"This has been our key to competing with the likes of China," said Fred Pain, General Manager. "Unmanned machines enable us to remove the labour content from the component cost and leaves us pretty much on par with Far East manufacturing prices. To some extent, the rise in the price of oil and the price of metals has also helped us close the gap and I think this is what's probably driving much of the current success at Acro and the wider UK engineering sector."
One of Acro's unmanned machines is a Tornos 10 axis Sliding-Head machine that is capable of rapidly machining complex parts in a minute or less. Known for their accuracy, the Tornos sliding head enables a number of machining processes to be undertaken on the component at the same time. The material is automatically fed into the machine using a 'bar feeder'. The finished components are then ejected out of the other end.
"Learning to program these machines is a very steep learning curve," said Fred. "We've found them much tougher to program than many of our other machine tools but once the programming is done, they are very reliable, very fast and very accurate. These machines are ideal for orders from 500 pieces up to 10,000 and they can handle square and hex bar, as well as round – up to a diameter of 26mm."
Acro machines a number of different metals including stainless steel, mild steel, brass, and titanium. Its customers are in industries such as medical, oil and energy, automotive, construction, electronics and defence. The company also works in specialist hard materials such as stainless steel 316, monel and more recently a very hard material called E26-W condition.
“Some of the non-standard materials such as titanium and monel require a high level of expertise to machine,” said Fred. “An important consideration with Titanium is that the swarf can catch fire and it burns very hot and very bright, so machines have to have automatic fire extinguishers fitted.”
Acro sees this kind of ‘lights out’ engineering as the only way the UK can compete on volume production and expects further investment in this kind of machinery in coming years. In addition to this, Acro is also investing in computerized 3D machining equipment, enabling it to undertake very complex high value machining projects.