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Starrag UK's high-tech solutions keep Advanced Manufacturing Centres one step ahead

As the strengthening partnership between Starrag UK via its Tier 1 status with the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) with Boeing and the Nuclear AMRC sees an increasing number of machines being installed there by the Birmingham-based machine tool supplier, Matt Farnsworth, aerostructures group leader at AMRC, says there are clear reasons for the continual success of the Starrag Group's machining technologies at these centres of manufacturing excellence:

“We want the best machines in the world and we know the Starrag machines are the best because both Boeing and BAe Systems, for example, use them for production,” he points out.

“It is essential we have machines that enable us to provide like-for-like comparisons for development work for our partners, including the giants of the aerospace industry. It means we can actually prove out processes on machines similar to those that our partners use, so the OEMs' production downtime is minimal.”

The Starrag Group machines already installed at the organisations on the Advanced Manufacturing Park in South Yorkshire – the Starrag ZT 1000 machining centre (a heavy-duty five-axis machine ideal for machining aero engine casings), the Scharmann Ecospeed 2538 machining centre and the Starrag STC1250 machining centre (at the AMRC), plus the Heckert HEC 1800 machining centre (at the Nuclear AMRC) will soon be joined by:

- A Dӧrries VC 5000 MC V vertical turning lathe with five-axis milling head and five metre table, in the Nuclear AMRC, and

- A Starrag LX051 five-axis machining centre fitted with Starrag's award-winning cryogenic cooling, at the AMRC.

Established in 2001, the AMRC focuses on advanced machining and materials research for aerospace and other high-value manufacturing sectors such as automotive and motor sport. It is a recognised world-class centre for collaborative research, not least with lead partner Boeing.

Matt Farnsworth again: “We specialise in benchmarking cutting processes; we do a lot of work on standard features. For instance, when developing projects, we first look at the existing process to discover its limitations, as well as the required geometric tolerances and surface finishes - where there is no compromise. We work closely with our production engineering and CAD/CAM teams (to reduce programming times), as well as with our tooling partners to gain cycle time savings.

“For instance, our investigations into the use of PCD tooling on the Starrag STC 1250 could generate some real breakthroughs in titanium machining.

“With titanium machining, the principle was to look at best-in-class processes – at the cost of removing high volumes of the material – and our work has embraced everything from the cost of manpower through to the cost (and life) of tooling as well as programming and fixturing. The result is a proven cost rate strategy for a particular process/component.” At Starrag's machining research facility in Switzerland, a massive 750 cm3 per minute of titanium has been successfully machined in tests.

STC Series machines are designed to provide unrivalled economy in the machining of the most demanding aerostructural parts, multi-blades, blisks, impellers and casings with long cycle times – setting a benchmark for heavy chip removal in titanium and Inconel. The five-axis STC 1250 can handle loads of up to 5,000 kgs and has spindle load monitoring and force monitoring, for example.

It was installed at the AMRC in 2013, alongside a Scharmann Ecospeed that features the highly innovative and dynamic Sprint Z3 head. Instead of traditional rotary drives, the head utilises three parallel linear drives that are mounted radially equi-spaced in the headstock – the spindle platform is connected to each drive via rigid levers with pivots at each end and a ball joint at the other.

When all three axes move simultaneously, the spindle is moved in a straight line in Z; synchronised motion of the three Z axes allows the spindle to follow any path within a spherical cone of +/- 45deg at a maximum of 80deg/sec. If the three axes move differentially, the spindle platform will be tilted in the A/B kinematic.

Coupled with acceleration of 1g and a 120 kW, 30,000 revs/min spindle, the Ecospeed's metal removal rate is unmatched in aircraft grade aluminium – a four-tonne aluminium billet can be transformed into a 120 kgs complex structural part in less than 20 hours when the machine is running at a maximum cutting volume of up to 10,000 cm3/min.

The AMRC's Ecospeed is configured with a flexible workholding system for different size/shape components and will also be used for research into cutting carbon fibre materials.

These machines complement the Heckert HEC 1800 machining centre installed in the Nuclear AMRC, which was established in 2011 with the specific aim of “enhancing the capabilities and competitiveness of UK civil nuclear manufacturing industry and helping British companies compete for nuclear contracts worldwide”.

