Month: April 2024

FANUC & Loop Technology sign aerospace deal for largest robots ever ordered in the UK

Aerospace automation specialist Loop Technology has signed a deal with FANUC UK for seven new robots – including four units of the largest industrial robot ever to be ordered in the UK, the FANUC M-2000iA/1700L.

Renowned as the strongest long-reach robot in the world, three FANUC M-2000iA/1700L six-axis units will be delivered to the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) for its new innovation facility in South Yorkshire. This is part of Project Compass (Composites at Speed and Scale), a larger £80m investment which includes an aerospace manufacturing R&D project delivered by a consortium of partners including Boeing, Loop Technology, Spirit AeroSystems and the AMRC. The Loop/AMRC deal also encompasses two further FANUC M-2000iA robots: a 1200L and a 900L model.

As part of a separate project, another 1700L model, along with an additional 900L unit, have been ordered by Loop Technology to form part of a high-rate composite preforming cell for a North American aerospace client. This brings the total number of FANUC M-2000iA six-axis robots commissioned by Loop Technology for this latest order to seven.

Decarbonising the aerospace sector

The aerospace manufacturing sector is booming, with 3,850 aircraft orders being placed in 2023 – a global record, according to ADS, the trade association for the aerospace, defence, security and space sectors. However, there is also currently a global aircraft backlog of 15,753, which is the largest on record. Increasing the level of automation in aerospace manufacturing is one of the main ways to increase productivity and help to reduce this backlog, while also tackling one of the sector’s main challenges – decarbonisation.

The new AMRC innovation facility in Sheffield has been developed to help solve composites manufacturing challenges in order to meet future demand for lighter commercial aircraft and help the aviation industry reach net zero. It aims to de-risk and develop high rate sustainable structures, with the potential to reduce large component process times from around 40 hours to approximately four hours. The facility is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

The building will be home to a raft of state-of-the-art equipment secured through a £29.5m grant from the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) Programme to support new capabilities, technologies and processes to reduce cost, waste, production time and associated carbon emissions.

Boosting productivity

The five FANUC M-2000iA industrial robots that have been ordered by Loop Technology for the AMRC facility will form part of Loop’s proprietary high-rate deposition cell, known as FibreLINE. This state-of-the-art high rate preform manufacturing system, with FibreFORM at its centre, can pick composite sheets (plies) and form them into complex 3D double curvature profiles before placing them onto a tool, inspecting them and heat staking them ready for the next stage of the production process, at a rate of up to 200kg an hour. Traditional methods typically operate at 40kg/hr, so this is a significant improvement. Meanwhile, the National Composites Centre, which uses a different configuration of FibreLINE that includes FibreROLL, has stated they are on track to deliver 350kg/hr.

Market-leading size and reach

Loop Technology has also ordered two further FANUC M-2000iA robots to form part of a separate FibreLINE system, for a key North American aerospace customer looking to carry out R&D applications. Once built, the entire FibreLINE system will measure more than 20m in length. It will centre around FibreFORM, a 3D double curvature preforming gripper that weighs more than one tonne, meaning that heavy-duty industrial robots with a high payload and long reach are essential. With a 1.7 tonne payload capacity and 6.2m stroke, the M-2000iA/1700L provides maximum flexibility on operations involving large and heavy objects. Capable of lifting and positioning an entire car body, it is officially the strongest long-reach robot in the world, making it the ideal choice for Loop Technology both for their North American aerospace client, and for the AMRC innovation facility.

“Being aero structures, the parts that are being manufactured on our FibreLINE systems are extremely large,” explains Alun Reece, Managing Director of Loop Technology. “These two projects therefore both require robots with high payload and reach capabilities to access all the areas necessary in order to carry out deposition or inspection activities. While we could have used precision gantries to deploy our end effectors, they limit access to the cell area due to requiring two rails on which to carry the gantry bridge. In contrast, the M-2000iA robots are mounted on a single axis rail, providing clear access from one side. They are our clear robot of choice for such projects.”

