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With a longstanding tradition of design, engineering and manufacturing excellence within the aerospace industry, BAE Systems’ Samlesbury site is home to some of the most advanced aerospace manufacturing and assembly technologies in the world. In addition to contributing to other internationally important aircraft programmes, Samlesbury currently provides manufacturing and support capabilities to what is the largest contract of its kind in the world. Solutions reports.
As a tier one teammate with Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems Samlesbury undertakes work on the F-35. BAE Systems is busy manufacturing and assembling the F-35 empennage (vertical and horizontal tail fins) and the aft fuselage. Central to BAE Systems’ F-35 programme is Samlesbury’s advanced titanium machining facility. Housed in a new, purpose built, 9,000m² machining facility, the high tech plant was specifically designed for the precision finish machining of titanium parts to demanding tolerances.
BAE System’s new, state of the art manufacturing facility houses two Flexible Manufacturing Systems (FMSs) that are controlled by Fastems software and served by a Fastems pallet system. With the most complex F-35 parts requiring the use of more than 160 tools, the eight StarragHeckert STC1250 horizontal machining centres located in each of Samlesbury’s FMS’ are provided with accurately preset tools via robots, from two fully integrated, 2000 tool capacity tool stores.
At the heart of BAE’s Fastems FMS systems is sophisticated control software that can schedule production based on production orders, manage and transfer NC programs and run unmanned production. In conjunction with TDM tool management software, the Fastems management system creates task lists for the facility’s tool presetting department. This information is based not only on predetermined tooling needs, but also on remaining tool life calculations. Tools requiring attention are loaded into trolleys by the FMS robots and then taken to the Presetting Department.
It is estimated that when both FMS’ begin operating at full capacity, more than 800 tools a day will need to be accurately preset before loading into the system. Given the sheer volume of tools to be assembled and the levels of presetting precision required, the correct choice of tool presetting devices was fundamental to the efficient operation of the FMS systems. Having investigated a number of products from several of the world’s leading manufacturers, the F-35 team settled on four customised presetters from Kelch.
Simon Scott, BAE Systems’ NC processes team leader explains: “Since the installation of our Kelch presetters, they have become an essential element in our production system and play a pivotal role in linking all relevant data managements systems and help in controlling the production of F-35 titanium parts. The technologically advanced nature of the presetters impressed us during the evaluation process and the support we have received from Kelch UK has been exemplary.
He continues: “Having been involved in the initial design of our integration and data flow architecture, Kelch personnel provided the communication links with our TDM Tool Management System and Fastems software. They also ensured trouble free interfacing with other systems.
“A constant stream of updated tool requirements is now sent from our TDM system to the Kelch presetter control providing all of the information needed for the efficient assembly and precise presetting of tools. This simple process automatically provides secure data transfer of measured tool values and helps eliminate the potential for human error by minimising operator involvement.
“Balluff chip read/write systems are installed on each presetter enabling tool IDs to be read and relevant measuring programs that are hosted on the TDM system to be requested. This process ensures that all tools are measured in exactly the same way every time and allows us to achieve absolute levels of process repeatability.
“All of our tools are now set and measured on our four Kelch machines and the actual measured values are transmitted to the relevant machine tool control via TDM and Fastems with tool ID codes used as the relevant file names. As production ramps up, we’re confident that the presetters will be able to handle the projected volumes of work when we reach full manufacturing capacity.”
Made to be modular
Peter Horgan, Kelch UK’s managing director adds: “Although we were confident that our products would meet the needs of BAE Systems’ F-35, titanium machining facility, given the competition for this prestigious order, we were delighted to be selected.
“In addition to the quality of our hardware and software, the Kelch name has become synonymous with excellent levels of service. Also, I am sure that our reputation for efficiently integrating our products into complex systems was a deciding factor.
“Although we are able to provide a wide range of standard products that are can accommodate the vast majority of customers’ requirements, the modular nature of Kelch equipment makes the implementation of special adaptations a relatively simple process.
“Typical of the modification that we are able to undertake are the Kalimat presetters in BAE’s titanium facility. Each machine is equipped with an additional Y-axis automatic setting feature enabling the adjustment of the cutting tool position in the holder to an exact length. This additional aspect allows the presetters to actually set a nominal tool length automatically, then very accurately measure it.
“Featuring Kelch’s new firewire camera technology and recently increased speeds on all axis drive motors, the F35 machine shop is now reaping the benefit of using state-of-the-art equipment that is able to set tools rapidly whilst maintaining micron accuracy.”
The voice of experience
With nearly 70 years’ experience in the business, Kelch has a proven track record in supplying precision tooling presetters to manufacturing facilities throughout the world. Today the company claims it offers the widest range of vertical tool presetters available encompassing simply entry level models to advanced machines with several CNC axes.
The modular nature of Kelch presetters ensures high levels of customisation if required and means that adaptations to standard products can be made to suit specific applications. Increasing their usability further, all Kelch products can be interfaced and integrated with all manufacturing related software and systems.
As BAE Systems has discovered, the ergonomic design, flexible nature and available modules of Kelch’s Kalimat models enables them to undertake a wide range of high precision presetting tasks. The robust, torsion resistant box profiles and vibration reducing casting material used in Kalimat’s construction help guarantee precision, performance and long term stability.
Available in a wide range of capacities, Kelch says that Kalimat models are so simple to use that one handed operation enables operators to access both rapid adjustment of the axes and slide clamping release. Through the use of CCD and firewire camera technology, achieving sharp focus on tools’ cutting edge’s is also said to be a quick and easy procedure.