Bloxwich Engineering Ltd.

The Advanced Engineering Cluster has supported collaboration between five West Midlands organisations to produce an innovative product with distinct competitive advantage in the global marketplace.

For several decades, the market in hinges that allow a van rear door to rotate through 270º has been dominated by a German company. Early in 2005, Bloxwich Engineering Ltd, manufacturers of a wide range of automotive components, devised a hinge concept that would be cheaper to manufacture, last longer and look better.

“Development of the concept into a reliable product required many prototype parts for testing”, said Colin Taylor, Research and Development Manager at Bloxwich Engineering. “As some of the components in the new hinge were to be made from zinc die castings, we needed to produce prototype tools for this process.

“We were well aware of the potential of direct metal laser sintering technology and the facilities available through the Advanced Engineering Cluster at the University of Wolverhampton’s Telford-based Innovative Product Development Centre (IPDC). Always keen to exploit the latest technology and filter this through to our supplier base, we decided to introduce the technology to suppliers of our zinc die cast components. Using IPDC’s latest sintering technology, the toolmaker, Lodent Precision Ltd of Brownhills, designed and developed a die-casting tool to make castings for the new hinge.”

“The resources and expertise at the IPDC enabled us to produce rapid prototype tooling before committing to full production”, said Jeff Bates, Director of Lodent. “We were pleased to be able to take advantage of the facilities that the Centre can offer. We like to work with our customers, developing solutions to meet their needs and delivering tools that are ready for production.”

Close collaboration between the University of Wolverhampton’s IPDC, Bloxwich Engineering and its suppliers has produced innovative and technically advanced tooling designs, which can only be manufactured by the direct metal laser sintering process, the first in the UK.

The final zinc die cast components are manufactured at T & W Pressure Castings of Tipton and Phoenix Tavinor Engineering Ltd. of Tamworth. Alan Walker, Managing Director of the Foundry Division at Phoenix Tavinor, is enthusiastic about the process of developing rapid tooling solutions “to help UK companies keep a competitive edge on foreign rivals”.

Clive Percival, the Advanced Engineering Cluster’s senior design associate, feels the key to success has been the four organisations’ keen involvement and desire to collaborate to gain knowledge and break new ground. The project has been managed using OPM Creator, web-based software for engineering collaboration and project management, and has in turn provided useful feedback for OPM’s developer, Mr Duncan Blakemore. “We intend to carry on pushing the boundaries”, said Clive. “We will continue producing the castings to gather further information on their performance.”