A.W. Bell Pty Ltd setting new standards in specialised manufacturing in Australia

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Privately owned Melbourne family business A.W. Bell Pty Ltd is achieving major export contracts and expansion based on customer service, consistent high quality output and on-time delivery. It is today a leading industry 4.0 enterprise in the highly specialised field of complex precision metal parts based on investment and sand casting processes.

Founded in 1952 by Alan Bell, the company has grown steadily from its foundation as a patternmaker for the Australian foundry industry and has successfully passed through three generations to evolve from pattern makers to high end automotive supplier and to being an integral part of global defence, aerospace, space and biomedical device supply chains.

Today the company operates from its modern 13,000 square metre production facility in Dandenong South, Victoria and is an aerospace AS9100D accredited supplier of complex metal parts incorporating investment casting, sand casting, rapid prototyping using 3D printing, production machining and tier-one assembly technologies. Employing some 100 highly skilled personnel A.W. Bell is a specialist in high quality metal products made from advanced ferrous and non-ferrous materials and continues to be a developer of advanced technology.

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Continuous improvement together with research and development has been critical to the company’s success. Technological developments such as the Aluminium Billet Equivalent (ABE) process which is at the forefront of global manufacturing, has seen the company successfully transition its business away from automotive component manufacturing into high end aerospace, biomedical, space and defence product manufacture.

To be competitive in the modern marketplace the company recognised that adopting Industry 4.0 and Smart Process Engineering early would provide the company with a strategic advantage. With forward planning out 5 years, the overall objective has been to integrate the very latest world-class digital and physical technologies to streamline operations and promote the company’s strategic growth in bio-medical, aerospace, space and defence programs.

“Digitization of production management across the foundry and production machining operations from the receipt of raw materials through to the delivery of final components is now a reality,” said Chief Executive Officer, Sam Bell. “We have embedded the digital monitoring of components at individual steps in the manufacturing value chain creating a serialised record of each part at every processing point today achieving the highest compliance with global aerospace traceability standards,” he said.

Investment in world leading technology and machinery has been an important element in the success of A.W. Bell and significant investment in high end CNC machines goes back as early as 1985 with the purchase of the first Okuma machine model MC-6VA OSP-5000M-G. In 2017 and 2018 the company commissioned two new Okuma CNC Vertical Machining Centres - a model MU5000V and a model MU-6300V (P) each with OSP-300MA-H Control and impressive 6APC Pallet pool system providing automation and excellent capacity.

These have been followed with the recent introduction of an Okuma CNC Horizontal Machining Centre model MA-600H ll with OSP-P300MA control which is one of the largest in the Okuma Horizontal range with 10APC capacity. This machine replaces two other existing machines dramatically reducing labour costs with longer unmanned run time and remote control.

“Our experience with Okuma has been exceptional as these machines produce components for safety critical and high performance low volume automotive, aerospace, land defence and bio-medical customers,” commented Sam Bell. “The high degree of consistent accuracy of parts with tight tolerances and the fact that we have achieved a 20% improvement in cycle times and can cope with extremely low volume as a result of the large tool capacity within the machines gives us a strong competitive edge,” said Sam. “Our own experience and research within industry clearly confirmed that Okuma was considered to be a leader in this field with high end machinery and the back-up service and training has been outstanding. This combined with the intuitive operating system and high accuracy of the machines has meant all of our operators are extremely keen to be involved in running the equipment.  Looking to the future, the latest machines have the capability of machining Titanium and with higher accuracy and capacity to meet increased business we are in an excellent position to continue to grow,” said Sam.

This new automated technology with the Okuma machine centres allows 5-axis machining of highly complex components and provides real time processing information and feedback on available capacity for response to critical customer timelines. The technology significantly boosts cycle times and throughput and also provides superior control over batch repeatability. The pallet pool system and accuracy of the new machines allows them to run unmanned over multiple shifts, significantly reducing labour costs.

The company has also installed new world-leading robotics for shell dipping in investment casting which has enabled full automation of the line and continuous monitoring of production variables in real-time. The robotics is a technological first for an Australian foundry.

Major plans for future growth of this exciting Australian manufacturer is associated with moving into vacuum melting of Titanium investment castings primarily for aerospace and space platforms. Currently the majority of high value added products made by vacuum melting are produced in the USA and Europe with only a comparatively small proportion manufactured elsewhere. According to A.W. Bell there is currently no capacity in Australia for the production of high value-add cast products manufactured by vacuum investment casting of Titanium, where exceptional levels of quality are required.

With export sales now exceeding 65% of the company’s turnover (up from just 10% 5 years ago) with high quality cast and machine parts exported to parts of Europe, Asia and North America it is not surprising that A.W. Bell  was the recipient of the Governor of Victoria Export Award in 2016. In 2019 aerospace and defence sales represented approximately 40% with exports of biomedical products to Europe constituting an additional 20%.

A.W. Bell has been successful in securing principal supplier status with some major international suppliers in defence contracts based on its consistent world leading expertise, high quality and on-time delivery. The company also exports machinery through its machinery division with upwards of 95% of its products being exported in this category.

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With its world class engineering expertise, continuous improvement, investment in R & D and into new materials and capabilities for current and future market opportunities A.W. Bell seeks to maintain its competitive advantage and expand in the global market.  As one of the world’s specialists in the production of high value, low volume castings in exotic materials with an emphasis on demanding applications A.W. Bell Pty Ltd represents Australian advanced technology at its best.

Okuma Australia Managing Director Dean McCarroll commended A.W. Bell on their exceptional business model with emphasis on today’s ‘Smart Factory’. “It is a great privilege for Okuma to receive their custom and to work alongside such a dynamic company as A.W. Bell as it continues to expand its market internationally, gaining respect with principal supplier status with world leading companies”, he said