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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

No win without a winning team

For multinational corporations or SMEs, the key is always teamwork, strategic vision and persistence.
Like in the case of Merletti Aerospace and Breton's Matrix 1000
(by Paolo Beducci - M&A Meccanica e Automazioni)

Among the classic profiles of Italian family-run businesses we believe some events are more Italian than others, because certain affairs are a more accurate reflection of typical Italian business practice, the will to succeed and the resilience, meaning the ability to adapt to different situations and make positive changes in the organisation when facing challenges.

Incorporated in 1972 by Gianluigi Merletti and his wife Narcisa, Merletti Aerospace was founded under the name of Meccanica Merletti, a general mechanical engineering contractor dedicated to the production of limited series with high value in terms of the exceptional quality of the machining work. 
It's worth noting that Merletti operates in a high-tech industrial district: the Varese industrial area, specifically Arsago Seprio, where the majority of Italian aeronautical companies have their headquarters. It should come as no surprise to learn that Varese is known locally as the " the province with wings” (provincia con le ali)

AgustaWestland and AleniaAermacchifor example, are just two names in a long list of companies whose presence has led to the emergence of a high value added industrial settlement. 
From its beginnings, Merletti achieved recognition for its exceptional operational competences and its ability to interact, directly or indirectly, with large industrial concerns, including several companies active in the aeronautical and aerospace industry.

Arrival of the second generation
In the mid-1990s the Merletti husband and wife team realised they needed to address two types of problems. The first concerned the technological strength of the company, while the second was related to the ability to prepare the family business for a future that would no longer be constrained by the need for the active participation of the two founding partners. 
The solution adopted by Gianluigi and Narcisa was to bring their two children (Ruggero and Sabrina) into the business and simultaneously launch an investment plan aimed at modernising the company's capital equipment. 
At that time NC machine tools were making their presence felt (also in smaller companies), resulting in a technological paradigm shift of revolutionary proportions

The era of highly skilled lathe and milling machine operators was drawing to a close, giving way to the era of machining tolerances of tenths or hundredths of a millimetre and ultimately, microns
Despite being born and raised in a family focused in high precision mechanical engineering operations, Ruggero and Sabrina had followed different career paths that were far removed from the vocation of their parents. The Merletti husband and wife had now started to plan the introduction of a significant new aspect that was proving extremely successful in terms of the times and results. 
Having always focused on Quality in all its operations, Merletti was among the very first small companies to secure EN ISO 9001 certification in 1995, going on to obtain certification in compliance with EN 9100 in 2006.
In the words of Ruggero Merletti – whose role in the family business is to run the Engineering Department and handle technical management – "One of the most significant aspects of our strategy was that at that time many of our customers lacked our qualifications and certifications, either in-house or in their supply chains, so we were perfectly placed to provide the support they needed. In certain cases our company was more highly qualified than the customers we were serving".

Aerospace becomes the core business
The gradual but increasingly massive shift towards the industry that would lead to the company name being changed to Merletti Aerospace, slowly led the Arsago Seprio-based company to focus its operations on increasingly specialised production activities and high-end materials. At this time, the company started working increasingly with special materials such as aluminium alloys, Inconel, high-tensile steels and titanium: all of which, for different and even opposite reasons, call for advanced levels of production expertise
Apart from the materials, following a trend that was gaining ascendancy also in the aeronautical industry, over the years Merletti Aerospace specialised in high level machining operations and also in the production of mechanical parts with a range of processes from the procurement of raw materials to heat treatments, construction and dimensional checks, galvanic treatments, surface coatings and assembly of mechanical units and sub-assemblies. 
The entire process also involves the design and construction of machinery for the production of aircraft parts and equipment, completing the offering with full verticalisation of sub-assemblies, including assembly and testing procedures. The result is a fully-developed industrial system that boasts exceptional levels of know-how and skills.
In this panorama, the company clearly needed a design department and machining operations of a level that is greatly superior to the norm. The company's resources comprised a dozen 4- and 5-axis machining centres plus CNC lathes and multitasking machines capable of working with very large size parts for the aerospace industry.
Ruggero Merletti explains, “I believe a company needs to evolve constantly, changing and growing wherever possible
As soon you relax and start to enjoy the results already achieved, hard-won market positions start to recede. And in a market like ours, which is among the most competitive in existence today, this requirement becomes an absolute must. That's why we decided to make new investments aimed at growing the business, and in our case it was literally a question of growing, having decided to acquire a machining centre capable of working with larger size parts. This decision was aimed at gaining a foothold in a new market area in terms of dimensional characteristics

