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Partnership drives competitiveness at Perkins Engines – increasing UK based in-house machining

Written by JOC, posted in Client News on January 9, 2008

Bringing efficient machining processes back in-house at diesel engine manufacturer Perkins has been helped by close partnerships with FANUC Robotics (UK) and Heller Machine Tools. Support and collaboration from OEM suppliers is seen by Perkins as a fundamental to success.

Manufacturing Coach is a job title that becomes very obvious after only a few minutes talking to Tony Green of Perkins Engines. Enthusiasm pours from Tony as he explains the shift in working practice that has benefitted the company, and the UK, over the past three years.

Teams in the Perkins machining facility at the Peterborough site are now as close as it possibly can be to being independent profit centres within the organisation – they stand by the profitability of their individual operations.

Tony Green explains that his role is to facilitate the Teams and empower them in all areas to achieve the manufacturing objectives. Manufacturing Coach takes the position of manufacturing manager further as it encapsulates additional functions, including maintenance, process engineering and training management to make employee ownership really mean something.

The Perkins Type 400D Engine cylinder head is now benefitting from this working practice with a newly commissioned fully automated machining cell. Previously this component had been machined by an external non UK based contractor, but for the past three years Perkins procurement department has included its own manufacturing teams in the tendering process.

Perkins won the contract having put a bid in based around a totally automated cell, employing Teams of four operating over three shifts, five days a week. Core to the bid was its approach to producing a cost effective manufacturing solution.

To do this a Perkins’ project team worked closely with two OEM Partners, FANUC Robotics and Heller Machine Tools, to produce a highly efficient approach.

The cell produces ‘ready for assembly’ cylinder heads from un-machined castings. Operating a 3 shift system over 24 hours and 5 days a week the new system will produce 80,000 cylinder heads per year. Each team comprises three operators and a maintenance person.

Tony explains, “Skills and the right attitude are essential to success; and I believe attitude is of paramount importance – we can provide skills – attitude is a little harder. Success relies on the team working together and sharing information and experiences with each other. If there’s a breakdown the maintenance team member will attend but also the operator will be sufficiently capable and willing to provide support until operations are resumed.

The key focus has been to release the full potential of the teams – giving them what they need and making sure they have the right tools. Partnering with FANUC and Heller has been a core element in achieving this.”
Initiatives at Perkins have included OEMs’ support teams working on site with the Perkins’ teams to completely rebuild older equipment, and in the case of FANUC Robotics, sending two of the Perkins apprentice’s to work at FANUC’s Coventry base for a four week period.

Pallets of cylinder head castings are delivered to the cell where a FANUC R2000iA/165 robot equipped with a FANUC V500iA/3DL vision system identifies the position of the heads and then picks them up using a magnetic gripper. After re-orientating the head, using a fixture, the robot then places the cylinder head into a marking machine and then places it onto the machine cell input conveyor.

The vision system allows Perkins to use standard pallets and eliminates the need for special jigs and costly containers. The robot is utilised further by loading finish machined heads into a leak testing machine and reloading them safely and neatly into the pallet.

The machining cell comprises six Heller machining centres – four for pre-machining and two for finish machining. Two washing machines ensure complete removal of metal cuttings. Servicing the machines and mounted on a 20 Metre linear slide are two further FANUC Robotics R2000iA/165 robots.

Cylinder heads enter the machining area on a power and free conveyor and from that point are handled through the cell by the robots. The two FANUC robots are identical and, although programmed to work together servicing the machines, each one is capable of servicing the entire cell independently – therefore providing redundancy if needed.

Using a single gripper design each robot is able to locate the cylinder heads in any of three positions dependent on the loading/unloading requirement. The long radial reach of the robots, 2.65Mtr allows the machines and processes to be accessed comfortably and still allow space around the machines for maintenance.
Before the finish machined cylinder head is leak tested, a further FANUC robot is used by the cell to load core plugs into the cylinder head at the core plug pressing station.

Tony Green concludes, “The success of this project is down to partnership – the result of a ground up development to ensure the cost effective machining of the 400D cylinder head. It has retained machining work in the UK, improved product quality and has further enhanced best working practice within Perkins Engines.”