Constructing a pathway to modern manufacturing

Mazak’s open house last September attracted more than 700 visitors
Mazak’s open house last September attracted more than 700 visitors

‘Building For Your Future’ was the theme of Yamazaki Mazak’s latest open house. The machine tool builder demonstrated to prospective customers how investment in its own manufacturing technology in Worcester has increased capacity, quickened product development and shortened lead-times. Ed Hill went along to find out more.

Judging by the difficulty I had finding a parking space at Mazak’s European Technology Centre (ETC) in Worcester on the second day of its open house in December, the event was obviously well attended.

In fact, according to the company the ‘Building For Your Future’ open house welcomed more than 700 visitors over its four days, with a strong proportion of new customers making their first visit to Mazak.

Key to its success was the ability for visitors to see Mazak’s latest CNC machines, controls and automation solutions in the hall of its European Technology Centre, talk to applications engineers about their specific machining challenges, and see machines being built on the adjacent factory floor with tours led by Mazak apprentices.

Customers were also able to get advice regarding suitable finance packages from Mazak’s preferred funding partner Finance for Industry, including creative options such as hire purchase agreements, payment holidays and low start finance leases. 

Mazak exhibited 18 different machines, including new UK-designed and built vertical machining centres (VCEs and VCNs) through to 5-axis machines, models from its flagship Integrex multi-tasking range, turning centres and laser cutting machines. In addition, Mazak highlighted its range of automation options and service and support solutions, including the Mazak iCONNECT package.

Attendees were given a chance to tour Mazak’s manufacturing facilities in Worcester guided by the company’s apprentices
Attendees were given a chance to tour Mazak’s manufacturing facilities in Worcester guided by the company’s apprentices

Alan Mucklow, managing director UK and Ireland sales and service division at Yamazaki Mazak, explained what ‘Building For Your Future’ represented.

“Demonstrating that our own investments in this facility have enabled us to enhance our manufacturing, shorten lead-times, and develop our own new products further, shows how investment in the products, people and services you offer is critical to any manufacturing company’s success,” he says.

Added intelligence

A related theme evident in much of the manufacturing technology on display was the increasing smartness of Mazak machines to help its customers tackle some of the persistent issues that have affected precision engineering for a number of years, specifically the lack of suitable employees available both in terms of the capacity required to meet orders, and skill levels. 

For some time now Mazak has been incorporating many Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory developments into its production machinery. In 2021 it introduced Mazak iCONNECT, an online suite of services available to existing Mazak customers that enables them to download manuals and software, access how-to videos, see their list of machines and their performance, order parts and more. For a subscription fee users can also access Mazak’s M2M (Machine-2-Mazak) services which enables further productivity improving functions and allows users to connect their machines directly to Mazak advisors. 

“Mazak iCONNECT has been very well embraced in the UK market and connectivity is clearly becoming more important globally for all our products,” Mr Mucklow comments. “The Portal enables our customers to connect to their machine assets and get more data and information from them easily, helping support the service of those machines. M2M can provide diagnostic support whether it is for servicing or advice regarding how best to maximise their applications. Both these products demonstrate the trends that we are developing in terms of advanced services for our customers.” 

Automation systems were a key theme at Building For Your Future
Automation systems were a key theme at Building For Your Future

A recent advance also available to Mazak customers registered with iCONNECT – and which it will be promoting at MACH 2024 – is its new Mazatrol DX software. This programme is able to transform customers’ manufacturing processes and production levels. By using a mixture of 3D models, artificial intelligence and digital twin technology, Mazatrol DX enables users to generate programmes, provide job quotations, issue instructions directly to the machine and also provide measurement support.

This can compensate for staff skills and experience on site, reduce lead-times, harmonise machining processes, increase efficiency, ease set ups and improve machine performance.

Automation options

Automation was also a prominent feature at the open house, with various solutions on display for customers.

“50% of our machines here at the ETC are automated with various solutions from simple tending robotics to more complex multi-pallet and hybrid systems that can handle both pallets and parts,” Mr Mucklow explains. “Both our automation and connectivity developments are a response to the challenges that all manufacturing is facing, namely labour and skills shortages. And these are also areas that our customer base has identified as issues that they need solutions for, and we have been able to provide them.”

Mazak’s iCONNECT and Mazatrol developments offer its customers increase productivity benefits
Mazak’s iCONNECT and Mazatrol developments offer its customers increase productivity benefits

So as a machine tool developer Mazak is not only providing optimised metalcutting performance for its customers but also increasingly comprehensive answers to broader industry problems and applications.

“It’s actually a way we differentiate ourselves from our competitors,” Mr Mucklow adds. “We can offer a full turnkey approach to delivering a solution, of which the machine tool is just one element. That’s also why we have strong relationships with our partners across various aspects of manufacturing so we can deliver total solutions.

“Furthermore, that’s what we find our customers often require. The days of having large production engineering departments are a thing of the past and that means companies have become more reliant on their manufacturing machinery and software being able to fulfil some of that role.”

Anticipated upturn

So, the popularity of Mazak’s open house may be an indication that despite difficult economic factors that have made investment tough for machining businesses, prospects are beginning to take a turn for the better. Certainly, demand should be high as sectors such automotive, aerospace and energy undergo major changes to meet challenges such as Net Zero.

One of Mazak’s VCN 700 machines at its European Technology Centre
One of Mazak’s VCN 700 machines at its European Technology Centre

“We are very mindful of changing industry demands and we have to ensure our manufacturing technology adapts to it and in fact drives it,” Mr Mucklow says. “If you look at us as a case study here in Worcester, it demonstrates the success you can have by continuing investment. Our investment in buildings, production capability, in people, and the development of our products has enabled us to be successful as a manufacturer ourselves.

“And the fact that we have had such good attendance this week is hopefully a good indicator that confidence is returning to the industry. There’s been a very positive outlook from all our visitors, with a sense of confidence returning to the market.

“Also the Government’s recent announcement of a permanent extension to fully expensing capital investment against corporation tax and the extension of initiatives like Made Smarter was very welcome and demonstrated an understanding of the importance of manufacturing to the UK economy. We’re very excited about prospects in 2024.”

Yamazaki Mazak

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