According to Jay Shaw, the centre's deputy head of machining: “We went to our partners to determine their demands for pump and valve components, for example, as well as tube steel heat exchanger parts and, like our colleagues in the AMRC with Boeing, the sole aim is to utilise world-class machines that are, of course, fit for purpose. Hence the Heckert HEC 1800.”

The Nuclear AMRC also establishes dedicated teams for each project; a project manager, a technical lead, NC programmer, machine operator and metrology engineer all collaborate closely to achieve the desired result.

Targeted at one-off high-value, high-precision and bespoke manufacturing projects “where the intention is always to be right first time”, says Mr Shaw, the Nuclear AMRC team saw the prototype HEC 1800 put through its paces in Germany, utilising a planetary turning and milling (PTM) head and direct drive rotary table.

The team knew that the head - designed for single set-up turning and milling - would revolutionise the production of many components such as large pump and valve housings, tube sheets and reactor internals. With high pressure (70 bar) coolant, the head can cost-effectively bore deep holes in pump and valve bodies.

The PTM head combines an extendable boring spindle with two radial turning tools, adding milling and turning capabilities to a horizontal boring machine/machining centre. Together, the HEC 1800 and PTM provide seven axes of movement.

An order was placed and while the machine was in build the Nuclear AMRC installed a HEC 1600 to progress its workload, which included components for wind turbine hubs and couplings, as well as internal components for reactors.

Machining on the Heckert HEC 1600 successfully replaced a broaching process for generating multiple odd-shaped holes for a reactor cooling system tube support sheet, and the machine also successfully proved out a process for partner Newburgh Engineering. After knowledge transfer between the centre and Newburgh engineers, Newburgh secured an important new contract from North America.

Capable of accommodating parts up to 3.3 metres diameter by 2.5 metres high and weighing 20 tons, the Heckert HEC 1800 has also machined a number of components for Bloodhound, the world's first 1,000 mph car that will attempt to set new land speed records in 2015-16.

The Nuclear AMRC processed seven large parts for the assembly that holds the car's rocket engine in place (an aluminium front suspension part was also machined from solid on the AMRC's Scharmann Ecospeed). Each part was machined from solid blocks of aerospace 7075 TC6 aluminium and each was worth up to £15, 000 in raw material stage. These were all successfully machined to micron tolerances from solid billet.

They included the two structural side walls – 1.6 metre by 1 metre panels machined on the HEC 1800. “The Heckert performed flawlessly,” according to production engineer Andrew Wright. “We needed a large machine able to produce the face in a single setting. The HEC's indexing table allowed us to reach all the areas we had to machine holes in without having to reset the part.”

The partnership between Starrag Group machining technologies and the Nuclear AMRC and AMRC continues.

A Dӧrries vertical turning lathe with five-axis milling head is scheduled to be available from the summer for collaborative projects at the Nuclear AMRC. The machine will be targeted at large high-value components such as full-scale reactor internal parts as well as offshore wind turbine shafts and large jet engine fan casings.

Able to handle workpieces up to five metres diameter and more than three metres high, completing as many processes in a single setting is again the aim and the new VTL will also offer full milling and deep drilling capabilities plus a range of interchangeable machining heads.

In addition, in mid-2014, Starrag UK will install at the AMRC a Starrag LX051 five-axis machining centre, a machine specifically developed with twin drive for manufacturing 'flimsy' turbine blades at extremely high cutting speeds. The machine can also process impellers and small blisks, as well as conventional prismatic components.

The AMRC's LX051 will feature Starrag's award-winning cryogenic cooling system, which can improve productivity by 70 per cent and double tool life, if cutting parameters remain unchanged. Developed in conjunction with tooling giant Walter AG, this innovative cooling system sees liquid CO2 applied to the centre of the cutting tool via the machine spindle (at room temperature and without loss of pressure) to dissipate cutting temperatures and therefore minimise tool friction and swarf adhesion.

By utilising air, coolant, mist and cryogenics, the LX051 will also enable the AMRC to research the effects of the different coolant systems.

Press release issued by Starrag UK on April 28, 2014


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