A new push towards the future
Essentially this meant identifying and purchasing a gantry machining centre capable of working on very large parts
It was no chance that we decided to opt for a Matrix 1000 by Breton, with axis strokes of 3000x6000x1000mm. 
In practical terms, this decision allows us to tap into new possibilities, especially in the production of structural components, working with high precision on five continuous interpolated axes in order to perform 3D machining operations: basic requirements that are not easily fulfilled by manufacturers of high-end machine tools.

“The best path to follow was to draft a set of specifications – explains Merletti – and then perform a field evaluation of the compatible machines available for purchase. I have to admit that our specifications were highly demanding and difficult for any machine tools manufacturer to meet. After performing an internal selection to narrow the field of potential suppliers, we were left with just four companies, to which we submitted our requests. 
And it didn't end there... the specifications also called for field trials and specific guarantees in terms of presence and assistance – both for the choice and installation of the machine and also during routine machining operations. We awarded a score to each machine and each company, together with assessments ranging from the characteristics of the machines to their presence on the market, the number installed machines and numerous additional factors." 

The solution is Matrix
"We performed a workpiece test. 
The results obtained were all fairly satisfactory, but in relation to certain points Breton was a step ahead of the rest with respect to our requirements. From the  vacuum system to the chip removal equipment – critically important when working with high material removal rates per unit time – up to the electrospindle which, in the case of Breton, offers a power rating of 70kW and maximum rotation speed of 28,000 rpm.” 
Merletti continues "Over the years Breton has developed a preferential path, with collaboration with one of the top electrospindle manufacturers right from the design stage, thus providing our company with a further guarantee that we would be getting a machine tool that is entirely representative of the state of the art.”

One of the first aspects visible when analysing the Matrix 1000/2TK60 Dynamic is the extremely comprehensive enclosure system, an important requirement when working with materials that are difficult not merely in terms of machining work but also in relation to the management of processing residues. The vacuum system is an integral part of the machine, which is also equipped with a 180-position tool magazine. Given the solution adopted, it's clear that Merletti covered all the bases when selecting their new machining centre!
However, that's what it takes if a company plans to keep one... or even two steps ahead of increasingly fierce competition – competition that is starting to feel the effects of the arrival of newcomers from low-cost countries operating in the lower and less remunerative end of the market.

Ruggero Merletti concludes “While we were impressed by the performance of the machine, we realised we'd chosen well once we started the procedure to install the Matrix. Apart from the fact that rather than a simple machine tool we were dealing with an authentic plant presenting a series of complexities also in the installation stage, I was impressed by the fact that Breton's technicians followed the process step by step, displaying a level of dedication that was invaluable for our company. 
The attention we received went well beyond our expectations, including the constant presence of Breton personnel during construction of the foundations, painstaking attention devoted to details, and the maximum availability throughout the process
And the assistance was provided by a youthful and dynamic team who displayed great dedication and passion for their work, as clearly reflected in every activity and in the way they went about each task.
It seems to me that apart from offering truly exceptional products, Breton understand that it takes a perfectly coordinated team to win the race”.

For INFO and request about 5-axis machining centre Matrix 1000 Dynamic write now to
Well, that’s all for today. 
Sergio Prior

Friday, 4 December 2015

A suite for 5 axes

Cogwheel for wind turbine
The world engineering market is constantly evolving, and the gears sector follows the same trend. Modern gear manufacturers require machines that are accurate, versatile and user friendly to compete in a market in which production lot sizes are shrinking, and in which production requirements can change abruptly.
Traditional processes (with gear cutting machines) have some significant limitations, concerning product design, prototyping and manufacturing phases. They remain competitive only for high production volumes, but are unsuitable for producing prototypes and small lots (typical of large gears from 500 mm to 3,500 mm in size) as the tools are very expensive, have long procurement lead times and the geometric tooth finishing process is normally very long. It is in this niche that the commercial 5-axis milling machine shows its effectiveness.

