All manufacturing companies face technical challenges from time to time – and sometimes a helping hand from a trusted supplier is all that’s needed to get things resolved. This is exactly what happened to Amersham-based Track Components. The company was experiencing a surface staining issue on aluminium parts. The solution – quite literally – came from cutting fluid specialist Oemeta. Dave Tudor reports.
I like the way that many subcontract engineering businesses are family run. There’s something reassuringly organic about a company whose pedigree is multi-generational. This is how Track Components has evolved. Today the business is run by Clive Purchase and his son Joe as managing director and engineering manager respectively, but at various times in the company’s history, Clive’s father and brother have also been involved.
Operating from three interlinked business units occupying 30,000ft² of real estate, Track’s growth over the years has been impressive. “I think we’ve managed to hit the sweet spot between our turnover, staff headcount, the capabilities we can offer and our relative size,” explains Track Components’ engineering manager, Joe Purchase.
Track Components is a precision subcontract engineering company at heart but the business also operates another arm, Track Medical, which is ISO 13485 accredited and provides complex, manufactured finished products and sub-assemblies to customers in the medical industry.
Track Components is clearly a fan of Citizen and Mazak machines because the shopfloor is literally bursting at the seams with technology from these two suppliers: 15 sliding head machines (12mm to 32mm diameter) from the former and an absolute wealth of Integrex multi-tasking, Multiplex mill/turns, multi-pallet HMCs and VMCs from the latter, not to mention a Palletech system with two HMCs and tool transport.
This brand loyalty is based on firm foundations. Mr Purchase believes that in these challenging times with skill shortages, operator familiarity across machines is essential to maintain continuity. Plus, he says, it makes in-house maintenance easier, again through familiarity and commonality of some spare parts.
The business doesn’t hold back on keeping up with technology either. In the past five years it has invested around £1 million per annum on new equipment. Indeed in February 2022 alone, Track took delivery of a Multiplex W200Y twin spindle, twin turret turning centre and a Variaxis i300 5-axis machine with auto work changer from Mazak with both machines delivered in the same month!
From Citizen, the latest investment was a M32-VIII sliding head lathe purchased last year. This was Track’s first Citizen machine with LFV (low frequency vibration) programmable chip control technology, something Joe Purchase describes as ‘fantastic’.
Aside from its armoury of machining muscle, a differentiator for Track in the marketplace is its supply chain management/stockholding capabilities as Mr Purchase explains: “Ordering products on short lead-times is a key requirement for many of our customers so we’ll often make their components in large quantities and store them here at our cost on a call off basis.
“Around 80% of our clients take advantage of this arrangement and it works very well,” he adds. “We can pass on the cost savings of making parts in larger quantities to the customer, and they can simply order – and pay for – them as and when required. We buy the material, make and store the components and the customer benefits from fixed pricing and rapid turnaround of product with virtually no lead-time.”
Raising the profile
As I mentioned in the leader, all manufacturing companies have conundrums that they have to overcome on a regular basis and often this involves close collaboration with suppliers.
There’s a synergy between Track Components and cutting fluid specialist Oemeta in that they’re both family run businesses. Oemeta is a fourth generation, German company that for 100 years has been developing and producing high quality lubricants, grinding and cutting oils, and water-miscible cutting fluids for customers all over the world.
Based in Banbury, Oemeta has had a presence in the UK for past 30 years (it also has a warehouse in Cannock) but historically the company has been very technically orientated with a loyal customer base and, by its own admission, didn’t do much self-promotion.
It had great products, but relatively few people knew about them. Now all that has changed. David Woodford was appointed UK managing director in 2018 tasked with raising Oemeta’s commercial profile in the UK. In my opinion, he has certainly achieved that objective. As machining techniques advance at an alarming rate, cutting fluids are often overlooked but they play a vital role in the overall productivity – not to mention health and safety – equation.
Another important factor is that with Oemeta you’ll be dealing directly with the company itself rather than a distributor. “Oemeta produces somewhere in the region of 300 different products,” David Woodford advises. “I’m often asked why so many, but the simple answer is that material, process and HSE specifications are changing all the time and we have to stay one step ahead. We feel we can serve our customers much more effectively by really getting to know their respective businesses at the coal face and understanding their specific applications.”
