Large parts machining: More process reliability with multifunctional machines

Workpieces weighing several tons and material costs per piece the equivalent to the value of a small car: In the field of heavyweight machining, everything is slightly larger; except for the tolerances because high-precision production in the hundredth or even thousandths of a millimetre range is the rule rather than the exception in modern large-part machining and heavy machining. More and more manufacturing companies are meeting the high customer demands with powerful multifunctional machines. Turning, milling, drilling and grinding in one set-up ensures significantly increased process reliability – and at the same time reduces unproductive set-up times.

The operating teams at the machines are supported by intelligent software products. In this article, you will learn how the large-part machining companies enhance their competitiveness with multifunctional machines.

The challenges in heavyweight machining

With conventional machine tools, the processing of particularly large and/or particularly heavy workpieces is a real challenge – especially when the components have to undergo several machining processes. If, for example, a crankshaft is to be manufactured for a ship's propulsion system, it must be turned, milled, drilled and ground. The four machining processes require at least one lathe and one milling machine, correspondingly complex set-up operations and highly accurate alignment of the workpieces. In addition, measurement tasks are due at the latest after each production step. Set-up and ancillary costs are one of the major cost drivers in large-part machining because they drastically increase the throughput times of a workpiece. Furthermore, each re-clamping and realignment of the workpieces entails the risk that manufacturing processes will be extended unplanned – for example, if clamping devices are not set correctly, the workpiece has not been aligned carefully enough in the lathe chuck, or the machine required for the next manufacturing step is occupied by another job.

Multifunctional machines: All processing steps on one machine

Multifunctional and complete machining devices such as the MILLTURN-Series from WFL or the GM from Geminis Lathes enable the complete processing of workpieces on one machine. With structurally optimised machine components, the machines compensate for the different forces that occur during complete machining. Multifunctional machines usually have particularly generously dimensioned guideways, high-torque C-axes, high-resolution measuring systems for precise positioning of the axes and, of course, tool carriers for all necessary machining tasks. From turning tools to driven tools in a milling unit to grinding devices, multifunctional machines have sufficient capacity to finish a workpiece from the first to the last chip with only a few re-clamping operations.

Increased process reliability through automated measurement directly in the working space

In addition to clamping and set-up times, measuring tasks for large workpieces occupy a considerable part of the throughput times. Measurement errors are even more critical for large and heavy components than for their small counterparts – because an offset of only a few tenths can mean scrap worth several thousand euros. Accordingly, operators in large-part machining invest a lot of time in measuring tasks – time in which the machine stands still and no money is earned. Modern multifunctional machines automate measuring processes as much as possible. Special measuring cycles, automatically changing measuring probes and temperature compensation relieve the operating teams of most measuring tasks. The exact position of a workpiece in the working space can also be measured with digital support and high precision. This allows the tightest form and position tolerances of profile grooves or fits to be achieved in a process-reliable manner.

Digital support excludes errors before they arise

Many manufacturers now offer software solutions that simulate generated machining programs and check for errors. After all, the best errors are those that do not occur in the first place! Software can also automatically optimise travel paths, reduce tool change times and calculate cutting depths in such a way that the maximum power is "coaxed" out of the machine. In heavy machining, it is seconds that distinguish an economical production from an uneconomical one. Maximum precision, high machine availability, simplified and faster set-up times and easier handling: in the future, multifunctional machines will replace previous approaches to disassembled production and special machines in significantly more companies. Even if the entry price for multifunctional machines is considerably higher, the profitable production of large and heavy workpieces quickly compensates for the investment costs.

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