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The best practice in aerospace is ‘all-electric’

BLM all-electric tube bender powers Freeman & Proctor’s drive to ‘world best practice’

Specialising in the manufacture of high quality, fabricated, tubular assemblies primarily for aerospace applications but also for automotive applications, Freeman & Proctor Ltd's 30,000 sq. ft. factory in Nuneaton is home to an impressive array of machine tools and related equipment. CNC lathes and machining centres produce components that are welded or brazed to precision cut and bent tube under strict quality control, with a raft of industry and customer quality approvals highlighting the ISO 9001:2000-accredited company's commitment to continuous improvement.

Established in 1949, Freeman & Proctor manufactures various components for its aerospace and automotive customers, including high-pressure fuel pipes (including double skin dual fuel and hydraulic pipes), electrical conduits and hydraulic pipes, small bore fabricated pipe assemblies such as fuel manifolds and air breather pipes, fabricated suspension struts used on a high-performance sports car and air injection pipes used on a V8 twin-turbo, high-performance petrol engine. And the installation of a BLM E-TURN ET52 all-electric CNC tube bending machine is the latest step in what Roy Collett, Managing Director, describes as the drive to 'world best practice'.


Ensuring that components are right-first-time

The aerospace industry requires very high levels of quality

A member of the Society of British Aerospace Companies (SBAC), Freeman & Proctor has the capability for complex assembly of flight control systems as well as the specialist design and manufacture of aerospace pipes and fabrications. It provides systems integration and project management expertise, together with technical support from the design stage, and complies fully with AS9100, the widely adopted and standardised quality management system for the aerospace industry. This quality management system incorporates the entirety of the current version of the ISO 9000 standard, while also specifying 27 additional requirements relating to quality and safety. All major aerospace manufacturers worldwide require compliance and/or registration to AS9100 as a condition of placing business with their suppliers.

Freeman & Proctor is also committed to SCIRA, a UK industry-wide programme that aims to improve the performance of the aerospace supply chain by cutting out waste and maximising value transfer. The supply chain relationship within and between companies involved in aerospace work has long been recognised as a key factor influencing the UK's ability to compete and increase its share of the world aerospace market. So the SCIRA code of practice is playing a key role within Freeman & Proctor in promoting partnerships, team working and greater efficiency throughout the manufacturing process.

"We don't have intellectual property in the form of design rights but we have developed a niche manufacturing capability with the emphasis on scheduled business," says Roy Collett. "Our mission is to give customers confidence that Freeman & Proctor will be around to support long-term contracts and that we have equipment and systems in place capable of ensuring that components are right-first-time, 100 per cent inspected and delivered on time."


Complex 3D configuration

bending application for hydraulic fittings

In its primary market of aerospace components Freeman & Proctor has a limited demand for this mirror image capability - components are, typically, complex configurations in difficult materials and called off in small batch quantities. On conventional hydraulically-powered tube bending machines set-ups can take up to two hours to complete and depend heavily on individual operator skill and know-how.

In contrast, the BLM E-TURN uses 'stacked' pre-set tooling on each of its two heads, thereby accommodating Freeman & Proctor's six sizes of tube and specific bending requirements without incurring significant set-up time penalties.

A further advantage is that a repeat order merely requires the operator to call up the relevant program with the confidence of knowing that there will be no material wastage during set-up and every finished part will be correct to specification. "Because of overseas low labour cost competition we have tended to go for the more challenging parts," says Roy Collett.

"This involves larger sizes of tube and greater complexity, which is why we have installed the BLM E-TURN. Scheduled business allows us to plan long-term investment but I also want this new machine to attract new business, by inviting people to see it in action and alerting prospective customers to our new capability."

Complex components requiring radii of less than 1 x diameter can be produced on the E-TURN using the 'bend boost' device, which can have its power modulated during the bending process to avoid unsightly stress marks on high-value components.


Less downtime

These performance figures, combined with precise control of the E-TURN's 12 axes of movement courtesy of Visual Graphic Programming (VGP) software, significantly reduce set-up times because all parameters are stored and can be recalled without further mechanical adjustment being necessary.

The electric axes automatically adjust position, which enhances accuracy and repeatability, and components are not only produced 'right first time', they are repeatable batch to batch without undue reliance on operator expertise. And, since all axis movements are set automatically, a job change-over can typically be completed within two to three minutes.

This multi-tool stack tube bender brings with it fewer bend tool changes and less downtime. The VGP3D software allows checking on-screen, providing a reliable guide to component cycle times and identifying any possible collision risk. And because the PC-based control selects the correct parameters, the guesswork is taken out of tube bending and the most complex of tubular components can be completed in one cycle. This new machine is also extremely environmentally friendly, since power is only required during axis movements and means power consumption can be as little as 10 per cent of previous generation machines.

"We asked other people about their experiences with BLM before we placed our order and we are also really pleased with the way BLM has supported this installation", says Roy Collett. "Ten sets of tooling came as part of the package, which also included the control, VGP3D software and operator training. If everything goes to plan, we will be looking at a second BLM machine next year."