And Oemeta has some pretty prestigious customers on its books. One of the biggest in the UK is BMW’s Ham Hall engine manufacturing plant in Birmingham – a relationship that spans some 20 years.
The jigsaw comes together
And here’s where the pieces of the Oemeta/Track Components jigsaw start to come together because another important customer for Oemeta is Yamazaki Mazak. Its Worcester facility is Mazak’s European manufacturing headquarters and Oemeta is the primary supplier of cutting fluids for all its machines. Track Components, as we’ve seen is a longstanding Mazak customer.
Oemeta’s product range is driven largely by providing cutting fluid solutions for specific materials and processes and that’s how the relationship with Track Components began. For many years, Track was experiencing problems with corrosion and rusting and to a lesser degree brown staining on the surfaces of components manufactured from 7000 series aluminium.
Track turned to Mazak for help and sent a sample of cutting fluid (from its former supplier) for evaluation. In turn, Mazak sent the sample to Oemeta who analysed it and recommended Track install a water treatment plant to combat the chlorides in the water supply. Essentially this cured the rusting issues.
“Corrosion was a huge problem,” Joe Purchase recalls. “Tooling magazines and machine back ends were literally going rusty. The water treatment plant helped with that but as time progressed and we started to run multi-pallet machines unattended where components could be sitting around for long periods of time, the staining on aluminium parts became a real headache.”
So last year, Track turned to Mazak for help regarding the aluminium staining problem and Mazak consulted with Oemeta for advice.
“We asked Mazak for their thoughts on the staining issue but this coincided with us experiencing some serious logistical issues with our former coolant supplier,” Mr Purchase affirms. “There were times when we seriously thought we’d run out of cutting fluid. Deliveries became very sporadic and it started to impact production significantly. Mazak suggested we speak to Oemeta.”
“We’d seen this problem with 7000 aluminium with several of our other customers,” explains Matt Woodward, the Oemeta technical sales engineer who worked closely with Joe Purchase in finding a solution to this problem.
“The staining issue happens when parts are left in contact with cutting fluid for a relatively short period of time – as little as an hour – that don’t contain the correct inhibitors. We knew precisely what those ‘missing’ inhibitors were because we were able to analyse Track’s former cutting fluid using a very detailed reverse engineering process and add the inhibitors tank side as an addition to prove beyond doubt that they would provide the desired results. Joe wanted a quick solution and this approach negated the need to carry out lengthy trials.”
Mr Woodward recommended that Track Components use Oemeta’s Novamet 760 water miscible cutting fluid which is boron and formaldehyde free and especially recommended for the machining of sensitive materials such as yellow metals, aluminium, titanium, stainless and nickel-based alloys. It can be used on a wide range of processes – turning, milling and grinding for example and exhibits excellent foaming characteristics.
Particularly pertinent in this case is Novamet 760’s equally excellent protection against staining. “It was actually formulated from the ground up to combat this specific problem with staining on 7000 aluminium,” David Woodford asserts. “This is why we have more than 300 products in our portfolio because we develop tailored solutions to tackle specific applications.”
“Apart from using neat oil on our sliding heads, we now use Novamet 760 on all our machines on all materials – it’s our ‘go to’ cutting fluid for everything now,” Mr Purchase enthuses.
“Working with Oemeta has been a revelation,” he concludes. “We were sceptical at first because their initial proposal seemed too good to be true. We thought we’d have to do a lot of work ourselves to keep the fluid in optimum condition – but we needn’t have worried.
“Matt gave us the absolute confidence that it would work and it does. He visited us every week to monitor the changeover and everything went as planned. This included weekly microbiology testing to ensure bacteria levels were conforming to HSE regulations. From day one these were under control so now he only needs to visit us once a month.
“I think what potentially differentiates Oemeta from the competition is not only their thorough approach, excellent products and attention to detail, but also the highly detailed diagnostic testing and knowledge they have at their disposal,” he concludes.
“We ordered four barrels of Novamet 760 initially and it arrived literally the next day. Oemeta is now our sole provider of cutting fluids across the entire business.”