Exports to China drive investment 

The recent purchase of a Robbi Omicron CNC3206 universal grinder from RK International Machine Tools is providing Muffett Gears added flexibility and capacity as it expands export sales to China. PES reports.

With a history dating back to 1920 Tunbridge Wells, Kent-based Muffett Gears is now being driven forward by the third generation of the family, which is investing in the company’s manufacturing capacity and its people.

While the name Muffett Gears may indicate a narrow band of operation, the business offers what it describes as an ‘end-to-end solution’ involving many non-gear related services such as assembly and electro-mechanical integration as well as a full range of machining services.

This versatility sees it serve customers across a diverse range of industry sectors including medical, oil and gas, aerospace, hydraulics and flow control. As the business has grown, it has also developed its export markets, which now play a significant part in the company’s plans, especially the burgeoning Chinese economy.

Indeed, increased business from China has recently focused attention on generating greater productivity and efficiency, leading to the purchase of a Robbi Omicron CNC3206 CNC universal grinding machine from RK International Machine Tools.

“Business is very buoyant at the moment – turnover has increased 35% in the past 12 months and we expect growth to be in the region of 15% in the current financial year,” says Mark Jagelman, Muffett Gears’ operations manager.

“Our largest area of business is the medical sector, where we can add value through manufacturing component parts then integrating them into electro-mechanical assemblies. Individual components remain in demand as well, with one of our growth areas being exports of splined shafts for assembly in China.

“Key to our ability to meet this growing demand is manufacturing flexibility,” he adds. “Many of our contracts are based on forecast demand from customers, so we need to be able to react quickly to changing schedules. Most people involved in manufacturing are aware of the cost down pressures from customers. However, as a manufacturer our costs, whether that be labour, materials or energy are increasing, so we have to drive efficiencies, hence the investment in the new Robbi grinder.”

Two down to one

The issue that Muffett Gears had with the splined shafts that it supplies the UK and China was the fact that it required two operations to grind three journals, one of which has a 1:500 inverse taper. To generate the productivity/efficiency, this had to be reduced to a single operation.

Muffett invited tenders from several companies, but it was RK and Robbi that were successful. The key to the Robbi machine’s success was the ability to configure the wheelhead to suit Muffett’s precise requirement.

“The Robbi machine’s wheelhead can accommodate a variety of set-ups such as, in this case, 180° opposed external wheels with independent electro-spindle motors fitted with motor inverters and a water/air chiller. Other variants include a third external wheel or internal grinding spindle,” says RK director, Dick Aldrich. “Other features of the Robbi Omicron CNC3206 CNC installed at Muffett Gears are the aspirator and filter for emulsifying oil and fog, along with gap control technology with an added vibration sensor from Balance Systems on both wheels.

Accuracy is maintained by use of incremental linear encoders for table movement and a Hirth coupling with 2.5° swivel on the wheelhead. The machine is also one of the first from Robbi to feature the 16 inch capacitive touchscreen control panel on the Siemens 840D sl CNC control.”

While already a customer of RK International, Mark Jagelman and the team at Muffett Gears needed the confidence that the machine was capable of achieving the required accuracy and throughput and that service and support was available if required.

Shift leader Rob Hudson checks parts on a laser micrometer

Visits to the Robbi factory in Italy for detailed assessment of the machine, followed by consultation with existing Robbi customers in the UK and then a series of demanding machine acceptance trials delivered that confidence.

Mark Jagelman: “We were placing a lot of faith in the new machine so needed reassurances on performance and support. The combination of visits and trials gave us just that. The design of the Robbi grinder and the resulting confidence we gained that RK International and Robbi could support us, gave us the confidence to make the investment.

. “With the order placed all we had to do was wait for delivery, which happened on the day it was promised, with RK’s team on-hand to carry out the installation and commissioning the same day.”

Up and running

Following the installation, Muffett Gears’ staff were given training on the touchscreen Siemens control and the functions of the machine with production parts coming off the machine within a matter of days of it arriving. Having had the machine since early July, Muffett is already seeing the benefits and achieving its aims of improving service levels to customers through reduced lead-times.

Mark Jagelman (left) with RK’s regional sales manager Steve Baker

Eliminating the second grinding operation from the parts destined for China has significantly cut production times, as while the total cycle time may be the same, the level of work in progress has been greatly reduced and throughput increased.

“The Omicron CNC3206 is a very cost-effective solution that has given us everything we needed with the added reassurance of UK-based support for training and service,” Mr Jagelman affirms.

“By allowing us to reduce costs and lead-times, combined with our commitment to developing the skills of our operators and by bringing in fresh talent through our apprenticeship scheme, we can further enhance our service levels and stay ahead of the competition.”

Muffett Gears www.muffettgears.co.uk

RK International Machine Tools www.rk-int.com

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