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The installation of a large-capacity Soraluce travelling column floor-type CNC milling machine with an extensive 16 metre long bed did not only enable MacTaggart Scott to bring in-house the machining of extra-long workpieces

– a move that in itself justified the machine purchase – but after expert engineering from T W Ward CNC Machinery (Ward CNC) added a second machine column on to the original machine bed to give a double column single bed duplex configuration to enable the company to enter into a new era of processing machined parts simultaneously at ‘both sides’ of the machine bed or using one column to machine very long components. This upgrade provides excellent machining flexibility and is an efficient use of the space available in the machine shop.

Supplied six years ago by Ward CNC, the first Soraluce FL16000 was purchased by the long established (since 1898) company that focuses on the naval, defense and marine industries to machine a specific component for aircraft carrier lifts. The workpieces, which were originally outsourced, were brought in-house so that MacTaggart Scott could control machining quality and costs. These particular parts occupied the Soraluce’s enormous 16 metre longitudinal traverse.

“This job alone justified the machine purchase,” says Robert Davidson, Production Engineering Manager. “But once we realised the capabilities of the Soraluce, we knew we could start re-thinking our traditional machining routines and consider producing workpieces in a different and much more economical way.”

He continues: “With its 4,000 revs/min universal machining head, which is indexable in 2.5 by 2.5 degree increments, we saw immense flexibility in the type and the way that workpieces could be machined.

“Then we had the Eureka moment: with such a large bed and relatively few of the 16 metre-long workpieces required, we thought ‘why not install another complete machine column and head, but one this time one that is configured with a 30-station automatic toolchanger?’. The machine’s original configuration was specified for workpieces that required only minimal toolchanges, since like much of our throughput the job was low volume and very bespoke and made to order.

“The idea was to install the column on the original machine bed at the side of the existing column to effectively create two x seven metre X-Axis travel capacity machines on one common bed so that medium-sized workpieces could be machined simultaneously on each ‘side’. This also enables us to quickly revert to ‘full length’ capacity machining using one column only as and when we need it, and the two heads can operate separately and simultaneously.

He adds: “The result of the modification was that we halved the cost of one job (another outsourced contract) by simply ‘spinning’ the part on its fixturing; and on another we halved machining times by producing the four metre long parts in one hit on the Soraluce rather than machining in two sequences on a two metre capacity machining centre (machining one end then shunting the part along to machine the other).”

Engineers from Ward CNC undertook the highly-involved modification of installing, integrating and commissioning the second column/head.

Critically, because each column and head is working on the same X-Axis, each column is controlled by its own Heidenhain iTNC 530 CNC with measurement feedback on all Axes via Heidenhain LB382 linear scales.

The machine PLC software has been modified to incorporate anti-collision software for safe working functionality.

Today, the Soraluce has become the most heavily worked machine at MacTaggart Scott’s Loanhead, near Edinburgh site – and it continues to spur new approaches to machining a wide variety of parts in a range of materials - including a number of workpieces that were formerly fabrications. Indeed, says Mr Davidson, the first question we now always ask ourselves for every new part is ‘can we put it on the Soraluce?’