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Cutting tool training pays dividends at Pneumatrol


Established over 50 years ago Lancashire-based Pneumatrol has become a leading manufacturer and solution provider of pneumatic and electro-magnetic valves, with customers across the globe using its products across the Process, Rail, Energy and Industrial market sectors. Like many companies with such a history Pneumatrol employs a mix of skilled people, ranging from highly experienced setters, through adult NVQ trainees, to young apprentices. Each of these groups has a different approach to the application of cutting tools, so the decision was taken to bring them all together for an intense training session provided by WNT (UK).

To ensure that it meets the demands of its global customer base Pneumatrol has a policy of ongoing training as an integral part of its business model. During a review of its machining processes it came to light that much of the application knowledge of the older skilled setters needed updating, and concerns were raised that the younger apprentices were not being taught the best way to utilise modern cutting tools. The solution was to work with WNT (UK) to provide up to date knowledge of cutting data for all staff responsible for programming and setting the various turning and machining centres. “Bringing all of our people together at the same time enabled WNT to present the training in a structured way, which made perfect sense to us. The result is that we are already seeing the benefits,” says Paul Brammer, Pneumatrol’s Machine Shop Manager.

The initial training, with further sessions planned for the future, consisted of a full day session splitting into two groups at Pneumatrol’s factory. As a starting point the groups worked through the WNT catalogue, gaining an insight into the vast amount of cutting data that is available there. This was followed by more detailed specific examples, using Pneumatrol’s own products to see how the cutting data could be improved. “This type of training is typical of what we can provide to customers,” says Adrian Fitts, WNT’s Business Development Manager. “What we often find is that customers fall into a routine of using cutting data that they are familiar with, they therefore miss out on the productivity gains that can be achieved through correct application of these modern tools. However, by working with them on specific training initiatives, like at Pneumatrol, or on case-by-case applications, we often find that they can make significant productivity gains. These gains have a positive effect on their tooling budgets and can free up valuable machine time, reduce overtime costs and, of course improve profitability for our customers.”

Since the training day Pneumatrol has started working through its portfolio of pneumatic valves and reviewing all of the cutting data, the results so far have generated significant savings in both consumable tooling costs and more specifically cycle times. “Our first task was to look at specific long-running jobs and without changing any of the tools that we use, simply looking at the cutting data on these first 12 components we have reduced the average cycle time per component by around 84 seconds. Given the volumes involved that equates to almost 1800 hours/year saving, simply by applying the optimum cutting speeds and feeds,” says Paul Brammer.

The task now is to work through the rest of Pneumatrol’s catalogue of parts and replicate these savings where possible. The reduction in cycle time is only one part of the benefits gained from the WNT training. Applying the correct cutting data has also seen improved surface finishes, with Paul Brammer explaining that on one part a burnishing operation used to be undertaken, now the finish is to the correct standard after boring. The machine tools are also faring better as they are not working as hard and tool life and swarf control has also improved, reducing consumable costs and also having an impact on the lights out weekend running that Pneumatrol operates.

“Our consumable tooling bill has fallen by around 38 per cent since the training thanks to the improved performance of the existing tools. In anyone’s book that has to be deemed a massive success. With the improvements in productivity we are moving closer to our target of becoming World Class in terms of our Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) which is a key performance indicator for many of our customers. While we are using fewer of the existing tools, the success of the training has led us to further review our cutting tool supply and WNT will benefit from increased business as we switch more tools over to WNT. We already purchase a high percentage of our cutting tools from WNT and utilise their tool vending system to maximise availability and cash flow, this will only increase thanks to the gains we are making,” says Paul Brammer.

A second round of training provided by WNT will be undertaken in the near future that will look at methodology and how processes can be improved through better implementation of existing and new tooling solutions. The training from WNT is a part of its technical support activities and depending on the size of customer it can be delivered at the customer’s premises, as in the case of Pneumatrol or, if they prefer, customers have the option of attending regular training days held at WNT’s Technical Centre in Sheffield and at various other locations around the country.