British Steel to become world leader in machining of special profiles

3 mins read

Forming part of a £26 million investment by British Steel's owner Jingye Group in the Skinningrove steelworks near Redcar, a travelling-column machining centre with a working envelope of 14,000 mm x 4,100 mm x 1,600 mm is currently being built in Germany by SHW Werkzeugmaschinen.

The machine will be delivered to Skinningrove towards the end of 2023, where it will be set up as a turnkey installation by Kingsbury, the machine manufacturer's sole agent in the UK, Ireland and GCC.

Despite being of such large capacity, the Uniforce 4000 five-axis machine will nevertheless be able to hold extremely tight tolerance on special rolled steel profiles produced in the mill. The combination of size and accuracy will set the company's machining capability apart from that of all other global players.

Included in the current spending round are expansion of the Skinningrove site, plus the purchase of four new CNC lathes for turning mill rolls, three bandsawing cells for cutting stock to length, a laser measurement system for process control of every bar rolled, and a warehousing system for storing and retrieving raw and processed material. Previous significant investments involved the installation of an advanced surface descaling system and robotic identification tracking of each profile manufactured.

The rationale for the latest project is a legacy situation within British Steel that for the last 20 years has seen special profiles produced in Skinningrove transferred by truck 35 miles west to the machine shop in the group's Darlington facility for processing. The resulting bottleneck limited throughput of the company's special steel profiles and delayed their just-in-time delivery to world markets. The vast majority of product is used in Europe, North and South America, India and Asia.

The bottleneck will soon be history, as all processing will be done on the Skinningrove site and the Darlington facility will be closed. The optimisation of operations will save not only time but also the cost and vehicle emissions associated with the constant transport of material by road. It is predicted that the new processing facility will add a further 30,000 tonnes of output within the next two years. It will thereafter see a further substantial increase when material handling in the new plant becomes fully automated.

David Waine, Commercial Director for Special Profiles at British Steel Skinningrove, commented, "We are delighted that this biggest single investment in British Steel Special Profiles for more than 30 years will further strengthen our global presence and service offering.

"The new service centre here will incorporate one of the finest large-capacity machine shops in the world, turning us into the number one manufacturer globally of value-added machined special profiles, rolled to precise customer requirements.

"The first target market will be masts for forklift trucks, especially high-reach models. However, the milling machine will have the capability to enhance our offering across all sectors."

Simon Burrow, Business Development Director for LPM (large prismatic machines) at Kingsbury advised, "The 14-metre X-axis of the Uniforce 4000 in build for British Steel will have a three-metre table at one end for processing smaller parts transferred from the Darlington mill, enabling offline setup and pendulum machining.

"Five-axis prismatic milling and drilling capability is provided throughout the machine volume by a 2-axis universal head that allows the horizontal-spindle machine to execute vertical-spindle operations at the smaller table. Another aspect of the installation is the phased investment, which will enable loading of extrusions to be automated to increase capacity in the future as market share and production volumes increase."

Dominic Hill, British Steel’s Technical Manager, Special Profiles, added, "We opted for this large milling solution from Kingsbury rather than those offered by other potential suppliers due to the high build quality of the German machine, as well as certain design features that are unique in this size range.

"One is counterbalancing of the head driven by twin ballscrews to compensate mechanically for droop, whereas the other OEMs offered less effective software compensation. The other significant plus point is the use of box guideways rather than linear guideways, which translates into higher rigidity, productivity and machining accuracy. Holding 0.1 mm tolerance on a fork lift mast might seem extreme, but on trucks that reach up to 14 metres, mast assemblies have to be exceptionally precise to ensure reliable stability at full reach."

As part of the turnkey package, Kingsbury will also supply the tooling and a modular magnetic fixturing system from Schunk suitable for accommodating the first few applications to be put onto the Uniforce 4000. Practical workholding examples were available for British Steel to see beforehand and representatives from the company also visited the SHW factory in Germany, where they were especially impressed with the R&D department.