BAE Systems Focus on Accuracy with Kelch Tool Presetters
Boasting a long 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.
In partnership with Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems Samlesbury undertakes work on the F-35 as a tier one partner. Having won a substantial amount of the programme’s work-share, BAE Systems is now busy manufacturing and assembling the F-35 empennage (vertical and horizontal tail fins) and the aft fuselage. Central to BAE System's F-35 programme is Samlesbury’s advanced titanium machining facility. Housed in a new, purpose built, 9,000 sq m machining facility, the impressive, high-tech plant was specifically designed for the precision finish machining of titanium parts to extremely demanding tolerances.
BAEs new, world-class manufacturing facility houses 2 x state -of-the-art 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 Starrag Heckert STC1250 horizontal machining centres located in each of Samlesbury’s FMSs are provided with very accurately preset tools by robots, from two fully integrated, 2000 tool capacity tool stores.
At the heart of BAEs 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, Fastems management system creates task-lists for the facility’s tool presetting department. This information is based, not only on predetermined tooling needs, but on remaining tool life calculations. Tools requiring attention are loaded into trolleys by each FMSs robots and then taken to the Presetting Department.
It is estimated that when the both FMSs begin operating at full capacity, more than 800 tools a day will need to be very 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 entire FMS systems. Having investigated the alternative Tool Presetters from several of the world’s leading manufacturers, impressed by their advanced capabilities, the F-35 team purchased 4 x customised Kelch Tool Presetters.
Simon Scott BAE Systems NC Processes Team Leader explained. “Since the installation of our Kelch tool presetters, they have become an essential element in our production system. The presetters now play a pivotal role in linking all relevant data managements systems and help in controlling the production of F-35 titanium parts. In addition to being impressed by their technologically advanced nature, repeatable accuracy and ease of use, we have been delighted at the levels of service provided by Kelch UK. “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 up-dated tool requirements is now sent from our TDM tool management 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 tool measured values and helps eliminates 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 efficient 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 presetters, and the actual measured values transmitted to the relevant machine tool control via TDM and Fastems, with the tool ID code used as the relevant file name. Given our new Kelch Tool Presetters outstanding performance as we continue to increase manufacturing volumes, we are confident that they will be able to handle our projected volumes of work when we reach full manufacturing capacity.”
Peter Horgan, Kelch UK Managing Director added. “Although we were confident that our products were the ideal Tool Presetters for BAE Systems’ F-35, titanium machining facility, given the competition for this prestigious order, we were delighted to be selected as the preferred supplier.
“In addition to the quality of our renowned 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 helped to convince BAE Systems to entrust the presetting of their tools to Kelch’s Tool Presetters.
“Although we are able to provide a wide range of standard products, that are accommodate the vast majority of customers’ requirements, the modular nature of Kelch products makes the implementation of ‘special’ adaptations very easy. Typical of the modification that we are able to undertake are the presetters in BAEs F35Titanium Manufacturing 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 feature allows the presetters to actually set a nominal tool length automatically then very accurately measure it. This greatly reduces the risk of collission with fixtures and other ellements in the machining area.
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 Automatic Tool Presetters that are able to set tools rapidly whilst maintaining micron accuracy.”