Second generation business Talon Engineering is a world leader in the manufacture of sprockets, hubs, wheels, clutch baskets and engine casings for the off-road motorcycle community. Its products are exported to over 35 countries and through innovative manufacturing techniques it has developed market leading products. Maybe less well known is the fact that it has also operated a subcontract machining business alongside its mainstream products. This side of the business is currently experiencing significant growth and has attracted customers from agriculture, marine, aerospace, rail, motorsport and nuclear. Most recently though, it is proud to have been awarded preferred machining supplier status from The Ariel Motor Company, which is leading to further growth in its sub-contract services.
Ariel has a history dating back to 1870, but in the modern era it is best known for its Ariel Atom sports car, with its face contorting performance. It has now gone back to its roots and created the two-wheel equivalent of the Atom in the Ariel Ace. This innovative motorcycle takes certain design cues from the Atom, especially the frame, which is where it called on Talon Engineering for help in its manufacture. “We were approached by Ariel in April 2014 when we were initially invited to machine a set of six frame components in order to get the bike ready for its official launch in June. As it happened we ended up with a total of 23 parts to machine and given their complexity it was a challenge from a programming, machining and tooling perspective, especially with such a tight timeframe,” says Graham Alford Talon Engineering’s Operations Director.
Because of this compressed timescale it was necessary for Talon to machine the parts as best they could, utilising tools that they thought would do the job out of the WNT catalogue. The major problem was one of reach, as the free-form design of the wing spar [the name given to the left and right halves of the frame] created some extended tool set ups, which were overcome using standard tools from WNT and also the WNT Centro P toolholding system. “The big advantage we had in those early days was that we could discuss what we wanted out of the WNT catalogue and order it in the knowledge that it would be here the next morning, this allowed us to shorten the development time considerably,” says Graham Alford. The success of the initial batch of machined parts and the fact that on its launch the Ariel Ace was well received with 20 orders being placed for the £20,000 motorcycle, whose typical selling price is nearer £40,000 when customers have worked through the options list. The result was that Ariel invited Talon to add to the work it did for them, increasing the parts inventory to 90 across the Atom car and Ace motorcycle.
The most challenging element of all this work remained the seven-piece frame assembly. Machined from a solid 150 kg billet of aluminium the wing spars once fully machined weigh just 6.5 kg, so efficient metal removal is vital. Adding to the challenge was the complex form which had to be machined on a three-axis YCM NSV102 machining centre, making full use of its 15,000 revs/min spindle and 48 m/min feedrates. The complexity of the part is highlighted by the fact that the program for the second operation runs to almost one million lines of NC code, with further challenges thrown in by Ariel, which wanted to retain machining marks on the finished part, something that required manual intervention in SolidWorks to create non-standard toolpaths.
To achieve the optimum tooling package Talon Process Engineers Mark Webber and Sandy Bradley worked together with WNT’s Technical Sales Engineer Ian Tattersall and Applications Sales Engineer Vince Whitham to rationalise the tooling and toolholding, with new fixturing being designed and manufactured in-house at Talon. Having got the basic machining process right using WNT’s W-HPC cutters on the initial pre-production batch, the decision was taken to switch over to the recently introduced range of WNT cutters for aluminium. The gentler cutting action of these tools was ideal for the part, which due to its free-form shape had very few, and limited clamping points, with thin wall sections and lots of unsupported material.
As a result of this collaboration between Talon and WNT (UK) the cycle time for the frame wing spars was reduced to 50 per cent of the original time, tool life, which on a cycle running to many hours was vital, was also better controlled due to management of the roughing process to leave even stock levels for the finishing cuts. The use of the WNT Centro P toolholders, with their accuracy and increased gripping power was also beneficial given the long overhangs required. In order to maximise cutting data three different tool lengths were used across the machining process to help keep extensions to a minimum and once the process was proven all of the tooling was migrated to the two on-site WNT tool vending units to ensure a supply of tooling was available at any time.
The whole project has been one of partnership that has seen iconic British name of Ariel return to motorcycle manufacture, with Talon Engineering collaborating on both design and manufacture and WNT (UK) working alongside Talon to ensure optimum machining of these complex components. “We worked closely with Ariel to develop the parts and in-effect reverse engineer them for ease of manufacture, this included developing a machined lug system that held the parts together for welding. It was also important to review how we machined these parts to minimise cycle time. This is where our partnership with WNT came to the fore, without this collaboration we could not have achieved the cycle time savings and efficient machining process that we did. Working in this way has helped the sub-contract side of the business grow by over 100 per cent in the past two years and, with partnerships such as this with Ariel, we expect that positive trend to continue. Developing this side of the business is a major commitment, we already have ISO 9001 and through our journey on the Fit For Nuclear programme we will be adding ISO 14001 and 18001 to our credentials,” says Graham Alford.
The result of the Ariel Motors project can be seen at MACH 2016 when a completed Ariel Ace frame will take centre stage on the WNT stand (5641) alongside the tools and toolholding that helped to achieve the dramatic cycle time savings. Visitors will also be able to chat with WNT’s Technical sales and Application Sales Engineers about this and similar projects, where they have made significant improvements in productivity for customers.
“What is really nice about this project is the fact that it highlights the depth of talent within British design and manufacturing. The cutting edge design of the Ariel Ace and the highly intricate machining that had to be undertaken to deliver the machined frame and other parts to the exacting specification of Ariel is testament to the fact that British manufacturing remains a world leader,” says Adrian Fitts, Business Development Manager, WNT (UK).