A new milling machine at the heart of a £26m upgrade to British Steel’s special profiles business is under construction.
The travelling-column machining centre is currently being built in Germany by SHW Werkzeugmaschinen and will be delivered to British Steel’s Skinningrove site this year.
The Uniforce 4000 5-axis machine will be situated in the company’s new forklift mast service centre which is currently under construction. It will be set up as a turnkey installation by Kingsbury, the machine manufacturer's sole agent in the UK, Ireland and GCC, and be able to hold extremely tight tolerance on special rolled steel profiles produced in the mill.
The company says the combination of size and accuracy will set its machining capability apart from that of all other global players.
David Waine, commercial director for special profiles at British Steel Skinningrove, said: "We are delighted that this biggest single investment in British Steel Special Profiles for more than 30 years will further strengthen our global presence and service offering.
"The new service centre here will incorporate one of the finest large-capacity machine shops in the world, turning us into the number one manufacturer globally of value-added machined special profiles, rolled to precise customer requirements.
"The first target market will be masts for forklift trucks, especially high-reach models. However, the milling machine will have the capability to enhance our offering across all sectors."
Also included in the £26m investment are the purchase of four new lathes for turning mill rolls, three bandsawing cells for cutting stock to length, a laser measurement system for process control of every bar rolled, and a warehousing system for storing and retrieving raw and processed material. Previous significant investments involved the installation of an advanced surface descaling system and robotic identification tracking of each profile manufactured.
The new Service Centre will improve British Steel’s offering to the market, driven by world’s best tolerance controls and state of the art service provision to customers – especially in fork lift truck sectors. It will replace the services currently offered at the company’s site in Darlington, which stores and cuts profiles to customer requirements.
It is predicted that the new processing facility will add a further 30,000 tonnes of output within the next two years. It will thereafter see a further substantial increase when material handling in the new plant becomes fully automated.
Dominic Hill, British Steel’s technical manager, Special Profiles, added: "We opted for this large milling solution from Kingsbury rather than those offered by other potential suppliers due to the high build quality of the German machine, as well as certain design features that are unique in this size range.
"One is counterbalancing of the head driven by twin ballscrews to compensate mechanically for droop, whereas the other OEMs offered less effective software compensation.
"The other significant plus point is the use of box guideways rather than linear guideways, which translates into higher rigidity, productivity and machining accuracy. Holding 0.1 mm tolerance on a forklift mast might seem extreme, but on trucks that reach up to 14 metres, mast assemblies have to be exceptionally precise to ensure reliable stability at full reach."
Simon Burrow, business development director for LPM (large prismatic machines) at Kingsbury added: "The 14m X-axis of the Uniforce 4000 in build for British Steel will have a 3m table at one end for processing smaller parts transferred from the Darlington mill, enabling offline setup and pendulum machining.
"5-axis prismatic milling and drilling capability is provided throughout the machine volume by a 2-axis universal head that allows the horizontal-spindle machine to execute vertical-spindle operations at the smaller table.
"Another aspect of the installation is the phased investment, which will enable loading of extrusions to be automated to increase capacity in the future as market share and production volumes increase."
David Waine concluded: “With the growth in our market and the anticipated uplift in demand, this investment is coming at the perfect time and will put us significantly ahead of others in our business.
"The market is becoming increasingly competitive, but we are able to keep in front by constantly innovating, developing our processing capabilities in line with user requirements. In the last two years, we have developed nine patents at Special Profiles.
"We are always listening to customers, asking them what they want and trying to think innovatively to come up with collaborative solutions."