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14-axis Citizen machine offers total flexibility for Markits

14-axis Citizen machine offers total flexibility for Markits

Added to MTDCNC by MTDCNC on 14 November 2012

Upmarket from ‘Fred in his shed’, model engineering specialist Markits is not quite a cottage industry, more a semi-detached house vocation in Watford, as Mark Arscott has a top specification Citizen M16 CNC sliding head turn-mill centre in his extended tandem garage which was made bigger in order to accommodate the bar feed. 

Making full use of the flexibility of the 14-axis Citizen machine, Mr Arscott has turned his hobby as a railway enthusiast into becoming a thriving enterprise supplying very accurate and authentic model train parts that span N gauge (9 mm track size) to Gauge 1(45 mm track size).  These parts are frequently sent to enthusiasts worldwide including some high profile celebrities for which Mr Arscott maintains a very guarded relationship - but is certainly on very close first name terms.

Mr Arscott is also certainly well-known and has often been called in as a consultant by model manufacturers of international reputation to advise on engine and carriage design because of his knowledge, historic records and in particular, his very strict attention to detail.

Said Mr Arscott: “I feel very privileged with life having one of the very few businesses that is almost recession proof.  Anyone interested in model railways can really cut themselves off from day-to-day problems and still enjoy their pastime even when things get very tight.”  Indeed, Mr Arscott is so busy and enthusiastic that the Citizen machine runs unmanned through most nights and if neighbours cared to look they could often see his lights burning in the garage in the early hours of the morning.  So involved in the one-man business, he is either up and performing a bar change, resetting or quietly putting together assemblies such as those of model  train buffers as parts are machined.

He is also very privileged with understanding neighbours and particularly his wife, affectionately referred to as ‘the management’ who helps with the books and fulfilling orders.  “The Citizen is so quiet, apart from the occasional rattle of protest from a bent bar, no-one outside of the garage knows when it is running even in the absolute stillness of the Watford night,” he said. 

The machine produces hundreds of different train and rolling stock parts assorted bearings of different shapes and sizes to buffer housings, axels and crank pins in batches up to an unbelievable 100,000 or so.  Indeed, last year he produced a batch of 70,000 crankpins and already with stock depleted, he ran-off another 27,000 to complete a recent order which he says, he could not really produce in any other practical way other than by using the Citizen.

He has not been a turner or even a machinist all his life starting working life as a farmer, which took him to Australia in 1967, he then joined the merchant navy as a steward, returning to the UK in 1972 to gain his ‘ticket’ as a radio officer.  Spare time at sea enabled him to continue his railway modelling hobby, started in his trainspotting days in the 1950s complete with NHS Milky Bar Kid glasses and obligatory duffle bag.  At sea he would use the on-board machinery and ‘borrowed’ material from engine room spares to produce various miniature components but after some 20 years at sea he joined BT and spent the next decade devoting his spare time to the preservation of main line steam locomotives. 

It was seeking to replicate a particular pattern of a miniature locomotive driving wheel in 1993 that a once in a lifetime opportunity presented itself that lead to the creation of Markits; and the manufacture of Romford/Markits diecast model railway wheels. 

But by 2001 ‘management’ decreed that she would appreciate the return of her dining room and hall as Markits was expanding fast.  This led to a new two storey garage/workshop with office and stockroom upstairs.  At that in time investing in machinery for production was never envisaged which meant the workshop had to be once again to rapidly extended to accommodate his first machine installation and the bar-loader of a Citizen K-16 CNC sliding head turn-mill centre.  “It was one of these contractors than planted the idea of having my own CNC,” he said, reflecting the idea, “I think he really wanted to sell me an ‘old’ slider, but instead in 2005 I opted for the new Citizen K-16.”

Said Mr Arscott: “The positioning of the Citizen proved to be very interesting because of the close proximity to the back door, we had to make a conscious decision as to whether to put dinner in the microwave or the K-16!” Looking back he maintains he never dreamt of owning a machine tool which would have led to a different design of attached building. 

The 3.6 m x 10 m extended garage workshop also houses many rare historical drawings which he often uses to produce any relevant CAD drawings of parts which bit-by-bit were introduced.  These included the likes of driving axles, bearings, crankpins and then cosmetics components such as handrail knobs, safety vlaves, whistles and smokebox door handles.

He describes the K-16 as being very fast and lively but with his creativity and the seeking of producing more complex components he soon felt he was outgrowing its capabilities.  He said: “Basically there was not enough power in the driven tools so in 2009, when the opportunity arose to upgrade to a new Citizen M-16 and I must say this took me into another world.”

From the outset in his venture into being a machinist he went on some training courses and drew on the help of Citizen’s application engineers to get him going.  He said: “They were even calling in for a tea and chat on their way home.  Within weeks he found his capability to make parts was transformed and then realised how productivity was increasing without any greater input or effort. 

He said: “Now with the M16 if I just look at a component drawing or just visualised the part, when I come to combine the turning and milling capability, the flexibility of the control and different ways I can apply the tooling - so far it has always meant, if I can think it - I can make it.”

Such has been the level of Mr Arscott’s development as a machinist that he has even been able to combine what would have been five previous operations on one part by the subcontractor into one using the main and subspindles of the M16.  “It’s just amazing what I can do now. My machine setting times are far shorter, taking around a couple of hours especially against the subcontractor’s cam machine that took days and most important, I can build in very intricate part detail into the machining cycle with total ease.  When it comes to quality, once I run the first part, I know it will look the same throughout the batch so I’m more than happy to let it purr away through the night on larger batches and know it has earned its corn by the morning.”

Materials machined include brass, nickel silver and stainless steel.  Tolerances tend to be held within +/- 0.012 mm but it is surface finish that is his prime concern. “That’s the first thing any customer will see as they open the little ‘Markits’ package,”  he says, “and even though I’m not there, my pride means I like to visualise the satisfied smile as they take the part out.”

Parts vary in size from a 3 mm long N gauge handwheel knob having just an 0.82 mm spherical diameter with a 0.35 mm diameter hole drilled through the ball.  His largest is a 17 mm diameter 40 tooth helical gearwheel which is engraved to identify the number of teeth and left or right hand helix.  The gearwheel is cross-drilled and tapped for a grub-screw that breaks into the part’s 3/16” diameter bore.  He also machines a whole assortment of engraved gears and mating worm wheels. 

Mr Arscott produces miniature high precision door handles for Orient Express coaches, 3 mm diameter handwheels with four very smooth milled curly spokes and a 1 mm spigot, mini crankpin bushes, and airhorns in 7 mm 4 mm and 2 mm scaled sizes with conical internal and external trumpets and a fully machined profile along the 11 mm, 5 mm and 2 mm lengths.  Each has 0.5 mm crossholes for mounting on locomotives.  Such is the attention to detail that he even mills the chequer plate on certain buffer housings where railwaymen would have stood in real life.

One further benefit he has achieved with the installation of the Citizen M16 is that he has been able to maintain most prices to those set in 2008.  “That’s even against the continued upward trend of material prices and this is where productivity improvements can benefit us all,” he adds.

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