Buying a new machine tool is something that takes a degree of commitment and everything has to be ‘just so’ before making a major capital investment. This is even more the case for the many small sub-contractors up and down the UK, Heywood and Palmer being a case in point.
As a specialist provider of precision and production grinding, Ashton under Lyme-based Heywood and Palmer has built a reputation for delivering high quality ground components to a wide range of companies. Main emphasis being placed on achieving the highest possible quality & to meet or exceed wherever possible the stringent delivery schedules required by the customer.
Formed in 1989 the company had a plant list that consisted mainly of machines capable of grinding up to 1 metre between centres & up to 350 mm diameter. Enquiries had shown that there was an increasing demand for the precision grinding of larger and more varied components, and Heywood and Palmer was faced with the prospect of having to decline this work, due to it being outside of the capabilities of its existing machines.
Therefore, in 2008, Managing Director Keith Palmer began to consider additional capacity, with emphasis on grinding larger components. “We went through the motions in 2008 and identified that we were limited in choice for the size of machine that we required, and one that would fit in the available space. After viewing the products offered by various manufacturers, we were contacted by RK International, and following a visit to the Robbi factory in Italy and subsequent lengthy discussions with Dick Aldrich of RK International, it became apparent that Robbi could manufacture a universal grinding machine tailor-made to our specifications,” says Keith Palmer.
“Robbi and RK International couldn’t have been more helpful, but something pulled me back from the brink of signing the order at that time and as it turned out the financial crash was just around the corner.” Having worked through the fallout from the financial crisis, business was soon back on track at Heywood and Palmer and demand to grind larger components continued to grow, Therefore, a second visit to Robbi was arranged and an order for a Robbi Omicron CNC3615 universal grinder was placed during March of 2012 with capacity to grind up to 1.5 metres between centres and a swing of 455 mm.
Fitting a machine of this size into Heywood and Palmer’s machine shop would be a challenge, with the required floorspace of 5.6 x 2.2 metres being bigger than any other machine it possessed, but it was the height that may have been the stumbling block. “When we visited Robbi again, for training it was apparent that there would be minimal clearance between the top of the electrical cabinet and the ceiling height of where it would be installed,” says Keith Palmer. “When I pointed this out the guys at Robbi couldn’t have been more helpful and they set to removing the cabinet and repositioning it, without any fuss whatsoever.”
This ‘can do’ attitude of the team at Robbi and RK International continued and another example was the actual delivery of the machine. Again due to the tight confines of the access to the space allocated for this machine, it couldn’t be delivered fully assembled as would normally be the case. In preparation for the delivery, RK International sent their engineers to visit the site, taking detailed measurements and many photographs in order to make sure that delivery & installation went smoothly and with minimal disruption. The machine was first delivered to RK International Machine Tools’ in Erith Kent, where it was stripped down to more manageable sized sections prior to being re-assembled and installed on-site at Heywood and Palmer in October 2012.
“Since we have had the machine we have taken on work that we couldn’t have done before and the level of enquiries is growing. This machine replaces an older machine that we struggled to achieve the accuracies that customers are demanding. To replace that we needed a sturdier, heavier machine and with the Robbi, we got what is almost a bespoke machine to us but at an extremely competitive price, when compared to the German or Swiss competitors for the same size of machine,” says Keith Palmer.
The Robbi Omicron CNC3615 from RK International Machine Tools makes use of a traditional cast iron structure with hardened and ground slideways with the longitudinal movement of the table controlled by a centrally positioned recirculating ball screw. The robust build quality of the machine means that in most cases foundations are not required. This sturdy construction is also evident in the workhead and wheelhead, the latter housing the hydrodynamic spindle. Positioning of the wheelhead is facilitated by a brushless motor, which moves the screw, and gives positioning accuracy of 0,001 mm over the 250 mm stroke length.
Control of the machine is provided by a Siemens 840Di sl control system, which enables full control via programs or use as a Teach type system when required. “We have found the machine extremely easy to program and set up,” says Keith Palmer, “The software is extremely user friendly and appears to have been written by engineers, for engineers. At first we did think we knew better, given all of our grinding experience, but we quickly realised that the built-in cycles were much more efficient in terms of cycle and set-up.”
Heywood and Palmer were also reassured by the remote access that the Siemens control gives and the support that both Robbi and RK International Machine Tools have provided. “As a specialist grinding company we are winning work from companies that cannot justify buying machines of this capacity and quality, these customers still expect that we produce work to the highest standards and quality and tolerances are getting tighter all the time. It is here that I think Robbi has got it right in combining traditional machine tool build quality with modern control technology. It is built to do a job, very well, without being over engineered or having any superfluous extras”
An example of this is one job with a 400 mm outside diameter and 320 mm bore that have to be ground to a 20 micron tolerance and 15 micron squareness. “This would have been extremely difficult to achieve before we installed the Robbi machine, but now we just get on with it. We are also reassured that the machine has been trouble free in its operation. There have only been three occasions when we have had to call for help, all of which related to our lack of understanding of the machine. One of those occasions involved speaking with our contact at Robbi in Italy, at eight in the evening, to ask a specific question. He went in to the factory, logged into our control and sorted the problem there and then. The only other two calls were to RK International and both were dealt with via the remote monitoring system as well.”
RK International Machine Tools is the sole UK distributor for the full range of Robbi Grinders, with trained service engineers available for on-site and remote diagnostic maintenance. “We have represented Robbi for over 15 years and our customers point to the quality of build, specification and competitive price as their reasons behind buying their first and subsequent machines,” says RK International Machine Tools Sales Director, Dick Aldrich.
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