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Microscopy specialist keeps a firm grip on production

02 August 2012

An innovative fixturing method is helping one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of microscopy machines to develop a bespoke machining process. The components manufactured via this process ultimately end up in instruments that are capable of investigating the structural properties of materials at sub-micrometre scales.

Demand for these products, which are used throughout industry, from pharmaceuticals manufacturers to diamond processors, has increased and the OEM realised that it had to improve the efficiency of its manufacturing operations. Therefore, in order to increase productivity and reduce set-up times, this new fixture had to accommodate a family of components. Workholding specialist WDS, in collaboration with its OEM customer, set about the task of developing such a system.

A family of chassis designs house the sensitive electrical measuring equipment across the product range. Each of these required a separate fixture for machining, which involved regular periods of CNC downtime; it was virtually impossible to manufacture small quantities efficiently. The idea of a universal workholding method to cater for all these designs came about as an alternative to investing in additional CNC machines; hence the approach to WDS Fixturing Systems. WDS engineer, Nick Gautier takes up the story:

“When a single CNC machine is responsible for machining numerous products there is a real danger that production efficiency will dip. We visited the site to review the components that were manufactured and their existing workholding solutions.

“Each component is a different size and shape and needs to be manufactured with a high degree of accuracy; but we saw this as no reason for production to be halted for many hours every time a different component was loaded and machined. It was decided that the whole family of parts could be catered for with a bespoke riser table and angle plate.”

A precision ground steel riser table was designed, featuring a matrix of tapped and jig bored holes. This was supported by a bespoke angle plate which was precision ground in order to meet the levels of accuracy demanded by this application.

Using a combination of standard and modified clamping and locating items from the WDS component parts catalogue, provisions were made for back stopping and probe mounts which would suit each chassis component. Now, rather than changing the table for each component, the CNC operator simply repositions the clamps to change the production run – a task measured in minutes rather than hours.

A spokesman for the OEM confirmed that the bespoke workholding system provided by WDS not only reduced downtime between production runs but also allowed his company to implement a degree of lean manufacturing. “Since installing the new fixtures we have enjoyed continued growth in our sales, which has led to the order of a new CNC machine, and a duplicate of the workholding system has been ordered to support the new machine.”

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