Big machines for the energy challenge

The global energy sector demands high productivity, exceptional quality and fast turnarounds from its suppliers. This article examines the machining challenges faced by energy suppliers and offers some solutions.

The energy sector has had something of a split personality in recent years. Whilst power generation has remained buoyant, fueled by continued high energy demands from consumers and industry, the oil and gas sector has been hit by the declining oil price.

However, whilst the fortunes of the two are very different, the supply chain, which manufacturers many of the components used by the major oil producers and energy generators, has responded in similar ways to the different demands placed upon it. Investment in new technology has continued with the aim of improving productivity, preserving margins, reducing lead times and improving component quality.

Solutions for Large components

Large components

The common denominator across the energy sector, in machining terms, is the sheer size and weight of the components that need to be manufactured. In the oil and gas sector, it is drill pipes, casings, wellhead equipment and subsea valves, whilst the power generation sector is dominated by rotor shafts and discs, casings, impellers and generator shafts.

As a result, multi-tasking machines, which can reduce the numbers of operators, set-ups and the movement of large components around a machine shop, in turn improving the quality of the finished product, have been high on the sector’s priority list.

The INTEGREX e-H series of multi-tasking machines are ideal for this type of heavy, large diameter shaft type workpieces, because they are capable of completing all operations in a single set-up, including turning, milling, boring and drilling, without having to move the component to a different machine.

Crucially, even the smallest of the e-H series machines, namely the e-420H, has a large machining envelope with a maximum swing of 670mm, enabling large components to be cut. This envelope size and multi-tasking capability is complimented by a high power 4,000rpm main spindle and 12,000rpm milling spindle, which are capable of removing large amounts of metal whilst maintaining exceptional productivity.

At the top end of the e-H range is the INTEGREX e-800H, which has a large Y-axis stroke of 800mm which makes it ideal for extra-large part production. The machine has the power, torque and accuracy to achieve unbeatable metal removal capabilities when processing workpieces with load capacities of up to 15 tons. Critically, the machine is also equipped with a Long Boring Bar (LBB) which offers deep-hole capability and a rigid tool holder system, with four clamping units, for enhanced machining capacity and rigidity when machining large complex internal features that are common to many applications.

Turning large diameter pieces

Turning large diameter pieces

Turning large diameter pieces before performing secondary operations, such as machining, boring and drilling, is a vital skillset required for machines working in the energy sector. The INTEGREX e-V series of multi-tasking machines combine full 5-axis machining, heavy-duty turning operations and pallet-changing capabilities to process large, highly complex parts, such as subsea valves. The ability to perform multiple operations in single set-ups enables manufacturers to reduce inaccuracies that occur when moving heavy parts across multiple workstations, as well work-in-process inventory.

High power turning and large part capacity have always been key machine attributes for suppliers to the energy sector. The SLANT TURN is the ideal solution, being a powerful, high torque, heavy-duty, big-bore turning centre for large part turning applications, such as oil field pipes and casings, pipeline control valves and turbine wheels. Most importantly, it offers a maximum swing of 1,040mm and a maximum machining diameter of up to 910mm, which enables the machine to easily process large components.

Solutions for oil and gas parts

Oil and gas parts

With oil and gas parts in particular, it is not always possible to turn very large parts, such as valves. Mazak’s ORBITEC 20, is a large part machining centre that provides the capability to create true turned surfaces on parts that are difficult, or too large, to rotate.

The ORBITEC greatly reduces set-up times and improves throughput for large, heavy and awkward workpieces, such as those often found in the energy industry. The machine's patented head-design technology allows it to perform a variety of operations, including the facing of flange surfaces, conical boring of taper holes, threading, face-milling and end-milling, in a single part set-up.

As a cost-effective, innovative valve body production centre, the ORBITEC 20 can complete more than 75% of valve applications in one set-up, whilst maintaining the high tolerances demanded by the sector.


Smaller components cutting

Smaller components

Not all energy components require enormous machining envelopes however. Many suppliers to the energy sector are combining large multi-tasking machines, such as the e-V and e-H series, with smaller machines that offer exceptional performance during the manufacture of subsea valves for example.

The machine of choice for many suppliers is the INTEGREX i-series of machines which are equipped with high performance main and milling spindles. With the INTEGREX i-400, for example, the main spindle is capable of 3,300 rpm with the milling spindle capable of 12,000 rpm. The INTEGREX is now available with integrated long boring bar handling capability and with a new 2.5 metre bed size, providing even greater range of part processing capacity.

The range of different products being manufactured by suppliers to the energy sector is enormous, but the common attributes demanded from machines is flexibility, accuracy and productivity. Our advice is to partner with a machine supplier that can offer the necessary breadth of machines and application support that will enable you to choose the best machining and automation solution for your specific requirements.