Lantek Sheet Metal Solutions


Everything is on a grand scale in the North Machine Shop at Sheffield Forgemasters International Limited’s sprawling city centre site in South Yorkshire. This includes the vastness of the production hall and the ultra-large capacity machines that are capable of accommodating workpieces weighing 500 tonnes.

The philosophy also embraces an ambitious continual improvement programme that, curiously, considers even the smallest advance in production and machining routines that, potentially, could also benefit this giant of production engineering.

Tooling Engineer Derek Poole explains: “We’re machining a range of workpieces weighing anything from half-a-tonne upwards for a global customer base involved in, for instance, heavyweight presses and rolling mills, offshore oil and gas, as well as power generation, defence and civil nuclear work. These are generally produced as one- or two-offs and involve mainly milling and boring routines.

“The fact that our ram boring and milling machining capacity is obviously large – including one machine that has 17 metres in the X axis, six metres in Y and 1.6 metres in Z, plus it has a 1.2 metres W spindle, and a vertical borer with an eight metre diameter table – doesn’t mean, however, that a new milling cutter which is proving successful on smaller components could not be relevant to us.

“We look at every advance and decide whether the tool or the process/its application can be scaled up for our routines. And it is here that our working relationship with Walter GB’s sales engineer, Phil Broddle, pays dividends.

“Phil’s role means that not only is he privy to all of the latest tooling developments (solid and indexable insert products) that come from Walter AG’s headquarters in Germany but, importantly, because he is also visiting a raft of different companies with differing needs, he continually builds an extensive knowledge bank of applications engineering expertise – Walter calls it Engineering Kompetenz - that we regularly tap into.”

With more than 30 years’ experience in milling, Mr Poole has over the years worked with Walter tooling, including the eight years since the establishment of the North Machine Shop. Used for both roughing and finishing routines on a host of cast and forged iron workpieces, the tooling has always been of high quality, he says.

“For example, Walter GB came to us with a package based on the use of an F2010 face mill cutter body which can utilise a range of high-accuracy, interchangeable cartridges with axial adjustment. Available in the diameter range of 80 mm to 315 mm and capable of carrying inserts for high-feed, heavy roughing and finishing, the F2010 gives us the ultimate flexibility in using a single tool body for a multitude of tasks and at a reduced tooling cost, since only a single body is used.

“We’ve stuck with that ever since and saved a lot of money and time – in one instance, producing five holes of 560 mm diameter by 3.5 metres deep, the tooling saved us three weeks compared to our former routine which needed two weeks to produce a single hole.”

He continues: “We also look at the drawings for all components due to come on stream and together with Mr Broddle consider all possible tooling options. We’re always looking to improve, and that includes trialing new tools. Walter’s Blaxx M3016 heavy-duty cutter is a case in point; when we used this with Tiger.tec Silver inserts, we achieved a very high standard of machining.”

Tiger.tec Silver inserts feature a surface treatment that significantly reduces the in-cycle machining stresses on both wet and dry applications, due to its balanced combination of a high level of toughness and maximised hardness.

The CVD-Al2O3 grade coating counters any influence from thermal shock that can lead to thermal cracking at the cutting edge and minimises tribochemical wear on the flank face. These are key areas that can lead to premature insert failure.

In one rough milling case, Blaxx and Tiger.tec Silver combined at Sheffield Forgemasters to reduce machining time from 272 minutes to just 29 minutes, slashing the machining cost on this component from £249 to just £26 and, over a year on 100 components, producing substantial savings in machining times (2,922 minutes compared to 27,271 minutes) and producing overall cost savings of an incredible 81 per cent.

“When you’re taking perhaps one hour to make a single pass on components that even before being touched are worth a lot of money, tool longevity and reliability is crucial – we cannot afford to get it wrong - and that is exactly what we achieved with these inserts.”

Indeed, average machining times extend to 15 weeks (at 100 hours/week) on components weighing 250 tonnes and above, extending to 19 weeks for finishing.

That said, Mr Poole does not ‘change horses’ if a new tool brings only minimal improvement. “It says enough, however, that everything we’ve tested with Walter has been adopted.”

Mr Poole adds: “Crucially, the quality of the tooling is first-rate, but equally important is the ability to deal with individuals who understand your business needs, and in Walter’s case that includes even the CEO. There’s not many companies nowadays that you can say that about.”

Sheffield Forgemasters International is, he says, unique in that from one site it has the in-house capacity and capability to take even the largest workpiece from initial melting/casting/forging through to machining and finishing, then packaging and dispatch.

“We are renowned worldwide for the quality of our steels and our manufacturing capabilities – even on press frames of perhaps three metres by 2.5 metres, we regularly achieve the drawing’s tolerances of 30 microns and the requirement of being 30 microns perpendicular to the bottom face.

“To maintain that mantle, of course, everything in our manufacturing chain has to be of the utmost quality – and that includes the tooling.”

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