When Prima Tooling recognised the exponentially increasing demand for PCD tooling, the company invested heavily in Vollmer machine tools to support cutting tool production. However, the Essex-based firm that opened its doors for business in 1979, first noted the demand for PCD tooling back in 1985.
Like other cutting tool manufacturers, Prima was limited throughout the 1990s by the available technology for processing tools and in 1997, it bought its first Vollmer erosion centre, a QM75P with a 50-tool magazine.
Despite being state-of-the-art at the time, the machine only had the capacity for one tool shank diameter, still limiting the company’s capabilities yet improving productivity and profitability tenfold.
The company continued much of its PCD erosion on a series of ageing Agie EDM machines – until 2006. At this point, the Brentwood-based cutting tool specialist made a paradigm shift and acquired a new Vollmer QWD750H erosion centre with a 12 tool carousel for cutting the profiles of its PCD tools.
The purchase immediately scrapped four Agie EDM machines – and the new machine proved more productive than the four machines it replaced. Unlike its manually loaded predeccesors, the QWD750H is a fully automatic erosion machine that enables Prima Tooling to load the 12 tool carousel, allow automatic production to take place and then unload completed tooling.
This acquisition enabled Prima Tooling to improve the accuracy of its tool profiles, reduce cycle times by 60% on each tool whilst increasing the available floor-space by replacing four machines and enabling staff to be allocated to alternate tasks as opposed to continually loading the ageing machine tools.
Where Prima once had four operators running its previous EDM machines, the company now has two men running the QWD750H and the remaining five Agie machines. Furthermore, with the level of automation afforded by the QWD, Prima could run the machine lights out to improve capacity and profitability.
Since the company’s inception, the original partners have now stepped aside and converted the partnership to a Limited Company, allowing the two new directors, Mark Cattle and Paul Wiggins to take the reins.
As Mark Cattle comments: “We manufacture new cutting tools and also operate as a service centre. On the QWD, our new and service tools are finished 60% faster and all in one operation compared to the Agie machines. Previously tools would require two or more set-ups with inferior surface finishes and accuracy to that of the high quality tools made on the Vollmer.”
Not only has the QWD improved productivity, capacity and customer lead-times, it has also benefited the end user with the supply of cutting tools to a far superior quality. With the benefits of the QWD apparent, Prima Tooling invested in a Vollmer QXD200 grinding and erosion centre in June 2011.
The new QXD200 was the first of its type to be supplied in the UK with a 64 tool conveyor for high levels of automation. As company director Paul Wiggins says: “The QXD immediately improved cycle times by 50% and with its extensive Vollmer programming software, we have been able to extend our product range and target new industry sectors. The Vollmer software has improved productivity through its automated functions that reduce the need for manual input.
“For example, the production of secondary angles on cutting tools is fully automatic without any need for manual adjustment or setting for left or right handed tools. This is also the case for the calibration and dressing of the grinding/erosion wheels.
“Furthermore, with innovative features such as the new EX level software, we are able to process carbide and PCD drills and can now diversify into the supply of drilling and milling products.”
A long way from the Vollmer machines of the 1980’s, the QXD200 with six linear axes and capacity for six erosion or grinding wheels, has the flexibility to process tools from 0.4 to 260mm diameter.
This allows nine employee Prima to manufacture anything from PCD routers and end mills, profile cutters, grooving, slat-wall, edge-banding and profile spindle tooling through to PCD saw blades, hoggers, hinge borers and drills for the wood and metal cutting sectors.
The first QXD made such an impact at Prima, that within a matter of months, the company decided to invest in yet another machine.
In May 2012, instead of returning to Vollmer UK’s headquarters after the MACH exhibition, the next QXD200 was delivered straight to Prima. In less than a year, the company had increased its business to such an extent that the first Vollmer QXD was at full capacity – running 24/7. The next machine was a natural progression for the market-leading cutting tool company.
Identical to the first machine, the second QXD200 had a 29 tool carousel as opposed to 64. Commenting on the arrival of the second machine, Mark Cattle continues: “The second QXD has sharpened up our through-flow of work considerably. We can now schedule simplistic PCD routers and end mills for programming throughout the week and we can do all our complex long duration tools over the weekends.
“For example, we manufacture and service PCD face mills and hoggers that may be up to 250mm diameter. We can put up to 30 cutters of this type on the 64 carousel machine and it will run from Friday afternoon through to Monday morning unmanned. Whilst this lengthy process is in operation, we can run a batch of 29 less complex tools from a Friday night through to Saturday afternoon on the new QXD200.
“Once this batch is complete, we can check the machine over the weekend to unload and re-load tools and attend to our erosion and grinding wheels ready for the next batch to run from Saturday through to Monday. When the facility is manned through the week, we reverse the schedule and do long jobs on the 29 magazine QXD whilst the 64 tool carousel churns out less complex tools.”
Concluding on the acquisition of the Vollmer QWD and QXD machine tools, Paul Wiggins says: “The Vollmer machines are a big investment and a potential risk to a business of our size. However, once the first machine comes in and starts paying dividends with regards to cost reductions through running less machines and staff whilst improving productivity and capacity and reducing lead-times, we knew we were going in the right direction.
“Our productivity and turnover has more than doubled since the first QWD installation in 2006 and our profitability, quality and capability has certainly improved. We can safely say that we wouldn’t be in the position we are without the Vollmer machines. This is largely credit to the capabilities and automation that allows us to run the three Vollmers 24/7.
“The Vollmer machines are allowing us to look into new market sectors and we are continually investing in things like CAM software for producing our own cutter bodies, the Vollmer drilling software, potentially a new machining centre and in the near future probably another Vollmer machine tool”
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