Investment in technology for improved production

Interested in engineering? We’re not going to lie, our latest blog is a bit on the technical side, but we wanted to tell you all about our latest machinery investments and explain what we’re doing to speed up production and get our most popular EP accessories back in stock as quickly as possible. So grab a cuppa…

As all our EP accessories are fabricated in-house at our HQ in the UK, we’re always on the lookout for new machinery to help speed up production – particularly during periods of increased demand. Our factory in Alford, Lincolnshire is now full to the rafters with hi-tech (and highly efficient) equipment that is helping us to do just that.

Between March 2020 and February 2021, we installed three new automated, Japanese-built Brother machines from our supplier, Whitehouse Machine Tools. Two of the machines were Feedio vision-based, robotic systems for component load/unload, while a System 3R WorkPartner pallet storage and handling system was integrated into the third machine.

When it comes to turn-milling, Evotech Performance has long used a bar-fed, single-turret lathe and there has been a succession of different makes on the shop floor over the years. However, this lathe has recently been swapped for a much more efficient Biglia B438-Y2 twin-spindle turn-mill centre with two Y-axis turrets. In addition, and specifically for the production of motorcycle bobbin head bolts up to 200mm long from stainless steel bar, we took delivery of our first sliding-head, bar-fed lathe in January 2019. The machine manufactures the bolts to a much higher quality than can be bought in from external suppliers.

It was actually back in early 2015 when we first decided to transition from conventional 40-taper machines to 30-taper models to raise production efficiency to meet rapidly increasing demand. First to be delivered was a Brother Speedio R450X1 twin-pallet, 22-tool, 30-taper machine for 3-axis work. Output from this one machine equalled that of two 40-taper machines! For example, a typical crash protector took just 20 minutes to machine instead of 40 minutes. This dramatic improvement was due to minimisation of idle times through linear rapids, tool change and pallet change all taking place simultaneously coupled with fast ATC and APC, a 16,000 rpm spindle and 200-block look-ahead in the Brother control.

As a result of this doubling of production and the extra design flexibility it allowed, we no longer have any 40-taper machines on site at EP HQ. The R450X1 was followed by four further 30-taper Speedios, and our first R650X1 equipped with a Nikken 2-axis table to provide 5-axis machining capability, arrived soon after.

Next to be delivered was another 3-axis R450X2, a 3-axis R650X1 and at the end of 2019, a 5-axis S700X1 with Nikken table to provide a larger working volume. This machine was originally reserved for prototyping, but it was quickly co-opted into production due to ever-increasing demand. All five machines are now positioned in a line on the shop floor and are manually operated by our highly skilled EP technicians.

In early 2020, we recognised that our machining capacity needed to be increased further, but space on the shop floor was tight. So, in March that year, having had good experience with the other Brother machines, we purchased a Speedio M140X2 (another 5-axis machine), and decided to automate it with a Feedio component storage and robotic handling system.

The Feedio version supplied with this machine at the outset had a pair of standard, two-metre long conveyors, which are positioned one above the other. However, we soon realised that insufficient components could be accommodated to last for the whole of the ghost shift. So, to avoid losing valuable night-time hours, we asked our suppliers to extend the conveyors to four metres. This extra capacity enabled us to use the entire weekend for production and in fact, when machining certain parts, up to three days' uninterrupted production can be obtained without manual intervention!

Nearly a year later, two other automated Speedio cells were delivered. One was a larger, 3-axis S700X2 with a 700 x 400 x 300 mm working volume, a Schunk pneumatic centric vice and a four-metre Feedio system capable of handling heavier components up to 20kg. The other was another 5-axis M140X2, but this time fitted with a System 3R WorkPartner 108-pallet storage and handling system.

The latter, supplied as a turnkey installation by our supplier, is a closed cell whose purchase was specifically intended to target inefficiencies within the factory. Six motorcycle parts required in left and right hand versions were identified as ideal for production in this cell and these are set up permanently and can be completed automatically, unattended for up to 20 hours.

Automated machining of aluminium requires special attention to be paid to management of the swarf produced, which is approximately ten times the volume of the solid. When the first Speedio was installed, we also installed a briquetting system for swarf compaction (or recycling). A second compactor has also recently been added.

The former turning machine at Evotech Performance, which dated back to 2016, was capable of turning components up to 65mm diameter from bar, However, its single turret meant that productivity was low and the machine was inefficient at producing small turned parts. As a result, the decision was taken to concentrate on in-house turn-milling of sub-38mm diameter components, which accounts for around one-third of throughput and subcontract out the remainder of turned parts production. It is important for us to retain some turning capability for the prototyping phase of new products so that designs can be tweaked early on, assembly fits checked and a first production run completed.

We knew we wanted a twin-turret machine to raise productivity and considered two alternatives but decided in favour of the Biglia B438-Y2. This machine is the latest to be installed by Whitehouse at the Alford factory. Already, it has proved to be highly efficient at producing spacers for bar ends and crash protection brackets, in a cycle time of around one minute compared with the three minutes previously needed. Every turned and turn-milled part now seems to be produced in around one-third of the time it took before on the single-turret lathe.

Although turning has always traditionally been automated by a bar feeder at the Alford factory, the inception of automatic loading and unloading of prismatic machining plant has seen a step-change in production efficiency. Six years ago, we employed 22 staff, yet today production continues throughout the night with no extra effort and the next morning there are a lot of finish-machined components ready to be powder coated, assembled or packaged for sale.

Phew! We did tell you it was a bit technical! As you can see though, we’re speeding up production in every way we can, so please bear with us. And don’t forget, if an EP accessory you have your eye on is out of stock, you can use our ‘stock notification’ system, found on all product pages, to be alerted by email when they become available again.    

By Evotech Retail on 23 July 2021