Pistons machined from a specialty aluminum alloy on the venture’s new GF Mikron machining centers.

Power and Performance in Custom Design

Dec. 5, 2013
Three new GF machines Complex, high-precision parts Productivity gains Aluminum 2618

Performance racing continually delivers some of the most interesting and influential developments for product design and machining ingenuity. Laranca Engineering Ltd., at Solihull in England’s West Midlands, recently invested in two GF AgieCharmilles Mikron VCE 600 Pro machines equipped with an integrated fourth axis, and a Mikron HEM 500U (3 + 2 positional) five-axis machining center. As well as adding capacity the new machines are central to a new business venture.

Laranca — through a sister company it established recently, ND Pistons — will design and manufacture customized, high-performance pistons for motorsports customers and, eventually for OEMs’ series production of such engines.

Managing director Richard Shaw established Laranca in 1988 to produce complex, high-precision parts from solid, castings, or forgings for numerous F1 and other motorsports series teams, as well as for several of top names in the motorsports supply chain.

GF AgieCharmilles’ Mikron VCE 600 Pro machines have a travel range of 23.622 x 19.685 x 21.26 in. All three spindles (X, Y, Z) achieve rapid traverse of 16 / 40 m per min.

The types of parts manufactured vary, and include engine, steering, transmission, braking, and suspension components. These are manufactured in small batch sizes, including prototypes and one-offs, and the materials machined include aluminum, titanium, Inconel, and stainless, as well as carbon-fiber composites.

Laranca also manufactures parts for classic and vintage racing car teams, including those for Laranca Race Engineering, another affiliate that has ex-Arrows Team founder and LeMans winner Jackie Oliver as one of its drivers. It races four BMW cars in events throughout the U.K. and Europe.

Working from CAD, Reverse Engineering

The components are manufactured from drawings, but in the case of classic car parts (where drawings do not exist) Laranca will reverse engineer the parts.

Investing in advanced machine tool and technologies has been a critical element of Laranca’s strategy for growth over the past 25 years. “We are always looking to improve our manufacturing capabilities and performance, and to be the best we can possibly be,” according to Richard Shaw.

“A few years ago we made our first investment in a GF AgieCharmilles five-axis machining center and, the productivity gains we experienced from being able to manufacture high-precision, complex parts in fewer set-ups, meant we never looked back.”

The company also aims to invest in market-leading rotary table technology, workholding, tooling, CAD/CAM, and CMM equipment, too.

“There’s not much point having machine tools capable of machining parts/features to tolerances of 3-4 microns or to surface finishes of Ra 0.2 µm, if you haven’t invested in advanced, complementary technologies,” said Shaw.

Striving for perfection and passion for excellence continue to be foundations for Laranca’s latest business venture. ND Pistons developed from a chance meeting earlier this year between Richard Shaw and piston design and manufacturing expert, Nikos Douvras.

Operating from Laranca’s facility, ND Pistons is manufacturing custom-designed lightweight, high-strength pistons for racing car engines. In the future, the venture will provide the same service to high-performance engine manufacturers.

The pistons are manufactured from a specially developed alloy that is based on Aluminum 2618 — an age-hardenable alloy containing magnesium and copper that has good machining characteristics, in particular when it is heat treated. The solids are cut with single crystalline diamond tools sourced from Japan and specially coated to provide thermal stability.

The attention to detail continues after production. So much attention is paid to the design factors that customers can have their ND Pistons analyzed after they’ve been used to assess any wear and performance issues.

“We can design and manufacture high-performance pistons in a four week turnaround period,” offered Nikos Douvras. “Other manufacturers are quoting customers lead times in excess of 16 weeks.”

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