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5 axis CNC machining expands base and raises productivity
5 axis CNC machining expands base and raises productivity
5 axis CNC machining expands base and raises productivity
5 axis CNC machining expands base and raises productivity

5 axis CNC machining expands base and raises productivity

Added to MTDCNC by Hurco Europe Ltd on 23 June 2014

Ten CNC machine tools have been installed in as many years at Rutland subcontractor, Hi-Spec Precision Engineering, to support year-on-year growth of between 20 and 30 per cent. The latest machine to arrive on the shop floor, in August 2013, was the company’s first 5-axis vertical machining centre. It is a trunnion-type Hurco VM10U, which joined two 4-axis models from the same supplier.

Hi-Spec director, Darren Grainger said, 'We invested in 5-axis capacity for two reasons. First, we are keen to expand our business by carrying out fully interpolative machining that we were previously unable to take on.

'Secondly, we wanted to produce components with tightly toleranced features more efficiently, in fewer set-ups and with less operator attendance, using 3-plus-2-axis strategies.

'In this way, we are able to make a reasonable profit on jobs where margins were previously very slim.'

Mr Grainger was formerly technical manager at a hydraulics manufacturer and brought those skills with him when he started his subcontract business in Market Overton in 2004. His brother Gavin, father, mother and sister-in-law all help in the business, which still derives 60 per cent of its turnover from the hydraulics sector. Components machined at the Market Overton factory frequently find their way into hydraulic actuators and valves, rock crushers and access platforms. Automotive and agricultural parts are also routinely produced.

The variety of materials processed is extensive, ranging from free-cutting and mild steels, EN8, 16T, 19T and 24T alloy steels, and 303, 304 and 316 stainless steel to bronze, brass, aluminium and plastics. Batch sizes range from one-off to hundreds for prismatic machining, while turned parts can be produced in their thousands. Customers stretch from the south coast of England across to Norfolk and as far north as Scotland.

The first Hurco machining centre to be installed was a VM1 fitted with an indexing head, which arrived in 2009 and was soon filled with work. Despite the recession, this and subsequent years were good for Hi-Spec, which enjoyed double-digit growth throughout.

Even though there were other makes of VMC on-site, the Hurco machine was selected as it was ideal in terms of its large machining volume (660 x 356 x 457 mm) in a small footprint, which Mr Grainger said is little more than that of a turret mill. A compact machine was an advantage, as space is limited in the factory.

A video of the VM1 in operation was so impressive that it was purchased without anyone at Hi-Spec seeing an actual machine. An additional advantage was the WinMax software, which allows rapid conversational programming. As 3-axis programs are entered at the control 95 per cent of the time at Hi-Spec, this is of major benefit to the company.

The first Hurco machine installation was so successful that a VM10 model with slightly larger linear traverses was added in November 2011. It included additional functionality within WinMax, such as the ability to automatically enter code for single- and multi-start thread milling, which has proved useful to Hi-Spec.

Since the two machines were installed, swarf augurs have been retrofitted to both and the control software has been upgraded to WinMax Version 9. Mr Grainger pointed out that its Ultimotion software feature with 10,000-block look-ahead makes the machines noticeably faster and more productive, even on 3+2-axis jobs.

Similarly, with the latest 5-axis purchase, almost all cycles are programmed on the shop floor if they involve positioning and clamping the two rotary axes. Only fully interpolative cycles are programmed using a OneCNC 5-axis CADCAM package.

The Hurco VM10U was operational as soon as it was commissioned. The first component to undergo simultaneous 5-axis machining was a 300 mm diameter bearing pad for a rock crusher, made from a cast disc of PB1 phosphor-bronze worth £400.

Darren Grainger was confident putting such a job on his first-ever 5-axis machine after just a few days’ training at Market Overton, which also served to highlight extra ways to extract even more productivity from the 4-axis machines. Gavin Grainger, a skilled fabricator with no previous experience of CNC before joining Darren in 2008, also quickly became adept at using WinMax software.

Since the first VM10Ui was installed, Hi-Spec has taken on so much work for the 5-axis machine that in June 2014 the company had no option but to order a second, identical model from Hurco to keep up with customer demand. Purchase of a bigger 3-axis Hurco VMC is also envisaged to match larger capacity lathes that Hi-Spec is installing.

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