There is no coincidence that the continued success of tooling specialist Gandtrack and sister company GT Grinding have been mirrored by their regular investment in Walter tool grinders and automatic measuring machines. Since the Walter Helitronics were installed – Gandtrack bought its first machine in 2000 – the Oldham-based tool manufacturing and regrinding firms have enjoyed impressive growth in the supply of solid carbide, PCD and carbide brazed tip tooling.It’s a success story that has seen Gandtrack in particular build a strong customer base throughout the UK, Ireland, Denmark, Sweden and the United Arab Emirates from its impressive facility in Lancashire as well as establish (in 1996) a direct sales operation in India and, since 2009, its Gandtrack Asia manufacturing base in Malaysia. All operations serve primarily companies involved in the composite/aerospace machining sector as well as, for example, motor racing and maritime engineering.
With 28 employees between them, Gandtrack and GT Grinding – the latter focusing on low-volume batch work as well as modifications to specials while Gandtrack concentrates on production volumes – have installed a host of Walter tool grinding technology from Walter Ewag UK, a member of the United Grinding Group.
A total of 12 Walter machines (10 Helitronic tool grinders and two Helicheck inspection machines) have been purchased over the years. And while in each successive case, the new machine has resulted in a higher level of production efficiency, it is Gandtrack’s latest investment – a Helitronic Power with robot loader – that ideally illustrates why Walter remains the tool grinding technology of choice for Managing Director Brian Hirst and his management team, including Director Adrian Jones.
“We found that machining batches of initially 20- to 60-off each month of comparatively long (up 140 mm to 280 mm) reamers in 15 different sizes and with long flute lengths of 70 mm to 90 mm wasn’t proving ideal when using the machine steady,” says Mr Jones. “So, we investigated the use of the Helitronic Power’s automatic tailstock in conjunction with the machine chuck. We liaised with Walter AG in Germany – whose engineers prepared the program and, with carbide rods in hand, we spent a full day there producing the reamers.
“The demonstrations showed that we could halve the machining times and, importantly, not produce any scrap. It was a no-brainer!”
Explaining that the process allows the tailstock to be removed from the reamers for the completion of end work, Mr Jones also highlights how the use of probing in conjunction with the tailstock/chuck “means the exact position of the flutes can simply be determined”.
The choice of a robot loader instead of Walter’s Eco loader, which Gandtrack/GT already have on four machines, was also determined by practicality as well as by the potential for increased production, says Mr Jones.
“The Eco loaders are great and they allow us to run machines unmanned as part of our two x 12-hour day shifts. But we wanted the best and fastest handling available, and we needed a pallet system able to accommodate tools of 2.5 mm diameter (the Eco loader pallet, as standard, can’t handle below 3 mm diameter) as well as 3.3 mm, 8 mm and 10 mm diameter. So, we chose Walter’s robot loading option.”
The robot loader can accommodate up to 7,500 tools depending on diameter/type (the Helitronic Power can handle tools from 3 mm to 320 mm diameter and with a machining length of up to 350 mm), and up to seven pallets enable the ‘chaotic’ loading of a variety of tools when the optional automatic diameter detection functionality is employed.
Continues Mr Jones: “The combination of the latest Helitronic Power and its automatic tailstock along with the robot loader has resulted in an output level that our reamer contract can’t keep pace with [200-300 of each reamer size for the past 12 months]. That’s great news, of course, and it means we could switch other work to the Power while perhaps also releasing another machine to our plant in Malaysia, to join the Helitronic Mini Power already there.”
Underpinned by the longevity and cost-effectiveness of the Walter Helitronic grinders, Mr Jones pinpoints the machines’ Tool Studio functionality as one aspect that Gandtrack finds particularly indispensable. With integrated Wizard technology for ease of use, Tool Studio 3 includes a host of routines for ‘what you see you can grind’ fast tool production simulation, parameter changes and operation.
“For example, the ‘Sketcher’ routines enable us to quickly create drawings with a 3-D image and produce programs for every new contract, complemented by accurate cycle times (having ‘common’ machines, that program can be used on any machine, of course). And we are also finding the new Step Tools and Burr programs (for drills) really useful.”
Sketcher utilises Tool Studio’s integrated CAD system with an intuitive icon-based user interface for creating tool and grinding wheel drawings. And the resulting CAD drawings can be re-used for different tools as the CAD elements used for other tool ident numbers attempt to re-connect with the tool simulation model. Users can also import and export DXF drawings, and save drawings as PDF documents.
The Step Tools functionality enables users to quickly access the system’s contour tool area, using wizard technology to speed and aid the creation process with, for example, end faces for drill tips to be selected at the click of a mouse. Likewise, the Burrs option enables a range of standard profiles to be selected (including chip breakers) while additional profiles can be produced via a user-defined function.
Gandtrack’s policy of investing in the latest Walter technology – which includes six Helitronic Power machines and a two-in-one Helitronic Power Diamond for carbide and PCD grinding/erosion – to not only meet current demand but also create additional capacity, has been complemented by other initiatives that enable it to ‘work smarter’.
These include having its carbide rods supplied to size, using an ‘off-machine’ dressing unit for grinding wheels, and now undertaking all brazing and rod cutting in-house. All have contributed to a business strategy that has also meant the company has been able to hold its prices for some time.
Combined with an established reputation for on-time delivery of guaranteed high-quality tooling – the Helicheck 3D and Helicheck Advanced inspection machines play an important role in recording the quality history of every workpiece, enabling Gandtrack to ensure “that every tool has been made exactly the same as every other one in the current and previous batches” – has also led the company to form strong partnerships with clients, including the supply and automatic replenishment of tool stock via vending machines.
“We have in place six vending machine agreements at UK sites and one each in India and Malaysia,” adds Mr Jones. “In each case, the machines automatically send emails to request consignment stock, sometimes every week, and prompt the necessary invoices.”
Interestingly, everyone at Gandtrack started with the company as an apprentice – indeed, one of its team recently won a Young Apprentice of the Year award – and, says Mr Jones, “while the company is accredited to ISO 9001 and AS 9100 and all our processes are obviously in line with these quality approvals, every one of us is also driven by the same desire: to always provide customers with a first-class product and a first-class service”.