LOCAL company Gilkes has invested £1.million in the next generation of machinery.

The company uses hydropower turbine runners, which are traditionally cast and polished by hand which according to Gilkes is a laborious task taking hundreds of man hours.

In recent years Gilkes has purchased these runners from specialist machine shops at significant cost.

The challenge set by Rebecca Sandham, Gilkes’ Head of Operations, was to install the capacity to fully machine a hydropower turbine runner from a solid billet of material.

In March tool building company Mazak installed and commissioned an INTEGREX E-1250V/8S 5-axis machine tool in March this year, with the project team wholly committed to delivering a fully machined Pelton runner to a Hydro scheme by January 2021.

Partnering with Mazak, Brown & Holmes, Nikken, Iscar, SolidCAM and VERICUT the team encountered many challenges along the way, the greatest of these being to have the ability to completely machine the runner without the need to finish off hard to reach elements with sub-contract spark erosion.

With Mazak’s innovative technology, Brown and Holmes workholding, Nikken and Iscar tooling skills and Gilkes’ production engineering talent supported by SolidCAM and VERICUT, the team met this challenge with a solution that saves the need for sub-contract spark erosion reducing lead times and cost.

As well as bringing a complex and high value component back to the UK, the project also moved the Gilkes team into new areas of expertise including 3D scanning, laser measurement, tool optimisation & real-time sensing.

The addition of a 5-axis machine tool strengthens Gilkes current in-house machining capability, significantly increasing productivity levels and enabling Gilkes to continue to be highly competitive in the global market.

Ms Sandham said: “This new machining addition fully complements Gilkes’ manufacturing strategy and helps nurture our engineering skills, capabilities and knowledge. The entire project team has worked tirelessly to deliver this project. Their enthusiasm, talent & determination has inspired many young engineers on our shop floor.”