Continued growth

Uploaded 16 Mar @ 15:44pm

Moving into a new manufacturing facility in August 2017, Exactaform Cutting Tools now occupies one of the UK’s largest cutting tool facilities. The state-of-the-art 44,000 ft2 beacon of modern manufacturing is credit to the innovation and determination of the staff. However, the creative cutting tool designs and production output wouldn’t have been possible without the banks of highly automated Vollmer grinding and erosion machines.
Located near Coventry, the £5.8 million facility is home to 12 Vollmer machines that include six Vollmer QWD750H, three QXD200, a QXD250, a QWD760 and now the next generation Vgrind 160. In 2012, Exactaform reported annual growth in the region of 25 per cent as its then seven Vollmer machines were running up to 158 hours out of a possible 168 hours in a week. This level of automation and company growth has continued over the last five years with staff levels rising from 13 to 63 and turnover almost quadrupling from £2 million to £7 million.
At the frontline of cutting tool technology, Exactaform instantly recognised the benefits of the Vgrind, installing the UK’s first one. Commenting upon the company growth and reasoning behind the Vgrind purchase Director, Jamie White, says: “Exactaform was founded in 1979 by John Inglis with the common start-up story of one man taking out a £1,000 loan and installing a single machine in a garage. The company really evolved when we moved from flat insert tools to rotary PCD tooling in the early 2000’s. We recognised an opportunity and essentially gained the lead in the composite machining sector. We installed our first Vollmer machine in 2001 and we haven’t looked back since.”
The company has evolved beyond recognition and the new factory is testament to this evolution. As Jamie White continues: “We maintain the ethos of a family business with a fast response, efficient and above all friendly approach to business and consider profit as a resource to aggressively invest in the business to continually enhance customer experience and service.”
Historically, around 95 per cent of its business is in the aerospace sector. However, as the benefits of advanced material technology such as CFRP has filtered through the manufacturing industry, the customer base has shifted. Now, the breakdown is 60 per cent aerospace tooling with the automotive and F1 industries absorbing the rest.
Having recently developed the Aero-Carb Diamond Coated 2- and 4-fluted end mills for advanced composite machining and the Aero-Ti line of end mills for titanium and aerospace alloy machining, the company aimed to ramp up production volumes with improved production efficiency. The answer was the Vgrind 160.
Commenting upon the Vgrind 160 acquisition, Jamie White says: “We wanted the Vgrind for grinding pockets on small diameter tools. The combination of the 16,000 rpm high frequency spindle and the facility for loading small grinding wheels instantly gave us the ability to pocket grind tools in the 6 mm diameter range. This isn’t feasible with typical grinding wheels in the 70 mm diameter range and slower spindle speeds. The benefit was instant. We
went from eroding tool pockets in
45 minutes to grinding them on the
Vgrind in just 2 minutes. This was an astounding leap forward for our productivity levels, especially in the face of higher production quantities.
“We could see the Vgrind was a paradigm shift in technology. As existing Vollmer customers, we were struck by the innovative new design, dual spindle configuration, the rotating pallet system and the extremely fast tool and wheel changeovers. We wanted the machine for its ability to complete tools in a single set-up and the facility for processing small pockets, but it has delivered so much more.”
While Exactaform were fully aware of the new innovations behind the new Vgrind 160 prior to purchase, the company couldn’t fully comprehend the benefits in any quantifiable form until the machine was on the shopfloor and running. It has exceeded expectations in every department.
One new feature on the 5-axis Vgrind 160 that appealed to Exactaform is the V-shaped seating pallet loading system. This enables Exactaform to load tools from 6 to 16 mm diameter shanks (20 mm pallets available) in two pallets that accommodate up to 56 tools. The flexibility means the operator can easily load a complete variety of tool diameters and geometry designations and the Vgrind will process all tools in a single set-up. On alternate machines without this V-shaped pallet seating, the operators would have to process batches of tools with the same shank diameter and then undertake a pallet changeover time of 15 minutes for every tool diameter change.
“As an example, the new pallet system means we can process 5-off 10 mm diameter tools, 20-off 6 mm tools and 15-off 16 mm shank tools in a single set-up. This flexibility is a huge benefit for small batch production with lights-out operation.”
The flexibility of the pallet loader and its huge savings is the epitome of the construction of the new Vgrind 160, something that is also instilled in the vertical column with two grinding stations. The two-wheel configuration instigates fewer wheel changes while the kinematics of the CAM driven C-axis head with +15 to -200 degree rotation reduces the distance from the wheel to the tool. Something that Exactaform confirms can reduce cycle times by up to 10 per cent on every tool.
“Overall, the Vgrind 160 has been an astute investment. The productivity savings, the consumable savings, the set-up and changeover reductions and the reduced programming times are all on a scale that are making a massive difference to our business. Vollmer has certainly set the bar high with the Vgrind,” concludes Jamie White.

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