A solid partnership

Oliver Selby is Head of Sales for FANUC UK and has worked alongside Loop Technology for a number of years, helping to increase innovation in the aerospace sector. “We have been proud to have Loop Technology as one of our system integrator partners for the past five years,” he states. “Their solutions, such as the FibreLINE and its constituent parts – FibreFORM (ply manipulation), FibreTACK (ply tacking) and FibreEYE (inspection) – are helping to increase automation uptake among aerospace manufacturers. Given the labour shortage within manufacturing as a whole and the extensive aircraft order backlog, higher levels of automation are essential to increase productivity and ensure the industry continues to thrive in the coming years.”

Alun Reece adds: “Innovations in robotics around scale, precision and collaborative working are opening up new opportunities for aerospace manufacturers all the time. Whether in high rate preforming systems, fibre placement, or assembly operations such as drilling, fastening, sealing or automated inspection applications, the versatility offered by modern robotics is redefining the way tasks are performed, helping to drive down aerospace manufacturing costs while driving up quality.” 

Polymer Succession Planning … Without the Drama

If you’ve been gripped by the british award-winning series Succession, you’ll be forgiven for picturing every top-level management transition as a dynastic psychodrama. Yet, as technical toolmaker and trade moulder Cybertools can testify, the retention struggle for UK SMEs in the manufacturing space can be eased with some sensible forward planning combined with the support of external industry training.

Succession planning is something that every business needs to face. Whether through retirement or an unexpected shift in personnel, having a plan is strategically crucial. However, it is not an overnight process.

Marking an important phase in the company’s growth and having just secured a 40-percent share in a Chinese-based tooling factory, founder and leader of Cybertools Paul Brown has put in place a robust plan for the Buntingford-based firm’s business continuity. Investing heavily in his workforce, the forward-looking MD is one of the strongest advocates of removing development barriers and nurturing talent internally.  

Rather than reacting and filling positions passively, Cybertools is instead developing its workforce to grow into these future gaps. Part of this process includes incrementally adding responsibilities and booking team members onto the IOM3-accredited Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Academy courses run by Darren Vater-Hutchison.

Mould Setter Leo, accompanied by Quality Control Production Trainee Jiji, are now on an accelerated progression journey at Cybertools, with a vested interest in carrying forward the company’s legacy.

A rising tide lifts all boats

As the third largest employer in the UK, the plastics industry comprises a high proportion of SMEs. Like Cybertools, most of these are lean, family-run businesses, headed up by owners looking to retire in the next decade or sooner.

With the industry’s technical education and skills system still teetering on a precipice, and conscious that time is ticking, Paul took the proactive steps to invest in his teams’ future, earmarking several colleagues for progression and booking them onto three Academy courses. Leo is three quarters of the way through his development program at the Daventry facility, with just the Advanced Injection Moulding course to complete. Jiji is close behind.

The reciprocal, and equitable benefits of investing in development, are multiple, exclaims Paul. “We are creating a work environment where everyone can feel they can give their best and that this will lead to a fulfilling career pathway. By extension, it increases their confidence in our business, which increases loyalty. The more skilled team members become, the more I can delegate and step back from the day-to-day management tasks.”

Returning from their respective Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Academy courses at the end of 2023, both Leo and Jiji expressed heightened confidence in operating the injection moulding machines and a more detailed understanding of advanced setter processes.

Although subtle, the productivity benefits are also evident states Paul. “Confidence results in quicker set up times. This probably gives us 2-3 hours more of production capacity each week. However, the most noteworthy benefit is the swift return on investment. Knowledge equals expertise; expertise equals value; and valued people feel more seen and appreciated.”

Tapping diverse perspectives

The result is a contagious culture. “Positive and driven colleagues motivate others. When my team return from a course sharing everything they have learned with their production peers, it only reaffirms the importance of investing in skills,” adds Paul.

