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Rapid set up is key at 4B Precision Engineering
Rapid set up is key at 4B Precision Engineering
Rapid set up is key at 4B Precision Engineering
Rapid set up is key at 4B Precision Engineering

Rapid set up is key at 4B Precision Engineering

Added to MTDCNC by Hurco Europe Ltd on 29 September 2015

A Hurco can be programmed on the shop floor, set up and cutting metal well before another machine with G-code programming is even ready to run

With a turret mill, a manual lathe and one employee, Steve Forbister founded contract machinists 4B Precision Engineering on the Pennywell Industrial Estate in Sunderland 10 years ago. They were soon joined by engineering manager Adrian Hadlington, who had served an apprenticeship with Mr Forbister and subsequently worked with him at a local subcontractor, where Hurco vertical machining centres (VMCs) were the prismatic metalcutting machines of choice.

This is also the case at 4B Precision, where six were installed between 2007 and 2013. Last year, the company’s first CNC lathe from the same supplier was added to extend the benefits of Hurco’s proprietary WinMax conversational programming to the production of turned parts. They account for about 40 per cent of the subcontractor’s throughput.

Mr Hadlington commented, 'Typical batch size here is 20-off and we quite frequently machine single parts. It means that quick set-up times are essential to allow us to quote competitive prices. We do not have offline programming, so we rely entirely on manual data input at the machines.

'On VMCs and lathes with controls that use G-code NC programming, cycle creation is time consuming and error prone. In contrast, Hurco’s WinMax language bypasses G- and M-codes.

'The cycle is built up in the CNC system as the operator follows conversational prompts on the screen. This is much quicker and he can simulate it graphically to check for errors before production starts.

'We can program a Hurco VMC or lathe, set up the component and start cutting metal well before a similar cycle is even ready to run on a CNC machine programmed by inputting G-codes.'

4B Precision is an archetypal contract machine shop. It undertakes a wide variety of work, from a 3 mm diameter turned sleeve for a battery through mid-size parts like an aluminium gearbox body to a three metre long lifting platen for a brick maker. Steels, aluminium, copper and plastics are the most common materials processed. The current strength of the subcontractor’s business places it at the point where a second shift could soon be implemented.

The latest machining centre to be installed, in 2013, is the largest with a 1,270 x 660 x 610 mm working envelope. It is a Hurco VMX50t with twin-screen control that allows a conversationally-programmed cycle to be viewed on the second screen as it is being created. To produce the brick lifting platen, as the steel component is longer than the width of the Hurco VMC, both side doors were opened and the workpiece repositioned for machining in two hits. Such versatility is useful to subcontractors; certainly it avoided having to turn the brick platen business away.

Further versatility is provided by a 4th axis rotary table on the other VMCs on the shop floor. A tubular exhaust manifold with 30 holes around the outside is machined much faster and less expensively than when repeated refixturing in a jig was required. Likewise, a 300 mm long, 30 mm diameter scroll for a battery production line has a helical groove machined along its length, during which a single half-turn of the 4th axis is required. This would be difficult to achieve on a 3-axis machine.

Five CNC lathes including the Hurco TM10i provide 4B Precision’s turning capacity. Having WinMax software in the latter’s control has proved beneficial to the subcontractor, not only due to the speed of set-up, but also because expertise from the milling section can be used in the turning shop if staff are on holiday. There is a high degree of commonality between the two versions of the programming software.

Even though it is a relatively small company employing 15 people, 4B Precision has adopted a policy of training its staff internally. Three apprentices are currently on the shop floor and another operator has only just finished his three years. The two latest recruits, who arrived in May 2015, were referred by Seta in Washington, Tyne & Wear, a not-for-profit provider of industry-recognised engineering training.

4B Precision recently bought a plasma cutter to bring that function in-house, allowing it to control quality more closely and satisfy customers’ short lead-time requirements.

With respect to prismatic metalcutting, the company is considering entry into 5-axis machining. Automatic positioning of components will avoid additional manual clampings, shorten production times and make tolerances easier to hold. The capacity will be provided either by a dedicated 5-axis Hurco or by retrofitting one of the 3-axis VMCs with a 2-axis CNC tilting rotary table.

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