CNC Routing answers the call to action
Extraordinary times call for extraordinary suppliers and with the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic taking a firm grip on the nation, UK manufacturers are stepping up to support the NHS and critical infrastructure projects with the help of Tamworth-based cutting tool specialists ITC.
One such manufacturer is Birmingham-based CNC Routing, which was founded in 2005. The company services the needs of clients operating within the automotive, retail, healthcare and industrial sectors, offering design, routing, finishing, fabrication, installation and building services. Its hardware line-up includes three AXYZ rotating machines, each having a twin-head facility, so, when one of its clients became overrun with the production of critical ‘sneeze screens’ for supermarkets, CNC Routing proudly stepped-up to assist the cause.
Discussing the project, Chris Noble, CNC Routing’s Head of Design and Technical Services, explained: “Just a week ago we were commissioned to manufacture 8000 acrylic, PETG and polycarbonate ‘sneeze screens’ for supermarket checkouts. Machined from 3050 x 2050mm sheets, the screens are manufactured in two sizes of 600mm wide by 750mm high and 750mm wide by 1m high, with panel thicknesses ranging from 3 to 6mm. With the screens being supplied to more than a dozen different supermarket chains, each with differing till and checkout dimensions, the different sized screens also require both hole position and dimensional variations. This has resulted in our company producing more than 12 different screen variants.”
As soon as the order arrived on a Friday, the company placed an order with ITC and the new tools were subsequently delivered on Saturday morning.
Chris continued: “We have been successfully working with ITC for over 12 years and it supplies all the cutting tools for machining our plastic components. Its service, support and technical advice are only surpassed by the quality of its cutting tools.
“The ability to supply 60 cutting tools on a Saturday morning as a next day delivery service during the Coronavirus pandemic speaks volumes for ITC and its service, but it also offers excellent technical support too, as evidenced by a problem we experienced some years ago when our cutting tools were gripping parts and lifting thin sheets from the vacuum bed of the AXYZ machines during processing. ITC’s Sally Hunt was immediately on the case and began by examining our existing tools, materials and cutting parameters, before subsequently supplying new tools and machining strategies that resolved all of our issues. Since then, we’ve had every confidence in both Sally and the tools that ITC supplies.”
Strictly observing UK government and WHO safe working guidelines, CNC Routing has moved many of its office-based staff to homeworking, whilst the huge influx of processing work has now seen the business change from a two to a three-shift pattern. Chris observed: “As a business, we are conscious of the health and safety of our staff, and all employees are provided with suitable PPE. By moving to 24-hour production with three shifts, our shop floor staff levels are naturally reduced. Furthermore, each of our three AXYZ routing machines is spaced three metres away from the next machine, so our factory floor automatically conforms to ‘social distancing’ practices.”
From a production perspective, the company has one AXYZ router with bed dimensions of 4880mm by 2635mm, and two further machines with slightly smaller bed sizes. This enables CNC Routing to place four eight by four feet sheets on the machine bed at any one time.
Chris explained: “The large machine beds allow us to set up four parts at a time. Additionally, each machine incorporates a twin cutting head, enabling us to set different widths. For the ‘sneeze sheets’, we have spaced the cutting heads at a distance of 1230mm apart, so we can cut two sheets simultaneously. With three twin-spindle routers running 24 hours a day, the performance and reliability of the ITC solid carbide routing tools are essential.”
Initially, CNC Routing placed an order for sixty 180-2362-10-E 6mm Clearcut Series single flute routers from ITC. Commenting upon the tools, Chris said: “From experience, we know that these tools perform really well, have an exceptional lifespan and, with the upward spiral flute geometry, they are perfect for machining thin sheets without lifting from the vacuum bed. Our confidence in the 180 Clearcut Series has been fully justified as we have run the tools at 24,000rpm up to the full 6mm depth of cut at cutting speeds of 7m/min. These machining parameters are beyond the recommended cutting conditions, but extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Luckily, because of their inherent quality, the ITC Clearcut Series can handle the increased speeds and feeds with ease.
“The 6mm diameter tools can comfortably process more than 50 sheets before we have to change and even after cutting 50 sheets, the cutting performance and edge finishes are as good as they are on the very first sheet. The only reason we change the tools after machining 50 sheets is because the protective film covering the acrylic, PETG and polycarbonate substrates begins to fray slightly and ‘fluff up’.”
Nobody has a crystal ball that can predict the future, especially during a pandemic that is likely to change the face of UK manufacturing. However, CNC Routing is in a somewhat enviable position compared with most manufacturers. The company has already manufactured 8000 ‘sneeze screens’ in a week and is now immediately producing a further 8000.
Chris concluded: “ While this situation continues and ‘non-essential’ retail companies gradually begin to re-open their doors for business we expect to be making these sheets for everything from pharmacies and hardware stores to pet stores and clothing retailers. Added to this, we also have orders from the healthcare sector for furniture, storage units and lockers that have to be fulfilled imminently. As a business, we are very lucky that we can give all of our routing capacity to these essential services while our regular retail work is naturally ‘on-pause’. But regardless of what we are making, we are confident in the knowledge that ITC will never make a drama out of a crisis!”
For further information on CNC Routing, visit: https://www.cncroutingltd.co.uk/cnc-machining-birmingham/
For further information on ITC’s products, visit: www.itc.ltd.co.uk