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Investing for growth and cellular manufacturing pays off for RJ Engineering
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Rapid response to customer requests has been the key to the success of Derby-based RJ Engineering Precision Engineers since it started trading back in 1975. In combination with this adaptability, it has also had a willingness to invest in new machine tools to meet customer requirements in the aerospace and rail industries. In return for its commitment to them, many of its key customers have committed to long-term contracts for the sub-contract supply of precision machined components.


“We are proud of the fact that we have developed these long-term partnerships with customers on the back of our investment and management strategies,” says RJ Engineering’s Managing Director, John McDonagh. Our commitment to deliver cost reductions for customers through ‘Design for Manufacturing’ processes, along with our open book policy, has ensured that we have remained a key supplier to some of the leading names in the aerospace and rail sectors.”


One of RJ Engineering’s areas of expertise is the production of specialist components for customers, many in low volumes or one-offs, often required on a rapid turnaround. To further improve this service John McDonagh has introduced ‘Team Orange’, which is a dedicated machining cell concentrating its efforts on rapid response and special projects, leaving the remainder of the factory free to handle day-to-day production runs.  This cell has been equipped with machines from XYZ Machine Tools, including SLX ProTURN lathes, a Mini Mill 560 machining centre and two XYZ 2-OP vertical machining centres. “Traditionally we have had larger vertical machining centres, which led to them being used on small components, which wasn’t always practical and it also tied up larger capacity. Bringing in XYZ 2-OP’s and the Mini Mill 560 we have overcome this, having three spindles available but without having to increase manpower.”

While the XYZ 2-OP is designed to be portable, RJ Engineering is utilising its capacity as a front line machining centre, with its eight-position toolchanger and 3hp, BT30, spindle making it ideal for the complete machining of smaller components.  The 2-OP also has the advantage of sharing the ProtoTRAK control system, which RJ Engineering is already familiar with on its SLX lathes and SMX mills. “The ProtoTRAK control is very popular here and, when we recently brought in a new SLX lathe operators were clamouring to use it. The solution was to bring in another SLX to add to the Team Orange cell. With this new cell and the XYZ machines we can speed up our response times and keep our team engaged in the process,” says John McDonagh.


By adding additional spindles, especially the 2-OPs, which sit next to the Mini MIll, RJ Engineering is maximising its growth potential, while controlling manufacturing costs. The cost of the XYZ 2-OP at around £25,000 amortised over a period of 7-10 years is between £2500 and £3500 per year, when combined into a cell, with a single operator the available labour hours are maximised and productivity increased. Compared to bringing in another operator at an estimated cost of £40,000/year the savings are there to be seen. At RJ Engineering the Team Orange cell consists of the compact XYZ 2-OPs, an XYZ Mini Mill 560, two SLX 425 and one SLX 555 ProTURN lathes and a ProtoTRAK SMX 5000 bed mill.


This latest round of investment brings the total spent by RJ Engineering to over £540,000 in the past four years. “We will continue to do what we do, that is to listen to our customers and provide them with the capability they require from us. With an increased size of components we invested in the SMX 5000 with a 2 metre bed and 850 kg table capacity, the SLX 425 lathes give us the ability to quickly machine one-offs or to produce small batch work efficiently. To optimise our turning capability, we bought the SLX 555 with its 780 mm swing increasing our mid-size capacity. My point is we are always looking to deliver what is best and improve areas of our operation and the XYZ machines and the ProtoTRAK control have helped us to achieve that.”   


While the operation and programming of the XYZ ProtoTRAK control is straightforward, RJ Engineering has invested time in training its operators in its use. This saw an immediate payback with the first 2-OP being commissioned and within an hour it was producing its first parts, programmed at the machine. “This Team Orange cell that we have created with the XYZ machines will provide us with the flexibility and versatility that we need to meet the rapid response times that our customers demand of us. In a breakdown situation they may have systems costing many £1000’s per hour stood idle, and this rapid response team is our way of making sure that they are up and running as quickly as possible.



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