“This revolutionary design for machining rear axles is going to change the truck industry forever”
July 8, 2021
Unisign introduces UNIAXLE
We have already set the worldwide trend for machining front axles for trucks and buses with our UNITWIN6000 machine. Now we are at the eve of another revolutionary machine design for the truck industry: the UNIAXLE. A dedicated CNC machine where welded and cast rear axles can be machined in a single setup, at high speed and with the utmost precision. You would expect nothing less from Unisign. In October, we will be giving our clients an exclusive glimpse into the ‘heart of our machine room’. Bart Bouten (Applications Engineer) and William Thijssen (Mechanical Development Engineer) have been closely involved in developing the UNIAXLE. “No one has ever attempted this before.”
Thanks to the success of the UNITWIN6000, truck manufacturers and automotive industry suppliers all around the world know Unisign. More than two million front axles are processed on this type of CNC machine each year. “Developing a machine for milling rear axles too seemed like a logical step,” explains Bart Bouten. “But more importantly, the market research we conducted in 2017 showed there’s considerable demand for such a machine. Many front axle manufacturers also make rear axles, but machining a rear axle is a much more complex task.”
From concept to prototype
Once the level of interest became clear, Unisign’s developers started the ball rolling. In 2017, we developed the first technological concept for how the machine’s core processing could work. William Thijssen: “Our customers were eager to see a prototype. So we started engineering one in 2019. I worked on this for almost 18 months together with Unisign’s CEO Paul van Ruth. Naturally, we had many discussions with colleagues from other departments, including Bart, over that period.” To be clear, there will not be a fully operational machine to see in October, but clients will be able to see Unisign’s innovative solution for the biggest challenge that processing compound rear axles presents. More about this later.
Cast and welded axles present new challenges
Compared to machining a front axle, machining a rear axle is complex and challenging, as there is considerably more functionality in a rear axle. Welded steel axles are generally processed in their component parts on multiple CNC machines, then welded together and machined again as an assembled unit. Cast axles are processed as a single assembly, often on multiple machines. One of those operations is turning the end of the axle shaft, the rear axle ends. “It’s far from ideal if you have to turn the axle ends of a fully assembled axle on a CNC machine,” Bart explains. “There’s considerable imbalance in the product and that was exactly where the challenge lay for us.”
Rear axle ends
William: “In this new design, we’ve focused on the machining operation for both axle ends. A perfectly symmetrical product rotates nicely around its axis, but that’s certainly not the case here. A rear axle has considerable imbalance, so you cannot rotate it at high speed. You’re forced to work at low speed which complicates the cutting process. But we have now found a solution for this.”
The UNIAXLE machine design is the ultimate example of innovative thinking. Bart: “We have devised a solution whereby it’s not the axle that rotates, but the machining tools that turn around the rear axle. This is a ground-breaking development for machining rear axles.” William: “This has never been done for a specific product such as a rear axle. A rear axle is quite large and when machining the axle ends you have to consider the wide range of diameters. So it’s normally not possible to do the machining with a single tool and under ideal milling conditions. The force applied differs when you rotate a piece at different speeds, making it hard to keep everything under control.”
A single machine for everything: faster and more accurate
Bart and William are convinced that the UNIAXLE will change the way truck rear axles are manufactured forever. Bart: “Currently, rear axles are made in large production lines with many different subassembly steps, and this means you need many different machines. And you have to set up the subassembly stations again for each different type of rear axle. That takes up valuable time and increases the chance of making errors. Our vision is that you should process everything on a single machine wherever possible. That’s much faster and more accurate.”
William: “What’s more, final machining of welded rear axles will be much more efficient with our new UNIAXLE. You won’t have to pre-machine all the parts separately and you’ll be able to machine an assembled rear axle in one go on a single CNC machine.”
To sum up: when you use the UNIAXLE in your production process, you will need less machinery, less floor space, fewer operators and less time for machining rear axles. And more importantly, production will be faster and more accurate. The end result will be increased and higher quality output.
Under one roof
Unisign is a family-owned business with a strong tradition of innovation which develops and manufactures CNC machines. The concept for the UNIAXLE was developed entirely in house. William: “We have developed a completely new machining head for machining the ends of the rear axle. Nothing like this existed before. The UNIAXLE is the first Unisign machine that utilises this new technique.”
William: “With each of the techniques currently available, you have to compromise between accuracy and efficiency. Either you can machine at the desired speed, but due to the imbalance in the product you will have lower quality, or you can machine at a lower speed, which has a negative effect on the efficiency. It’s one or the other. We have now succeeded in creating a machine that doesn’t compromise on either of these parameters. As a result, you will be able to machine rear axles on the UNIAXLE with a wide range of diameters accurately and at high speed.””
We will continue working on our prototype so you can view it in operation at our official presentation to Unisign clients in October. This will be our first demonstration where you can see for yourself just how easy it is to manufacture the complex rear axles with the axle ends, with our new CNC machine. We expect to deliver the first fully operational UNIAXLE machine about 12 months after we receive the first order. We are curious to know which truck manufacturer will take the lead.
Do you want to find out more about our new UNIAXLE machine design?
Register here for our presentation in October.