As a supply chain partner to a multitude of blue chip OEMs, Unilathe has provided a complete engineering service to industry since its inception in 1977. The company is a big fan of Kitamura machine tools – evidenced by its latest purchase of a Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG HMC from Dugard Machine Tools to add to its three previously installed Kitamura machines.
As a company that specialises in the oil and gas, rail, construction equipment, IGT and aerospace industries, Stoke-on-Trent-based Unilathe installed its first Kitamura machine more than 11 years ago. Recalling the start of the Kitamura journey, Unilathe’s Andrew Sims says: “The first Kitamura machine we bought was a second hand machine.
“That dipped our toe in the water with Kitamura with regards to the twin boxway slides, the high speed and rigidity. In fairness, the performance and reliability we got from that machine, really started to pave the way for us to look at what we should be doing with our machine tool purchasing strategy. We started asking whether we should go down a one-brand machine purchasing process, not only with regards to brand but also the specifications and the right technology perspective.”
Following the first Kitamura Mycenter, Unilathe has since invested in two horizontal Mycenter 630iG machines from Dugard in 2018 and 2019 respectively – with the latest Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG being commissioned at the start of 2021.
“We are Tier 1 supplier to major OEMs throughout the UK, Europe and worldwide,” Mr Sims adds. “Generally speaking, we machine a lot of gearbox components and other parts from cast iron, cast steel and other materials where rigidity and performance, coupled with high-speed and advanced technology is really crucial.
“The Kitamura machines really fit the bill. When we are looking at new machines, the main consideration for us is reliability, speed, performance and accuracy as we have to machine these components in the most competitive nature possible whilst maintaining very high quality. At the moment, we are currently running 100 hours a week with a day and afternoon shift with weekend work – but if we need to get up to 24/7, the Kitamura’s will certainly do it,” says Mr Sims.
The latest Kitamura to land at Unilathe, the BT50 spindle taper Mycenter HX500iG has a 500 x 500mm table and axis travel of 870 x 930 x 500mm in the X-, Y- and Z-axes. The accuracy and repeatability noted by Mr Sims is demonstrated in the 0.001° indexing of the 4th axis, spindle and tool probing, zero backlash, built-in encoders, linear scale feedback and a host of other high-precision features that are guaranteed to perform.
This precision and repeatability assurance is provided by a patented twin ballscrew system that features cooling, hand-scraped surfaces and induction hardened boxways.
Commenting on the twin pallet Mycenter HX500iG, Unilathe machine operator Louis Purchase says: “There are so many things I like about the Kitamura machines. The speed is incredible. I have been at Unilathe for over three years and worked on a wide variety of machines, but I have never seen anything like the new Kitamuras. I have also worked on the older Kitamura models but the speed of the rapids on the latest machines is absolutely fantastic.”
Underpinning the speed is 60m/minute rapids and cutting feed rate with a B-axis rapid of 43,200°/minute with an 8.8 second pallet change and 2.1 second tool change time.
Probing means consistency
The majority of the work on the new Kitamura machines at present is cast iron components for the agricultural industry. Alluding to this, Mr Purchase says: “I work across the latest Kitamura machines we have here, and they just tear through cast-iron. We are machining a range of different parts and there is flexibility and interchangeability between the 630iG and 500iG machines.
“In addition, the tool carousel moves extremely quickly and when it comes to production jobs, you want accuracy, and you want speed - and you have both of them with the Kitamura Mycenter machines.
“The Kitamura additions also incorporate probing which ensures we have complete consistency. We know that the last job in a production run will be the same as the first-off because you are probing your datums on every single job.”
Regarding the precision turned parts machined at Unilathe that are then transferred to the Kitamura Mycenter machines, Mr Purchase states: “The turned parts are held to tight tolerances before loading on the Kitamuras, so if we didn’t probe the jobs every single time, we would not be able to guarantee that the job will come off the machines the same every time. However, having the probing system means that we know the exact tolerances that the part has been turned to and its positioning on the machine before we start.
“Additionally, the Kitamura’s have a tool life calculation system incorporated into the machines and this is perfect for production jobs. Essentially, it counts how many jobs each tool has done. This is hugely helpful for production when you are using a lot of tools. You calculate a tool life parameter and once the tool has hit this parameter, you are notified to change the tool or inserts, re-set the tool and start again.”
Keep it simple
From a productivity standpoint, the Kitamura Mycenter HX500iG is a twin-pallet machine which minimises downtime for the Staffordshire company, allowing the company to run two different jobs at the same time.
“The touchscreen configuration is very easy to use, but one thing that I really like is that it has a PC keyboard which is much faster to use.”