WORKS VISIT – EDWARDS HIGH VACUUM LTD.
Dolphin Road, Shoreham – 9th Nov. & 7th Dec. 1988.
We were welcomed with a cup of coffee and an introductory talk when we learned that the Company, a subsidiary of B.O.C., is exclusively engaged in producing equipment for creating and maintaining vacuum – as our Vice President remarked, “a great deal of expertise with nothing as its objective.” Edwards first moved to Shoreham when they took over a factory largely engaged in machining work for them. Later expansion produced a second unit on the opposite side of the railway, a transport manager’s nightmare as we discovered when travelling between the two. The Shoreham Works manufactures Rootes type blowers, bladed extractors and, quite recently, turbos. The ultimate vacuum devices, diffusion pumps, are made at the headquarters in Crawley, where are sited the design and development departments. The principal customers are in the microchip industry, mainly in America. The Company is looking for European business, but there is fierce competition from within that E.E.C.
Though group production is the basic policy, site restrictions have imposed limitations. Equipped with safety over-specs, we first saw the machining of large rotors and bodies from bought-in castings.
There is very little fabrication or forming. The principal materials used are cast iron, in one of its many modern forms, and aluminium. Machining is therefore a finishing rather than a roughing out process, much of the work being carried out on multi-operation numerically controlled machines. Investment is aimed at reliable output with minimum down time for maintenance or breakdown rather than minimum capital cost; sadly this seems to have led to the purchase of machine tools exclusively from Germany and Japan. In addition to the instruction tapes, operators’ V.D.U.s. etc., we were shown devices for detecting defective tools by torque and temperature measurement and for remote tool changing.
Following a brief look at the large exhauster assembly – where we actually saw a file – in use – we viewed the test bay. Each product is given a performance and leak test, the latter particularly important where flammable or toxic gases are being handled. The tour ended with an external inspection of the clean room and sight of the means for producing “dry” seals and for machining bladed turbo rotor segments from solid discs.
Surprisingly, machine loading is carried out by hand using overhead hoists for larger items. No robots! However we were told that a study of material and product handling is in progress, experiments with stacker trucks having been unsuccessful, partly from safety considerations.