We all know the safety advantages of air bags in cars and with the development of the Point 2 range of air jackets horse riders and motorcyclists can benefit from similar levels of protection should a fall occur. Demand is such that the two companies involved in there design and sale have combined to form a new venture to manufacture the precision components required to activate the air jacket in less than 100 milliseconds.
The initial idea for the inflatable jacket was the brainchild of Lee Middleton of West Sussex-based Point 2, who called on the control design skills of Warren Stanley at Retro Control in Bolton to develop the intricate trigger mechanism. This trigger consists of multiple intricate components manufactured from aluminium and stainless steel and as neither company had any machining capacity they were put out to subcontract with suppliers in the UK and overseas. However, as the popularity of the air jackets grew the supply chain began to falter and the decision was taken by Lee and Warren to form a third company, Retro Point, to provide the machining capacity and allow greater control of lead times and product development and quality.
“When we sat down and talked it through it made perfect sense to buy our own machine and start to produce the parts ourselves. That said, we were novices when it came to machining so the investment that we were going to make was somewhat of a gamble on our part and the choice of machine tool and cutting tool partners would play a decisive part in our success or failure, along what was going to be quite a steep learning curve,” says Warren Stanley. The choice of machine was dictated by the size and accuracy of the parts to be machined, with Warren aware that a machine capable of one-hit machining, including milling and engraving was the only way to maintain accuracy and consistency. His choice was a CT52 LTY Compact Turn turning centre from XYZ Machine Tools, which has live tooling, +/- 35mm Y axis and extended Z axis travel of 525 mm.
Having sourced the machine Retro Point turned its attention to tooling and called on WNT (UK) and its Technical Sales Engineer Matt Darbyshire to help out. Matt took away a bag full of parts and came back with a tooling list and cutting data, and worked with Warren to prove out machining strategies. Due to the size of the components and some extremely small diameter bore, one of the key products put forward by WNT was its UltraMini series of groove/turn/bore tools. These solid carbide tools are capable of turning and profiling bores down to 0.5 mm diameter and are also available in grooving forms with groove widths as narrow as 0.5 mm possible. Tool life is measured in hundreds of part on stainless steel components.
“The parts being machined by Retro point are quite small and complex so we spent some time working through the entire range of parts to create a tooling list and feeds and speed suggestions. The mix of aluminium and stainless steel parts was also slightly unusual the mix of tools reflected this. In addition to cutting tools we also provided Retro Point with our driven toolholders and, something that many people don’t associate WNT with, a bar puller that that makes use of a simple mechanical system that is ideal for the work that Retro Point is machining,” says WNT’s Matt Darbyshire.
Due to the nature of the product and the fact that it has to be 100 per cent reliable, the tolerances that needed to be achieved are extremely tight, down to 0.03 mm in many cases. As novice machinists the advice that WNT’s Matt Darbyshire provided was invaluable to achieving these consistently, as even basic machining operations, such as parting off were new to Warren, so suggestions such as using handed parting tools, to ensure that the components were pip free were very welcome. “The help and support we received from WNT and XYZ played a major part in the relatively short space of time that it took us to get up to speed and be producing quality components in the volumes that we needed. Our inexperience also meant that we pushed WNT’s reputation for service and delivery to the limits. I regularly placed orders right up to the 6:30 pm deadline and still had the tools the next day. Matt was also on the receiving end of texts over the weekend asking for advice, which he happily responded to,” says Warren Stanley.
The success of the Point 2 air jackets are there ability to be recharged by the user after they have inflated, by simply refitting a new CO2 canister, where other makes require the user to return it for factory service. The expansion into the motorcycle market, with several police forces around the world already providing Point 2 jackets to their motorcycle patrols, has also seen the development of Kevlar linings to reduce weight and with the claim of being the fastest air jacket in terms of inflation and it being the only air jacket to achieve the EM16214 motorcycle safety standard will see demand for manufactured parts grow.