Just over four years ago the entire production of Fluid Research’s metering, mixing and dispensing machines was managed by a sub-contractor. However, when its preferred partner closed, the decision was taken to purchase their manual machines and bring production in-house.
For over 40 years, Wellingborough-based Fluid Research has been designing, developing and manufacturing a range of precision resin mixing systems used across a broad spectrum of industry sectors, including aerospace, medical, electronics and green energy. These systems accurately mix and dispense epoxies, polyurethanes, silicones and acrylics as well as one or two component resin materials. The growth in use of these resin materials has seen demand for the dispensing systems and robotic application systems produced by Fluid Research grow and with it the demand for component parts for new machines and also for service replacement parts.
The benefit of bringing in these machines was seen almost immediately and we quadrupled productivity on certain jobs. This gave impetus to further develop our capabilities and look at other options, in particular the replacement of manual milling, where we still used an old turret mill
While bringing the manual machines in-house was a good starting point and allowed Fluid Research to develop its own manufacturing capability, Barry Thorne, was hired by Fluid Research as Machine Shop Manager in 2013, recognised an opportunity to improve efficiency and pushed for the company to invest in CNC technology. Initially this involved taking delivery of a second hand turning centre and an XYZ Mini Mill 560 vertical machining centre, which highlighted the potential of this equipment. “The benefit of bringing in these machines was seen almost immediately and we quadrupled productivity on certain jobs. This gave impetus to further develop our capabilities and look at other options, in particular the replacement of manual milling, where we still used an old turret mill,” says Barry Thorne.
With previous experience of the XYZ range and specifically the ProtoTRAK range of turret mills, Barry then proposed the purchase of an XYZ SMX 2000 mill. This two-axis CNC machine (3 axis optional) with its 2.25 kW, 4200 revs/min spindle would be ideal for many of the prototype and small batch production jobs regularly passing through the machine shop. Since Fluid Research is owned by the Ellsworth Corporation in the US, any capital investment must be fully justified before it can be ordered, highlighting in detail the payback structures. Barry continues, “When putting forward the justification for the XYZ SMX 2000 I was conservative in my estimation of the productivity increase, stating a 50 per cent improvement. Based on that rate, the machine would pay for itself after 12 months. The reality is that we have seen between 60 and 75 per cent increases in productivity and we expect that to rise as we uncover more of what can be done using the ProtoTRAK control.”
We are able to change our processes and deliver improved quality and consistency and eliminate much of the knife and forking of set ups that we had to do with manual machines. We are now producing so much more
Responsibility for operating the XYZ SMX 2000 has been given to Pat, who at 64 years old has only ever operated manual machines. Skills like those possessed by Pat will become harder to find, and so the ability of the ProtoTRAK control to replace those skills – while at the same time simplifying the machining process – is proving invaluable at Fluid Research. Reflecting on this, Barry says: “It was interesting to see the reaction of Pat when we had the machine delivered. We are able to change our processes and deliver improved quality and consistency and eliminate much of the knife and forking of set ups that we had to do with manual machines. We are now producing so much more, yet Pat is not working any harder than he has always done. I guess it is a case of working smarter not harder.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the XYZ SMX 2000 has doubled our machining capacity in this area of the business
A typical example of where the SMX 2000 is making significant productivity gains is a flange used on one of Fluid Research’s dispensing systems, which has a series of 12 counterbored holes on a pitch circle. On the manual machine each hole would have to be individually positioned and centre drilled, the tool would then be changed for the drill, and another tool change for the counterbore. This process was repeated 12 times, making a total of 36 tool changes. Now, with the ProtoTRAK control each operation is carried out separately, meaning all of the centre drilling is completed, before drilling and counterboring, and the result is that just three tool changes are now required. Positioning of the tools is also done automatically, without the need for any calculations or intervention by the operator.
Barry concludes: “It is no exaggeration to say that the XYZ SMX 2000 has doubled our machining capacity in this area of the business. Our service to customers has dramatically improved as we can turn around spare parts much quicker for those items that we make to order and we have been able to reduce our stock inventory and increased cash flow for the business as a whole. In addition, there are definite improvements to both quality and consistency of the parts we are machining.”
Fluid Research Limited provides a full range of automated dispensing equipment for resin type materials. Included in the range are the AEB and Fisnar robot systems that allow precision application of resins adhesives, sealants and encapsulants. More information on Fluid Research can be found at www.fluidresearch.eu.
(Above) First and second operation of a complex part machined on the XYZ SMX 2000.
(Above) This series of 12 holes on a PCD is now achieved with just three toolchanges as opposed to the 36 required previously.
(Above) Barry Thorne at the ProtoTRAK control, which has helped maximise productivity at Fluid Research.
(Above) Fluid Research’s latest product, the Twinflow LC50BP low-cost mixing and dispensing system .