FANUC re-shores production for cycling specialist

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Ten years ago, the ‘rags to riches’ story started for bicycle component business Superstar Components Ltd. The Lincoln business that started in a bedroom selling brake pads quickly progressed to sourcing manufactured products from Taiwan for the cycling enthusiast. As the business evolved into more expansive product ranges, the production lead-times from Taiwan were increasingly prolonged. The decision was made to manufacture and control production from the UK, and this is where FANUC came into the equation with its ROBODRILL D21MiA5 machining centre and FANUC M-10iA 10M robot loading system.

Recalling the decision to purchase the turnkey package from FANUC, Company Owner & Director at Superstar Components Ltd, Mr Neil Wilkinson says: “I bought the machine because it’s a cost-effective solution to solve a logistics problem I had. I was getting parts produced in Taiwan where the majority of the bicycle industry is based. The production lead times with suppliers started off very short, but over the years, the lead-times increased considerably, up to 7–8 months in some cases. We have now brought this work back in-house to the UK to gain control over the process and the lead-times.”

The company was initially prototyping pedal systems using a 4th-axis machining centre with manual loading, which was a two-operation process. Large-scale production was still conducted overseas. However, the aim for Superstar Components was to investigate the potential for a fully automated system that would re-shore production from Taiwan. The results have been staggering. Initially, the cycling specialist moved some pedal sets to the UK and an existing 4-axis machine tool. But this wasn’t fast enough. So, Superstar Components moved the pedal sets from the previous machine to the new FANUC ROBODRILL. The cycle time for 600 pedals has been reduced from little over 3 weeks to just 3 days. In addition, the labour input has gone from 3.5 weeks of staff time to just 1 hour per day.

Commenting upon the decision to purchase the FANUC ROBODRILL, Mr Wilkinson says: “The ROBODRILL has taken Superstar Components from being a niche product manufacturer with a higher price point to a company that can now manufacture pedals for other companies at prices comparable with Taiwan. We can do this whilst achieving significantly better quality levels. This is all down to the FANUC machine and its capabilities.”

Productivity improvement

On achieving a productivity improvement beyond 85 per cent with the FANUC ROBODRILL, Mr Wilkinson continues: “My expectation was to streamline the process and get rid of any problems and inconsistencies that arise from manual labour and importing. The upside to the machine is that it has double the spindle speed I was expecting and this has significantly improved our surface finishes. I have been impressed with everything about the FANUC machine. I presumed that when I first bought the machine, the size of our cuts would be limited by the spindle, but as we cut aluminium, we really push the cutting tools with big cuts and high feed rates.”

The BT30 spindle on the ROBODRILL D21MiA5 runs at an impressive 24,000rpm. With a BT30 spindle taper, Superstar Components didn’t believe the ROBODRILL would be capable of returning the cutting performance the company is actually achieving. “Rumour among engineers is that a BT30 is a little flaky, but if nobody told me the ROBODRILL was a BT30, we wouldn’t know any different. I run the machine like a BT40; the tools run very hard and fast. The machine build and the spindle is very rigid, robust and powerful.”

The FANUC direct-drive 4th axis table has also been added to the ROBODRILL D21MiA5 to ensure that Superstar Components can complete the pedals in one-hit without any secondary processes. In fact, Mr Wilkinson says the 4th-axis table rotates at such high speed, the rotation is barely visible. The benefit of this lightening fast rotation speed is a cycle time reduction that is of particular value when producing large batch runs.

Automating the process with FANUC

Alluding to the introduction of a robot loading system, Mr Wilkinson says: “I was originally looking for a robot solution provider to upgrade an existing machine. However, the FANUC solution proved too good to miss, as they do the machine tool, the 4th axis table, the robot and the complete integration, all in-house. This turn-key project made things fast and easy. The complete solution was delivered as one finished product.”

Despite taking delivery of a turn-key system for large-scale production of bicycle pedal sets, Superstar Components has an astounding level of flexibility from the FANUC ROBODRILL. As Mr Wilkinson continues: “We designed 4th axis tooling with a company in Leicester. This allows us to swap out the tooling, swap out the pallets and the robot grippers. From here, we can install new grippers, tools and pallets and just enter a new program into the ROBODRILL and the FANUC M-10iA 10M robot. It’s very easy to set up a new job with a new profile.”

The running cost is another factor that has thoroughly impressed the subcontract manufacturer. As Mr Wilkinson recalls: “We knew the FANUC machines were going to be more energy efficient than our existing machines, but when we truly looked at the cost, the ROBODRILL is costing us £0.30 to £0.40 per hour on the spindle, it’s virtually nothing. This is less than a third of the cost of our other machine tools. We run this machine 24 hours a day, as the pedal sets have a 28 hour cycle time. Sometimes the ROBODRILL can run for weeks without stopping. When you run a machine continuously, this saving definitely adds-up. Whilst it isn’t always a deciding factor in a machine purchase, it’s something that is already making us consider getting a second machine.”

Going through the process

With the ROBODRILL spindle accelerating up to 24,000rpm, the first process for the pedal set is to have pre-thread holes drilled prior to M4 roll taps creating multiple threads with a spindle speed of 6000rpm. Once one pedal is threaded, the 4th axis rotary table spins around to expose the opposite face, where the process is repeated. The reliability of the thread is 100 per cent guaranteed by a Renishaw laser probing system that will immediately identify broken or damaged tools. The next step is for a 6mm and 12mm diameter end mills to machine the pedal pockets at high speed. The final step is the use of a UFO shaped cutter that chamfers the top and back face of the pedal in a single step. This eliminates any secondary hand-finishing operations further downstream and allows Superstar Components to take the parts straight from the machine for anodising.

Mr Wilkinson says: “The FANUC machine has put us back in control of our lead-times, its reduced costs and it’s made us cost effective against the Taiwanese market. Furthermore, the FANUC machine is allowing us to focus on the products and not worry about the lead-times or the potential to be let down by third party suppliers.”

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