When Autocraft Solutions Group, Europe's largest independent engine builder and remanufacturer, purchased the land and assets of an existing but redundant machine shop in Booth Drive, Wellingborough, in June 2018, the company retained four existing Heller 4-axis, twin-pallet, horizontal machining centres (HMCs) that were already on site.
Within weeks, Autocraft was using them to produce cylinder heads and blocks both for its own engine assembly and for delivery to its customers’ production lines on a just-in-time basis. For Autocraft co-owner Mike Hague-Morgan, it was a seminal moment.
He says: "We had always bought other makes of prismatic machining equipment, however the typical six-day turnaround to source a new spindle from the suppliers meant that we had to carry £500,000 of extra stock of machined parts to ensure continuity of supply to our customers. It was not only costly but took up a lot of floor space.
"Once we started using the Hellers, we saw how quickly they responded to our requests for aftersales service, including the supply of replacement spindles within 24 to 48 hours. It gave us such a high level of confidence that we decided to take all the stock out and purchase additional Heller HMCs to produce more parts, increasing our profitability."
Autocraft produces cylinder heads and blocks in medium to low volumes for a range of 3- to 6-cylinder inline and V6 to V12 engines for automotive and off-highway applications. The four Heller H2000 machining centres were soon joined by another three. Then two further orders, each for three more, were placed during the pandemic to bring the total to 13.
Mr Hague-Morgan adds: "During an incredibly difficult trading period, we were still able to grow the business partly because of the service levels provided by Heller, not just for the new HMCs we bought but also for the original turnkey package of machines we inherited.
"In addition to rapid spindle replacement when needed, the supplier also provided installation support and sometimes engineering support as well, as we had staff on extended sick leave due to COVID. Engineers from Heller came on site and seamlessly slotted in to support our team. That is not an average level of service, for which Heller has to be commended.
"We deliver hundreds of engine blocks per week to major production lines and it costs millions of pounds if they stop, so continuity of supply of heads and blocks is critical. Having machines up and running within a day or two after a spindle failure is worth a huge amount to me."
It is noteworthy that Heller's compact, high torque spindles are produced in-house in a recently-opened, air-conditioned, automated facility at the company's headquarters in Germany. They feature ease of servicing, integrated leakage checking to prevent damage, and programmable through-coolant up to 70 bar plus rapid run-up times for high productivity.
Although the H2000s in Wellingborough were designed by the parent company, they were manufactured at the group's UK factory in Redditch. Contributing further to maximising output are fast rapid traverse, integral hydraulics for automatically clamping the engine components and air detect for checking that the component is seated correctly.
A probe in the tool magazine for identifying broken cutters shaves off further time by removing that function from the cutting cycles. All these features are standard on Hellers, whereas many other machine manufacturers class them as extras, increasing both cost and delivery lead-time.
With more than 400 staff and over £60 million turnover, Autocraft provides an array of engineering services to global automotive OEMs and their supply chains. It helps customers outsource non-core operations, such as offering a fully outsourced internal combustion engine (ICE) solution for manufacturers wanting to move away from in-house engine production, freeing up factory space and personnel to concentrate on electric vehicles (EV).
With environmental issues becoming increasingly important, the engine remanufacturing service is becoming ever more popular and the manufacturer also helps its customers to transition from ICE to EV technology. In addition to engine and component production, Autocraft is a technology leader in the repair, remanufacture and niche volume assembly of EV battery packs and electric drive units.
Autocraft Solutions Group