HC Deb 07 February 1968 vol 758 cc168-70W
Mr. R. C. Mitchell

asked the Minister of Technology if he will provide further support to encourage the use of numerically controlled machine tools, having regard to the contribution they can make to efficient production.

Mr. Benn:

My Department is supporting measures to encourage the production and wider use of numerically controlled machine tools because of their important contribution to productivity, reduced costs, and greater accuracy in machining. Numerical control lends itself to widespread use by small and medium sized firms, as well as large, engaged on batch production.

The use of numerically controlled machines in this country is growing, but not nearly fast enough. This is partly due to the genuine difficulty for many firms in assessing the technical and economic value of numerical control for their machining requirements in comparison with conventional methods, and making the necessary investment appraisal. To assist industry in this I am establishing a Numerical Control Advisory and Demonstration Service.

Full details are being made available by my Department, but briefly the Service will be provided by the Production Engineering Research Association under contract to my Department and by the Royal Aircraft Establishment, Farnborough, P.E.R.A. will concentrate on the economic, investment and production planning aspects of the adoption of numerical control, and will provide courses for senior production engineers and accountants and symposia for senior management. It will also have the important task of providing a consultancy service for firms by carrying out appraisals of the suitability of numerical control in their works.

The Royal Aircraft Establishment will provide courses with a technical bias for designers and production and planning engineers. It will also provide facilities and technical support for individual firms in the programming, machining and inspection of components.

The cost of this Service to the Government is estimated at £685,000 over the next 3 years. This includes £350,000 for the provision of numerically controlled machine tools and associated equipment at R.A.E. and P.E.R.A. The remaining sum is intended for a major part of the cost of the courses at P.E.R.A., and for meeting between 50 per cent. and 90 per cent. of the cost of appraisals by P.E.R.A.

The courses at R.A.E. are already in operation and are being well supported by industry. The remaining parts of the Service will come into operation progressively between now and July.

Complementary to this Service my Department is supporting the establishment of a numerical control centre at High Wycombe by Airmec-A.E.I. Ltd. This centre provides education and demonstration on numerical control. It contains a workshop equipped with a range of machine tools with Airmec-A.E.I. control systems for the purpose of carrying out sub-contract work on a commercial basis, and thereby proving the economic viability of numerical control for potential users. This centre is already in operation.

These facilities will enable firms to learn what numerical control can offer and try it out for themselves. I hope that industry will respond well to this initiative to spread more widely a proven aid to more efficient production.