Parker Gets a Grip on Automation

Updated on Tuesday 19 January 2021, 11:48 AM

7 Minute Read

As a US $14bn corporation, the journey of Parker Hannifin started over 100 years ago when Arthur Parker founded the Parker Appliance Company back in 1917 from a loft with business partner Carl Klamm. Through the generations, the company has moved from pneumatic brake systems for trucks, trains and buses to aerospace systems and technology, air preparation and dryers, EMI shielding, filters, separators and purifiers, fittings, couplings and much more.

With dozens of divisions, brands and a global reach, Parker Hannifin is a genuine world leader in motion and control technologies. At the company’s Sheffield site that manufactures cryogenic valves, the company has recently installed a machining cell with Hainbuch workholding equipment at the heart of the investment.

Commenting upon the product range manufactured at the site, Parker Hannifin’s Lloyd Cooper says: “The products we manufacture are high in diversity and low in volume numbers. In terms of part numbers, we probably have about 20,000-part numbers at the top level, so high diversity and low volume is what we do. This allows customers to order what they want and our USP is the ability to service that request. This creates a lot of demand on our machine shop with regards to setups, as we may be running a batch of three or four-off jobs before we move to the next product. This means we incur a lot of setup times and we have been looking at the ratio of ‘setup to run’ times. There may be a 45-minute set up for a 10 or 15-minute production cycle. These numbers didn’t stack up and Parker has a real keen focus on lean manufacturing.”

To streamline production Parker Hannifin has invested around US$500,000 is in an automation cell to combat the excessive setup times in the turning department. “We had three machines that were fully depreciated, and we wanted to remove those machines and create one comprehensive machine and cell. We really looked at how we could make it a complete cell,” Lloyd continues.

The new production cell incorporates a Hydrafeed MV65 bar feeding system that is feeding a DMG MORI NLX2000/500 CNC turning centre that is then unloaded by an ABB Flexloader robot system. “We looked from a cradle to grave perspective on how we could make it a true cell, and this is where the ABB Flexloader helps us to do unmanned loading, unloading, deburring and clean down. One of the crucial solutions in this cell is the Hainbuch hydraulic chuck system. As a high-mix business, what Hainbuch has allowed us to do is switch from one collet size to another in 30 seconds or even change from a collet to a jaw configuration in 2 to 3 minutes. Previously this could have been 45 minutes. It is a ‘night and day’ difference to our business and whilst it may be a considerable investment, the savings we are making in efficiency will make this a sub-2-year payback.”

With regards to the Hainbuch workholding system, Lloyd says: “The workholding has probably been the singular reason as to why we wanted to do this project. We wanted something that would compress our setup times, as we were incurring many, many setups every hour. Hainbuch did that with an off-the-shelf solution and no additional requirement from an engineering perspective. The quick-change aspect of it is astounding. The ability to change from collet size to collet size in 30 seconds is really impressive, and we have even had some changeovers in 15 seconds. This can give us a door open to door close time of less than a minute.”

Alluding to the installation, Hainbuch UK’s Managing Director, Mr Nick Peter says: “We worked with Parker and the machine tool builder to provide a quick-change workholding solution. The parts are many and varied with different shapes and valve bodies that include some hexagonal and some round parts from different materials. Parker wanted to swap over from collet chucks to 3 jaw chucks very quickly to improve the process as the previous situation increased the ‘cost per part’.

With 4-jaw modules on the machine as well as collets and 3-jaw chucks, Hainbuch looked further into the request, as Nick continues: “We initially didn’t know why this customer would want two chucks with two spindles and then want four 3-jaw modules also, but it was all about saving time. This configuration allows Parker to set up 3-jaw chucks off-the-machine for a particular part for both spindles if necessary. The result is that collet chucks can be taken straight off the machine with 3-jaw chucks ready to swap over, giving a changeover time of fewer than two minutes. By having the extra chucks, the subsequent set-up is conducted while the machine is running – compressing non-cutting times even further.”

Regarding the set-up times, Nick says: “Now, Parker can change from one collet chuck to another in a matter of seconds whereas changing from a collet configuration to a chuck set-up takes just a couple of minutes. Taking a jaw module off is literally a task of just undoing three bolts and bolting another jaw module straight onto the existing collet chuck. There is no need to accurately position the 3-jaw chuck as it follows the collet and there is a zero-point system already on the 3-jaw, so accuracy is maintained within a couple of microns with exceptional clamping forces.”

Concluding on the cell, Lloyd says: “As businesses, we look at robots and we may be afraid of the complexity of it, but this has been a very smooth process and when you consider a payback of fewer than two years, it should be a formality for UK manufacturing businesses. We are planning to pass on the savings to our customers, and this is a credit to this cell and its ability to produce parts 80, 90 or even 100% quicker than we were previously. We can pass savings onto our customers and enable them to become more competitive whilst we retain the broad product offering that we have always had from our Sheffield facility. This has been a real game-changer with regards to customer success and that is what we are striving for.”

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