Examining the wider challenges, Paul encourages leaders who are scouting for talent to look for potential rather than pedigree. “Given the scarcity of academic technical training, utilising well-respected development frameworks designed by people who understand the ins and outs of our industry can help our future leaders to define and steer their career pathway. Another sideline benefit is we are empowering future mentors.”

Industry trainer and one of the masterminds behind the winning 2023 Plastic Industry Awards training & development program, Darren Vater-Hutchison concurs. Having delivered courses to over 700 industry colleagues at Sumitomo (SHI) Demag’s IOM3-accredited Academy, Darren expands: “High quality industry training can help to address the lack of curriculum investment and provides a more direct and immediate solution to local and national skills shortages. Machines make parts. However, knowledge creates value. This value increases markedly as knowledge moves up the scale. Most importantly, this accumulative knowledge is being passed onto to future leaders.”

Earning the certificate in Toolsetting Technology (TSett) and Mould Mounting (MMount), Jiji, who joined Cybertools with no significant engineering knowledge, has reached the halfway point in his professional development program. Jiji comments: “The Academy courses have helped me to gain a better understanding of moulding processes and how they relate to QC issues. I am more confident in my ability to get good results from the machines with an understanding of cause and effect in the processes. This is giving me the confidence to progress as a tool setter which will hopefully open up even more career possibilities in the future.”

Testament to the progression opportunities, Leo commenced his career with Cybertools as a temporary picker and packer. Now running the UK mould shop, he recently started to provide input into major project quotations. Leo comments: “The Academy training has given me a more advanced machine understanding and guidance on ways to be more precise with process adjustments.” Leo is eager to continue putting this advanced knowledge into practice, and hopes to shortly complete the Advanced Injection Moulding (AIM) course to further his knowledge and career.

Attesting to the importance of training, Paul says that when the right person comes along who clicks with your business and culture, you just know that making the investment is worth it. “Developing staff is a long game. Jiji proved straight away that he was good with detail, which is perfect for QC work. Having tuned his technical abilities, Leo is now running our mould shop.”

Paul cautions that failure to listen and address workforce needs could result in alienating and losing your future talents and company successors. “People need to have a workspace where they can feel they can thrive and progress. Much of this can be underpinned by clear development goals and a good training program.” The Sumitomo (SHI) Demag Academy offers a mix of structured and bespoke polymer processing and industry-led training and development courses, aimed at all operational levels, from new starters to

Haitian launches Generation 5 Machines to target efficiency in UK plastics

The new Generation 5 range of Haitian moulding machines will be hitting UK shores in the coming weeks. Veronica Edmunds, head of the UK sales team, shares what we can expect from one of the world’s largest manufacturer of moulding machines.
  • According to the PMMDA, the UK has the oldest fleet of machinery in Europe, outside of Romania, and at the current rate will take more than 20 years to upgrade. 
  • Haitian Generation 5 Servo hydraulic machines will offer Electric Screw Motors as standard, enabling a more precise and reliable process with reduced energy consumption, not to mention that they are a lot quieter too.
  • Haitian UK has recently opened a new Technical Centre in Buckinghamshire to support the launch of the new Generation 5 machines.
Premier Moulding Machinery has been the Haitian distributor in the UK for almost 20 years, so obviously we have seen huge changes in technology over that time.  I guess it shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of us that this fifth generation from the market-leading manufacturer is so impactful.  Haitian have always positioned themselves as a high-quality brand, for whom the customer’s experience is paramount.  Unlike some suppliers, we are not in a race to deliver the cheapest functioning machine or, conversely, to use customers as revenue streams post-purchase. The “Generation 5” range continues Haitian’s philosophy of sharing the advantages that their economies of scale produce, with our customers.  This time the step change is higher than previously seen, and that is because technological improvements are happening so quickly.  We have over 700 people working in R&D, in a constant quest to innovate and improve. There has been a massive increase in investment by Haitian to improve their manufacturing excellence and infrastructure, including a new site in Serbia to manufacture up to 3000 machines a year for the European market.

