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Automated Bar Storage

6th May 2008 (15:42:34) by Nick Groom


Precision turned parts subcontractor, Qualiturn, has completed the automation of its Hertford production facility with the addition of a computer-controlled vertical lift system for storing and retrieving bar.  The 7.5 m high tower holds stock securely in a compact 4 m x 4 m footprint from the time it is delivered until it is loaded into the bar magazines feeding the company’s sliding-head and fixed-head CNC lathes.

Supplied as a turnkey package by Couzens Storage Solutions, the UK distributor for automated vertical storage devices manufactured by Countax, Oxfordshire, the bespoke ‘Cargo’ lift contains 65 trays.  Each is capable of accommodating six different types of bar up to 42 mm diameter to a total weight of 500 kg.  In addition to new, 3 m long bar, a multitude of different material lengths are also stored, as remnants are returned to the system after completion of a batch run.

Qualiturn offers in excess of 10,000 hours per month capacity on its 18 CNC turning machines and has around 250 customers in the aerospace,
automotive, surgical and electronic sectors.  Machine operators access the Cargo lift using a biometric login that recognises individuals’ thumbprints, allowing a high degree of security when the valuable stock is being accessed.  Picking times are rapid, as the trays move up and down at up to 2.3 m/s.  Added flexibility is provided by the facility to remove an individual tray of bar via an external presentation port and transport it on a trolley within the factory.
Commented the company’s managing director, Nick Groom, “With our customers asking for reductions in component prices and faster deliveries, we had to look at working practises.  We found that the uptime of our machines could be improved by faster delivery of bar to our lathes, better monitoring of material stock levels and improved traceability records.  The analysis clearly indicated the need to upgrade the way in which we stored and handled raw material.

“The Cargo lift gives us real-time traceability when allocating bar for a contract in the same way that our Autocrib tool store does when assigning cutters.  We are now controlling stock level down to the last quarter of a bar and are able to see where the material goes, who takes it and when.  Both the bar store and tool crib are hooked into our PSL Datatrack production control system, which records the consumables used against a unique order number for each job.

Apart from the Star and Miyano lathes themselves, everything in Qualiturn’s works including order processing, workshop scheduling,
quality control and finance is connected to the host computer, resulting in a production environment that is well on the way to becoming paperless.  It allows the subcontractor to achieve levels of efficiency for just-in-time deliveries that would otherwise be impossible with around 100 set-ups a week.
Continued Mr Groom, “By installing the Cargo lift, we have made room for two more machines which will help to further reduce lead-times to our customers as well as increase turnover, helping to pay for the new bar store.”

Despite its obvious benefits, installation of an automated storage and retrieval facility for raw material is an unusual investment for a turned parts subcontractor in the UK.  Qualiturn’s system holds all of the bar that was previously kept in conventional racking, with room to spare, although fast-moving material will continue to be held in a small area outside the automated store if it is to be used on the day of delivery.

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