Thanks to a partnership with KISSsoft - world leader in developing computation software for the mechanical engineering industry - together with decades of experience in manufacturing numerically controlled machine tools, Breton has developed BretonGear Suite, a vertical software package (BretonGear CAD and BretonGear CAM) developed in synergy with the machine tool for designing and manufacturing gears.

Starting from the very high accuracy of the surfaces generated in KISSsoft, the designer now has a freedom in defining the tooth geometries never seen before with traditional methods. With the BretonGear CAD application (using the CAD Rhinoceros engine) it is possible, in bevel helical teeth for example, to machine the relief groove at the tooth root in the same way as it is created using hobbing cutters with protuberance on cylindrical teeth. Or making topological changes to distort the surface itself, moving the contact area between mating teeth, which is key in reverse engineering.
Double-helical pinion for excavator

Once the gear geometry has been defined, you can pass to the BretonGear CAM environment, available in both the PC and the touch screen version installed on-board the machine, which through an integrated approach can guide the operator in selecting tools and defining cutting strategies. Today, in version 2.1 with an even more intuitive interface and with a tool library that now, for the first time, includes side cutters as well as the more generic cylindrical, toric and spherical end cutters.

This innovation introduces a further degree of versatility to the cutting methods available, resulting in considerable time savings when machining gear wheels with straight or helical teeth. Side cutters can be of two types: shaped (where the tool defines the shape of the tooth), or the more common variety, straight sided, where the machine creates the shape of the tooth by envelopment. All of this can be viewed by the operator through real-time simulations, offering him complete control over the cutting strategies, thereby eliminating the need for the dedicated CAM office required in other specialised sectors such as aerospace.

BretonCAM accompanies the operator throughout the cutting process with dedicated applications even after the gear has been case-hardened. Careful management of the excess metal and a best fit function that determines the piece’s ideal position within the machine with a measuring cycle before and after hardening, limits the distortion that follows heat treatments. In addition, the T.A.O. (Tooth Accuracy Optimizer) algorithm calculates the tooth cutting order to distribute the tool wear and improve the accuracy of the tooth. These technical solutions are the result of research and development in the field alongside experts in the gear sector.

So far we have only talked of 5-axis gear cutting using commercial milling machines, which is competitive compared to the traditional bevel gear cutting methods for more than 5 modules and diameters greater than 300 mm. 
For smaller numbers of modules and diameters, face milling strategies are more effective. The basic difference between the two lies in the fact that, in the face milling method, the profile of the tooth is created by the synergy between the machine’s movements and dedicated shape of the cutter
Breton Ultrix with “face milling”

Traditional CAM software is not able to simulate this delicate interaction between the machine and the cutter. For this reason, Breton has undertaken a collaboration with HyGEARS, developer of a powerful gear design and analysis software.
Through an interface designed together with Breton, HyGEARS replicates the movements of a conventional gear cutting machine. 
The result? A considerable reduction in cutting times. A case study conducted on the same bevel gear cut using both methods found execution times four times shorted (25 mins against 100 mins),  ideal for medium sized lots.

Of course, developments in the world of 5-axis gear cutting are not just limited to software but also hardware. Breton has optimised its range of machines with an emphasis on monoblock models ULTRIX and XCEEDER, now equipped with trunnion tables with a central hole which allows machining pinions up to a maximum length of 850mm and shank diameter of 220mm (until now a limit for this kind of machine), and FLYMILL and MAXIMA gantry models that can machine gears with diameters up to 3500mm.
For INFO and request about Breton machine for gear production, write now to
Well, that’s all for today. 
Sergio Prior

(Software KISSsoft, Rhinoceros and HyGEARS are trade mark ®)