With a longstanding tradition of serving high-tech industries with complex components in fast turnaround times, Protocon Engineering is this year celebrating its 50th year in business. The company's longevity has been underpinned by a number of key factors, but two stand out above all else: its investment in the latest technology and the investment in high-calibre staff to drive the growth. This year the investment in technology included a FANUC RoboDrill D21MiA5 High Torque machining centre and a FANUC RoboCut C400iA EDM machine.
With regard to investing in machine tools, Protocon has always had an affinity with FANUC, a relationship that dates back decades. The key reason behind this is reliability. As Protocon Engineering's Managing Director, Mr Geoff Smith, states: "We are a family business that has been operating in Southend for 50 years delivering a subcontract machining service for the medical, aerospace and electronics industry sectors. The core of our work is small batch runs of often complicated parts with short turnaround times. To maintain these turnaround times our machine utilisation is critical and FANUC machines deliver maximum uptime as they are extremely reliable."
To meet the demands of its marketplace, key factors are quality, turnaround times and confidence. The quality of its machined parts and the rapid turnaround times can largely be attributed to the productivity, build quality and precision of Protocon's five FANUC RoboDrill machining centres and two FANUC RoboCut EDM machines. Instilling confidence in its customer base has not only come from years of producing high-quality work, but investing in certifications such as AS9100, ISO 9001 and a commitment to achieving SC21. This customer confidence sees Protocon frequently producing components for the Airbus A320 and A380, the Boeing 777, 787 and C17, as well as the Eurofighter project.
But it is the installation of seven FANUC machines that gives Protocon the confidence that it can hit the tight leadtimes of its customer base. Mr Smith continues: "Reliability is the main selling point of the FANUC machines. They are good, efficient, reliable and accurate machines. In the main, it is the reliability; we never have any problems with the machines and that is what we depend upon. It is also why we bought two more machines from FANUC this year."
Targeting new business
The investment in a FANUC RoboCut EDM C400iA has doubled the company's wire erosion capacity, enabling the subcontractor to target new business. With a maximum work envelope of 700 x 555 x 250mm with a cutting stroke of X370, Y270 and Z255, the RoboCut will accommodate most components that pass through the business and is a welcome addition to the existing FANUC Alpha OC four-axis wire cut machine.
In the milling department, Protocon has added a FANUC RoboDrill D21 MiA5 to add to the existing four RoboDrills. At present, the Protocon has four Fanuc T21iF machining centres with 12,000rpm spindles.
The FANUC 'High Powered' RoboDrill D21MiA5 with a 24,000rpm spindle and 21 tool change carousel enables the company to reduce cycle times drastically. One example was an aerospace support bracket that has seen its cycle time reduced to less than four minutes for a relatively complex part. This is more than 30 per cent faster than the existing FANUC machines, which are no slouches in the speed department.
Commenting on this, Mr Smith says: "FANUC has beefed up the spindle with the latest offering to give extra power and there are always times when you need that additional torque. The aerospace industry is predominantly based around aluminium alloys and we are using a lot of small cutting tools that need to be worked at higher spindle speeds. The ability of the 24,000rpm spindle to provide the high levels of speed and power is enabling us to run our high-specification cutting tools at the speeds and feeds that deliver optimum productivity rates with improved surface finishes."