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Laser & Waterjet Profiling
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The subcontracting sector is not only one of the most versatile and vital elements of the manufacturing community, it is also one of the most competitive. Successful contractors look to deliver products of the highest quality and, increasingly, must also focus on developing a competitive edge, which will be of particular value to their customers. Solutions reports.
The role played by component cleaning is a prime example of an added value process. The need to remove swarf and machining oils from manufactured components is self-evident, but as components become more and more complex – with blind holes, fine holes and internal galleries common on components from the smallest hydraulic valve to a commercial engine block – there is an increasing need to improve cleanliness processes.
John Pattison is managing director of MecWash Systems, one of the UK’s leading manufacturers of precision aqueous-based component cleaning systems. He draws attention to the importance of high quality cleaning to subcontractors.
“The need for greater cleanliness is driven by the OEMs who are demanding higher manufacturing standards than ever before,” he says. “Cleanliness specifications must often be guaranteed for a contract to be awarded. Also, the OEMs are testing against these standards far more rigorously than before, so consistently high cleanliness is crucial to profitable manufacturing.
“Alongside this,” he continues, “the pressure to adopt aqueous-based systems is driven by two factors – the inherent dangers of solvent systems mean increasingly stringent regulatory controls and health and safety procedures need to observed at considerable cost. Also OEMs promoting their own ‘green’ credentials demand the same standards of their suppliers.”
Keep it simple
Mr Pattison explains that each MecWash design utilises a central drum which rotates and/or oscillates on a horizontal axis according to the programmable sequence that is selected. Importantly, components can be held either loose in a choice of baskets or clamped into position in purpose designed fixtures. The latter enables jetting to be directed at critical features, supplementing the combination of spray and flood washing and rinsing. If required, an ultrasonic stage can also be built into many MecWash designs. Hot air and optional vacuum drying stages conclude the process, leaving the parts completely dry.
“Each of the models in the range operates as a standalone unit and only requires a connection to power, air and mains water supplies,” Mr Pattison continues. “This simplicity of installation enables subcontractors to gain from an aqueous cleaning capability very easily – whether the unit is installed as part of the manufacturing line or becomes part of its own processing cell that is able to handle the wide variety of components that typifies many successful subcontracting operations.
“Importantly, each system has been designed to offer a high degree of performance and flexibility – both in terms of the amount and type of products that can be cleaned and the variation in terms of dimension and cleanliness objectives that can be accommodated,” he adds.
Automotive specialist, Mahle Powertrain in Wellingborough is an excellent example of these principles in practice. The organisation now operates five MecWash systems, the most recent of which includes a highly sophisticated integral jetting arrangement. Dedicated to cleaning aluminium V8 engine blocks and heads for a prestige automotive manufacturer, the unit has the capacity to clean 30,000 individual machined engine sets per year.
“Each set, which comprises two cylinder heads and a block, features a wide range of machined elements, all of which have to be clean of machining oil and metal swarf to meet the customer’s specifications,” explains Phil Knightley, production engineer at Mahle Powertrain. “Clearly, this places great emphasis on the capability of the cleaning station, which fulfils a vital role between machining and both leak and porosity testing procedures, ahead of packing and despatch.
“The decision to work again with MecWash, which has supplied a number of units for Mahle in recent years, was centred on the company’s ability to meet this complex cleaning requirement in the required timeframe, and to do so in an environmentally responsible way as a result of the aqueous-based design,” he adds. Mahle Powertrain operates an Environmental Management System in accordance with the international management standard, ISO 14001.
Further north, in Leicester, SPS Technologies – a global manufacturer of high quality speciality fasteners, assemblies and precision components for critical applications – has installed a third aqueous-based component cleaning system from MecWash Systems to help it meet the cleaning requirements of a new customer.
The original MecWash units remain dedicated to the cleaning requirements of the company’s aerospace fastener production while the new unit focuses on the cleaning of components – a total of 27 different designs, mostly in brass and steel – that are manufactured by its sister organisation in Rugby for a specific customer in the sector. Adrian Salisbury is facilities manager at SPS Technologies in Leicester and highlights the role played by the latest MecWash facility and its importance in the production process.
“The new installation is designed to ensure that each component arrives in a clean condition at the subsequent passivation, phosphating or spray process,” he explains. “It is important that products are free from contamination to ensure the effectiveness of these operations is maximised, so the MecWash units have a direct influence on our production quality and, ultimately, our reputation.”
Break it down
Birmingham-based Rowan Precision, which produces a wide range of turned and milled parts from 0.5mm to 85mm diameter in a variety of materials and plastics, is a further example of the gains that can be realised. Here, the company has turned to a MecWash AVD system to fulfil its cleaning requirements.
“The cleaning system design of the AVD is centred on rotational spray/flood washing, rinsing and ultrasonics that together create a powerful cleaning process to remove all types of soils,” explains John Pattison. “This achieves very high standards of cleanliness on precision-machined components.”
The MecWash installation sees contamination broken down and removed in minutes, before high velocity hot air drying ensures that parts exit the AVD in a dry condition. The particular focus at Rowan Precision is on swarf and machining oils – including neat cutting fluids – the removal of which is also aided by the use of MecWash AC32 multi-metal cleaning chemical. The overall result is that the company can use just the single cleaning system for its full range of materials including aluminium, brass, steel and plastics.
“Our direct experience with many leading OEMs has shown us the clear trend towards greater cleaning requirements and enhanced environmental awareness,” Mr Pattison continues. “Our familiarity with these OEMs and our understanding of the cleanliness standards they need enables us to help subcontractors deliver the required cleanliness and the most economical approach.
“We believe there are clear benefits for the subcontracting sector from paying greater attention than ever to aqueous-based component cleaning – a competitive advantage that will be recognised by everybody involved in the industry,” he concludes.