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ICEoxford is chilled about benefits  of in-house machining
ICEoxford is chilled about benefits  of in-house machining
ICEoxford is chilled about benefits  of in-house machining
ICEoxford is chilled about benefits  of in-house machining

ICEoxford is chilled about benefits of in-house machining

Added to MTDCNC by XYZ Machine Tools on 05 June 2017

ICEoxford is a world-leading designer and manufacturer of innovative cryogenic Engineering systems, specialising in ultra-low temperature (ULT) equipment for the cryogenic research community. As a result, its output is made up of bespoke systems that will end up in the research departments of some of the leading universities and government establishments around the globe. ICEoxford systems are either wet or dry units that operate between one kelvin and 50 millikelvin and are being used extensively in cooling chips for use in running super and quantum computers.

Founded in 2004, ICEoxford has developed as a researcher and manufacturer of photonic and solid state cryogenic systems, with the equipment it manufactures used across a diverse range of applications, but current trends see many being deployed in the development of super and quantum computers, where the processing chips have to be super-cooled. Photonic systems have a high cooling power (300 milliwatts) and operate at around 1 Kelvin (-273 deg C) while solid state systems have less cooling power but can operate at temperatures as low as 50 millikelvin. “Our USP is that we make bespoke machines and tailor them to an individual customer’s environment. So while we have a suite of products, no customer wants the same thing. It is this aspect of our business that makes us different, but also puts added pressure on manufacturing, particularly the need for machined parts, as there is a large requirement for one-off and small batch production,” says Chris Busby, Managing Director, ICEoxford.

With this in mind, ICEoxford’s Materials Manager Garry Hudson was tasked with reviewing the company’s machining requirements, as the vast majority of machined parts were being put out to sub-contract, causing backlogs in production. His key tasks were to improve agility, workflow and reduce costs, and the decision was taken to bring machining in-house, as Garry explains: “We were spending a lot of money externally sourcing these components and then they were being delivered late, which had a knock-on effect for our deliveries to customers as our customers demand rapid response. This was complicated by the fact that everything we build is bespoke, meaning there are always times when things need to be modified. Even our most efficient sub-contractor would say two days to machine a part, by bringing the machining in-house with an XYZ SMX 3500 bedmill and an XYZ SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe, we now have the power to say... stop what you’re doing and get on with this straight away, and that can make a massive difference to us.”

The XYZ SMX 3500 bed mill is a three-axis CNC machine with 530 mm of programmable Z-axis travel along with 787 mm and 508 mm in the X and Y axes. Additional versatility is provided by the inclusion of a swivel head and manual quill and a 5000 revs/min, 3.75 kW (5hp), programmable spindle. Similarly, while the smallest ProtoTRAK controlled lathe in XYZ’s range, the SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe has a capacity capable of handling a wide variety of work. It features a 400 mm swing over the bed, 54 mm spindle bore and 760 mm between centres, while the 2500 revs/min, 5.75 Kw (7.5hp), spindle aids high metal removal rates. Along with the machines, ICEoxford also employed a machinist/programmer who, like everyone else in the company, had no experience of the ProtoTRAK control system fitted to the XYZ machines. But the short training course at XYZ’s Nuneaton showroom allowed them to quickly get up and running. Currently all parts are programmed at the control, but ICEoxford is investing in XYZ’s offline programming software and DXF and Parasolid converters in order to take programming away from the shopfloor.

“The two machines were fully justified by being able to bring in-house the volume of subcontract machining that we had and by the improved agility/productivity. With our production schedules being tight we never really had time to give it to somebody who will say ‘yeah I can do that in a week for you’ then deliver it in three weeks. Cost was also a factor, I didn’t want to be paying somebody £400 for a £200 component for it to arrive after we wanted it. Having the XYZ machines has given us control over delivery, quality and costs, allowing us to improve our own delivery performance.”

This agility was highlighted in March, ICEoxford’s year-end month when, having had the XYZ machines for less than six weeks, the machines were to play an important role in boosting the company’s year-end figures. “We had an incredibly busy end of year, and to be honest, without the new machines we wouldn’t have delivered half of the cryogenic systems that we did. We had the machines and the materials, so it was a case of getting on with it. “That ability to get four cryogenic systems out of the door in March had a significant impact on our profitability for the year,” says Chris Busby. “It doesn’t matter what people tell you, you can have the best sub-contractor in the world, and we had some great guys that we sent work to, but same day/next day isn’t always possible. Some of our systems will take 48 hours to cool down before we can run a test on it so we want to be able to get it running by Friday afternoon, allow it to cool over the weekend and run tests on Monday morning, but if we can’t get components on a Friday afternoon we lose all that time. Having that ability to say we need to make a few changes and be able to make those there and then made a difference to our bottom line. Bringing machining in-house was a massive moment for this business.”

The XYZ machines have already made a significant impact on how ICEoxford operates its business through productivity gains and cost reductions. “Having no experience of machining we relied on others for advice and XYZ has a good reputation, and with their help we have been able to bring between 60/70 per cent of our machining under our direct control in a very short space of time.” says Garry Hudson. “As a business we have to provide good customer service, so we know its importance, and XYZ is just the same with its excellent levels of customer support. For a business that had never focused on machining before, with the XYZ’s in place, we are turning out better quality work that is costing us 40 per cent less than when we used sub-contract.”

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