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Bowmill launches new aerospace manufacturing plant Featured

In its design and fitting-out of a new bespoke factory intended to manufacture Airbus landing gear kits, aerospace engineering solutions specialist Bowmill Engineering has opted to purchase eight machining centres from the Engineering Technology Group (ETG).

Bowmill’s new high-volume plant is situated in Tewkesbury, close to four of its major landing gear customers in nearby Gloucester, and itself in the centre of a growing manufacturing conurbation.

At the company’s main factory in Poole, where it operates a dedicated KANBAN facility for Airbus landing gear kit production, Bowmill has been manufacturing A320 and A330 landing gear kits since 2002, as well as complex components and assemblies for other OEMs. Operating in a competitive, cost-down environment necessitates that the company “stays ahead of the game”, in the words of managing director Nick Epps, and to that end, machine tool investment is both extensive and ongoing.   

In Poole, Bowmill currently operates a major component machining set-up for critical parts with the cornerstone being an ETG-supplied Chiron FZ15FX five-axis machining centre. The FZ15FX has high-speed machining capacity and is claimed by Chiron to be among the best machining centres of its class in terms of speed, compact construction, stability and reliability. At the heart of the machine’s technology is the Chiron basket tool changer, which offers high positioning accuracy, since the travelling column does not need to change its X-Y position during a tool change.

The Chiron FZ15FX was installed following an objective review of Bowmill’s manufacturing capabilities in which the advantages of progressing from multi-operation methods using a low-cost machine base, to an advanced technological manufacturing system, were thoroughly assessed.

A consequence of its installation has seen Bowmill able to adopt the ‘slave link’ machining technique whereby billet materials used for creating larger components such as brackets have cavities machined out as solids, as opposed to milling out with consequent scrap. With slave link, the ‘scrap’ billet is used to manufacture another smaller component (or components), thus reducing raw material waste. Here, the Chiron has reduced machining times by 21%, defects by 7% and reduced raw material usage by 28%.

After 18 months of successful operation, the decision was then taken to automate the process with the addition of an FZ12 Flexcell Uno automated manufacturing/robotic system. This enabled a further 12 of the A320 prismatic kit components to be moved to the machine with lights-out operations.

In addition to the Chiron, many of the smaller kit components manufactured in Poole – there are over 220 different items in some kits – are largely handled by ETG-supplied Nakamura Tome turn-mill machines, of which Bowmill has six. These include three AS 200 machines (three bar fed with a sub-spindle) and a heavy-duty SC 300L with block slideways to increase rigidity. Completing the inventory of machines from ETG are two Quaser MV154 three-axis vertical machining centres (VMCs) equipped with Nikken rotary tables to give the four-axis capability required.

Now, to accommodate contracts in Tewksbury, Bowmill has developed a new manufacturing unit which is largely a mirror image of its Poole facility. New machine investment includes a second Chiron FZ15FX and the FZ12 Flexcell Uno robot with two further Nakamura machines – an AS200 and AS200L – alongside five new Quaser MV154 VMCs, again all equipped with Nikken rotary tables. 

Mindful of productivity and the cost-down operating environment needed to maintain customer expectations, Bowmill’s investment in the Chiron FZ12 provides considerable streamlined loading, unloading and pallet stacking capabilities. The 12 prismatic products for the A320 will ultimately be manufactured on the automated machine, with all the fixturing and workholding for the system developed and manufactured by sister ETG group company Hyfore Engineering in Coventry.

“There has been a considerable increase in the build rates required of the kits due to the ongoing success of the A320/A321 neo and an upsurge in A330 popularity,” explains Epps. “Unusually for the aerospace sector, Bowmill is the single source global supplier of A320 kits, but contract obligations necessitate we operate from two distinct manufacturing centres – hence the new Tewkesbury plant investment. 

“Being close to tier one customers such as Safran Landing Systems and Triumph Actuation Systems UK Ltd has been logistically important for KANBAN operations, as is a supply of skilled personnel who will integrate into our business and be multi-disciplined in order to meet of our expectations,” he adds. ”Customer demands in this sector are exceptional in terms of quality, delivery, support and cost. We are expected to deliver cost-downs and these can predominantly be achieved by more efficient and advanced manufacturing.”

Phase one of the new investment will see the Tewkesbury plant concentrate on A320 kits, the second phase – accommodating components for other OEMs – will come on-line later this year. The Bowmill project management team in Poole will embrace the Tewkesbury operation, which will also undertake on site deburring, inspection, grinding and assembly, making it totally integrated with process and logistical controls across the multi-site organisation. 

The landing gear kits for the Airbus family of aircraft comprise a number of variants, including the Airbus A320 (A321) and new A320 neo single aisle planes; and others for the A330. All kits are produced in left- and right-side variants, and in standard and heavy-duty versions. The A320 kit has 82 items whereas the A330 has 221, with each kit sub-assembled, tested and delivered direct to the assembly line. Each kit includes class 1 (critical) to class 3 components.

Bowmill consistently achieves and exceeds quality and kit call-off requirements at a rate no lower than 98% on KANBAN logistical control deliveries. Kits are not just manufactured by Bowmill but quality checked and assembled into bespoke interlocking kit containers for delivery to the customer in the UK and Europe. As a consequence, the machining lines have to offer very high levels of performance, reliability and flexibility, hence Bowmill’s policy of self-sufficiency.

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