwater’s employer, where he was production manager, decided to close its machine shop. He was able to acquire the machines and took on nine buy cymbalta in uk people to provide a sub-contract machining service covering industrial switchgear, switch bodies, linkages, indicators and safety related items such as explosion proof housings.
In 2008, the decision was made to install a Citizen L20-VIII which, said Mr Fitzwater: “Completely opened our eyes bringing immediate new opportunities. From that day we forgot about secondary operations, fixtures and even gauges on turning work as we focused on what could be achieved with single cycle sliding head processing.”
The company operates with single extended flexible shifts between 4am and 6pm and on suitable components, machines are left to run unmanned through the night. Of the 22 employees, two are apprentices and another is planned to be taken on later in the year.
Most batches tend to be between 50 and 200 on materials as diverse as 303 and 316 stainless steels, aluminium, a range of steels, brass, copper and plastics. Cycle times vary on the Citizen machines between 11 secs and 15 mins, in which case considerable in-cycle milling and engraving is involved.
The smallest part is a stainless steel component 2 mm diameter by 2 mm long produced on either a Citizen B16 or L20X from 6 mm bar. It has a radius dome end and a groove in the outside diameter 0.5 mm wide to 1 mm diameter. Produced in batches of 1,000 the cycle time is under 18 secs. BY comparison, the largest shaft produced is 32 mm diameter by 250 mm long with double threads at each end.
Meanwhile, the Miyano BNA-42S installed in 2011 is mainly engaged on larger up to 42 mm diameter bar work which can involve very complex cycles, and most parts produced tend to be shipped to customers in the USA.
As Mr Titmus explained: “We have achieved cycles and tolerances on the Citizen machines that are very difficult to believe, and we have found that once the machines are set, work produced is extremely reliable due to the levels of production consistency.”
He said that 80 per cent of new programs are created at the machine using cut and paste from other proven cycles, and the balance are prepared off-line using Citizen’s Alkart CNC Wizard programming aid.
He described a small silver steel component that had to be turned with a milled eccentric feature. Ionic had allowed for specialised grinding because the overall tolerances were five microns and the milled eccentric just four microns! He said: “We were concerned over the part being held for grinding so we took a flyer and machined 50 to final size and then progressively measured each part 100 per cent. To our amazement there was only very minimal changes in size. So we ran the order in batches of 100, repeated our checks on each part and all passed. Then when they were carefully inspected at the customer, to great relief we had total acceptance.”
The Citizen A32-VIIPL on order is rated as the fastest 32 mm sliding head machine that is currently available .with 7-axes and the flexibility of 23 tools. Six can be applied for turning, four driven tools for cross machining, nine for back-end cutting and five tools for front end cycles. The main spindle is 7.5 kW and the sub-spindle 3.7 kW with a 1 kW, 5,000 revs/min drive for the rotary tools.