RISE OF THE Mazak machine tools have been used to build key components on Mclaren’s Formula 1 cars since 1999. James Newbold went to see how they are driving UK manufacturing forwards
orcester isn’t the first place you would naturally think of to base a global machine tool company, but Yamazaki Mazak has made the city home for the past 30 years.
Originally founded in Japan in 1919, the family-owned company rose to prominence in the 1960s when it began exporting products to the United States, before basing European production in the UK in 1987.
Now a market-leader in CNC, laserprocessing and multi-tasking five-axis machines on three continents, Mazak’s Worcester plant is one of 10 around the globe where machines are assembled for distribution and showcased to potential customers by a staff of more than 500 people. Mazak’s expansive operation also includes a further 78 support bases dotted across the map, which offer demonstrations, advice and support to a range of different industry sectors including aerospace, medical and of course, motorsport.
One of Mazak’s most fruitful partnerships in this regard has been with the Mclaren Formula 1 team, which dates back to the halcyon days of 1999. Since then, Mika Hakkinen and Lewis Hamilton have claimed drivers’ championships, while David Coulthard, Kimi Raikkonen, Juan Pablo Montoya, Fernando Alonso, Heikki Kovalainen and Jenson Button have contributed to a tally of 65 victories, averaging 3.6 per year.
With 25 Mazak units running almost around the clock, Mclaren has succeeded in bringing the vast majority of its machining work in-house, giving it far greater control over output and a quicker turnaround speed. In the fastpaced world of F1, where a new design tweak is sent to the machine shop every 20 minutes, the productivity and reliability of a factory makes a telling contribution to on-track performance. After all, a race team is only as effective as the supply of parts it receives.
“It’s a very valued partnership which has been important for both parties, in terms of developing innovative products from a machine tool point of view and of course from their side in delivering high-quality components in a very short turnaround time,” explains Alan Mucklow, Mazak’s UK managing director.
“The key thing is the speed you can get from concept to part. We’ve got a ‘donein-one’ capability, which means you put the raw material in and get a finished part out. It’s no pun that speed is of the essence, not just for cars going around the track but the parts that they can get to those cars both in the design process and in the support process during the season.”
Just as Mclaren conducts extensive development work on its cars to remain competitive throughout a season, Mazak is no different. The machine tool industry is predominantly reactive, led by the requirements of the customer to embrace new solutions, including hybrid additive technologies, in which Mazak is taking a lead.
Exhibiting at the Autosport International Show is a useful means of killing two birds with one stone, as an opportunity to meet with existing partners while generating interest from visitors and other exhibitors too.
“One of the key areas [in remaining a market leader] is listening to our customers, because they are the drivers of innovation,” Mucklow continued. “We’re constantly developing new products because the landscape of manufacturing is consistently changing across every industry.
“The motorsport industry sector in the UK is extremely important for us, it provides a significant amount of our business in the UK and Autosport gives us the ability to connect with those existing customers, and new customers.
“We’re very keen to ensure that our investment in innovation matches our customer’s demands, be it in medical, oil and gas, aerospace or motorsport. Keeping a clear vision of how our customers are developing and the industries that they serve are developing is paramount, so that we can develop our range of products and services to match those requirements.”
Rather than a strictly linear relationship between vendor and client, Mazak prides itself on offering a holistic service, consulting with clients to find catered solutions and providing them with training to use their machinery effectively. This approach makes the Mclaren team’s successes all the more gratifying.
“It’s a very strong relationship which is built around success and a lot of hard work,” says Mucklow. “We’ll be involved in making recommendations to them on the best method to produce a particular part, be it the machine configuration or the strategies to machine those parts, all those aspects which go into producing a part more productively and more efficiently.
“Of course, that’s not all cases – there will be some cases where we will support, other cases where they are fully able to support themselves, but we’re very proud to take our customer base to their facility and equally they’re very proud to come here and see the latest technologies that we offer. It’s a two-way partnership.”
An important part of the package is Mazak’s Smooth Process Support Software, which allows users to have greater control over their decisionmaking and maximise the uptime of their assets through remote diagnostics. The idea is that by monitoring performance, it can be identified in advance where maintenance work is required and actions taken preemptively to limit any costly downtime further down the line.
“There’s a whole suite of software that can further enhance your productivity, and that can be from the smaller oneman customer and the machine right through to larger OEM organisations,” adds Mucklow.
“It enables data to be used and not just any data, but the right data in the right place at the right time to make informed decisions, which take an asset and make it even more productive.”
Mazak’s motorsport activities are by no means exclusive to Mclaren. Their expertise can also be found in several grassroots projects, including the University of Birmingham’s Formula Student programme and Cambridge University’s Eco Racing effort, which will enter the World Solar Challenge in Australia in November.
“We’re involved in a lot of motorsport projects at different levels, through other teams and the small subcontractors that supply into those teams,” Mucklow explained. “We go right from grassroots through to the top, and what we hope will happen is that those students that started working with us in Formula Student will end up working for some of the premium motorsport companies.”
Legacy is a key concern for the company, as it seeks to make a lasting imprint on the British manufacturing industry. Mazak hosts the annual Technology, Design and Innovation (TDI) Challenge for schools, organised by the Manufacturing Technology Association and Mucklow hopes that through this and other measures, it can inspire the next generation of engineers and technicians.
“One of the key things for us here is apprenticeships, that’s been a really important focus for us over the last years in terms of developing the skills which will keep our company moving forward,” he says.
“We have just launched the app, which will hopefully drive more connectivity with our customers and help us to service them, but we need to service them with highly-trained, highly-skilled service engineers, so it’s important for us to train our staff to have the highest level of knowledge on the latest technologies.
“Manufacturing is hugely important for the UK and we’re very proud to have our European manufacturing centre based in Worcester,” concludes Mucklow. “As we approach our 30th birthday, I think we’re an example of how you can be successful with investment in innovation.
“Clearly that’s important for all British industries to take the same lead to maintain a competitive advantage. British manufacturing is on a very good direction at the moment, and motorsport is taking a lead in that.” ■
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