What are the main differences that moulding companies will see?
Well, as you know, we have been very vocal about the need for the UK Plastics Sector to invest in modern technology so that it can improve competitiveness and produce a rapid return on investment.  According to the PMMDA, the UK has the oldest fleet of machinery in Europe, outside of Romania, and at the current rate will take more than 20 years to upgrade.  In the meantime, European moulding companies are racing ahead, with governments offering financial assistance to their manufacturers to help reduce their carbon footprint and improve efficiencies.  Generation 5 offers energy savings of between 20% and 40% on our previously already impressive figures.  This is showing circa 80% energy savings vs. fixed or variable pump machines, which still make up the bulk of the UK market. 

So, how has Haitian achieved this?  
Features which were previously available as additional options are now included as standard specifications, including new energy-saving technology, both hardware and software.  It’s fair to say that these options would have cost thousands of Euros previously, but our economies of scale make it more cost-effective to upgrade the whole range. So, for example, Haitian Generation 5 Servo hydraulic machines will now offer Electric Screw Motors as standard, at no extra cost. Thus, enabling a more precise and reliable process with reduced energy consumption, not to mention that they are a lot quieter too.

Savings of these magnitudes offer moulders the opportunity to pay off their brand-new Haitian Generation 5 machine, with the savings they make on energy, in months rather than years.

While energy savings and a quick return on investment are often enough of an incentive to add to our rapidly expanding customer base, we believe the new HT-X tend software will further set us apart from our European and Asian competitors. 

The HT X-tend software is available on all Generation 5 and is included as a standard option in the purchase price.  Charging customers extra for features that are included on their machines is a policy that has backfired on those suppliers who have tried it.  Customers remember when car companies tried to charge to use heated seats that were already fitted in their vehicles, and the same reaction is commonplace in our sector when manufacturers will “switch on features for a price”.  Our system is free of charge and can be turned on and off, by our customers, whenever they require it. This software has been tested on over 1000 machines pre-launch and the improvements achieved when processing recycled material are of particular benefit.

The intelligent control system will optimise the entire moulding process to ensure repeatability, efficiency and lowest energy consumption, this reduces wear and tear on the machine and tooling.  It’s as though your most considerate technician has set each machine.

To support the launch of the new Generation 5 machines, Haitian UK has recently opened a new Technical Centre in Buckinghamshire.  Onsite, we have a selection of machines from our Haitian and Zhafir ranges plus our Hilectro automation, ranging from 90 to 550 tonnes.  All are available for sale and quick delivery if required.

Whilst the centre is certainly an impressive facility from which to showcase our technology,  it is also available to support customers in their machinery selection processes.  We have already run multiple tool trials, energy comparisons and training sessions.  This investment in our UK infrastructure extends to the provision of a full-quality office to enable our customers’ teams to fully investigate their own tools’ performance in our machines. Our engineering team work alongside our customers to ensure that the best possible outcomes can be achieved.  We have also been able to assist customers with some small production runs when needed.

We aim to provide the highest level of customer support alongside the best machinery available at a price which is affordable for all.  In particular, I would also like to give credit to our own engineering team whom our customers continually praise for the excellent levels of service they provide.  Whilst it may be the sales team who sells the first machine to a new customer, it is the engineers who sell the rest.  Time and time again, we hear how important it is to be supported by a team who have the customers’ best interests at the forefront of what we do.  Haitian UK have a policy of not using our engineering support as a revenue stream which enables a strong working relationship with our customer base.

The aim for us, in a commercial sense, is to provide the best machine price-performance ratio, coupled with such a high level of customer service that our customers do not consider using another supplier. It’s proved to be a successful formula so far and we are sure that the introduction of Generation 5 will X-Tend this advantage.