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Rapid growth at IES with Hurco VMCs and a Hurco Lathe
Rapid growth at IES with Hurco VMCs and a Hurco Lathe
Rapid growth at IES with Hurco VMCs and a Hurco Lathe
Rapid growth at IES with Hurco VMCs and a Hurco Lathe

Rapid growth at IES with Hurco VMCs and a Hurco Lathe

Added to MTDCNC by Hurco Europe Ltd on 28 August 2013

The last 12 months have been ground-breaking for subcontract machinist, Justin Green, a former apprentice toolmaker who set up Intelligent Engineering Solutions (IES) in 2006.

By 2012, he still had his one original machining centre, employed a single setter / operator and worked in the same 600 sq ft unit in Waterlooville where he started. He has since moved twice and now operates from premises five times that size in Portsmouth, running three new Hurco vertical machining centres (VMCs) and a CNC lathe. His wife, sister-in-law, two sons and a nephew have joined the business, together with a mature apprentice.

The company is looking to employ two further machinists, but is finding difficulty in recruiting the right people – a familiar story in today's manufacturing sector.

Until last year, Mr Green's business model was unconventional. He supplemented production on his single machine tool by putting work out to other subcontractors. It allowed him to offer customers a comprehensive one-stop-shop, as he was able to source capacity to suit the contracts he won, however large and diverse, taking responsibility for ensuring that parts were to specification and delivered on time in return for a mark-up. The system was not ideal, however, as some suppliers were unreliable and it was difficult to offer consistent quality.

Work gradually increased, supplying mechanical parts for contact lens manufacturing equipment and solar shading projects in airports and other public buildings, as well as to the tobacco and motorsport industries. The income allowed sufficient money to be set aside which, together with regional growth funding obtained through Lombard, enabled the purchase of three Hurco machines in 2012. Two were VM10 vertical machining centres, one with a 4th axis indexer, and the other a TM6 CNC lathe with Hydrafeed short bar magazine.

At the start of 2013, IES won a contract to supply a family of 12 different satellite parts in aluminium, with 100-off required of each per month. It ties up two of the VM10s for half of their time, working 24 hours a day. So a third VM10 was purchased in March 2013, using proceeds from the sale of the original VMC as a deposit, so now the Portsmouth subcontract shop operates exclusively Hurco machines.

When Mr Green was asked for the rationale behind his choice of machine supplier, as is often the case the reply centred on the ease with which the machining centres and lathes can be programmed using Hurco's proprietary WinMax conversational software.

He commented, 'We know a lot of subcontractors that use Hurcos. Everyone likes the speed with which a drawing can be turned into a cutter path using the drop-down menus on the touch-screen control, without the need for G and M codes; and how quick it is to learn how to do it, even with little or no previous experience.

'It is unbelievable; they have thought of everything. The whole process is simple and methodical, from writing the program by keying in the dimensions, through setting the tools, to on-screen simulation of the cycle to make sure it is correct before cutting metal.'

Mr Green advised that all IES operators including Karl Green, hitherto exclusively a manual turner, as well as the apprentice, learnt to use WinMax quickly after just two days' training at Hurco's High Wycombe showroom and technical centre, despite none of them having had previous experience of the control.

He also pointed out that the Hurcos were less expensive than other machines of similar specification that he considered. The first two VM10s and the TM6 lathe cost about the same as two VMCs from the other shortlisted supplier, so effectively the lathe was gained 'for free'.

Some tolerances are tight, typically ± 0.02 mm on the contact lens machinery parts and 0.01 mm on shaft diameters and bores for the tobacco sector. These are easily held on the Hurco machines. Materials range from various grades of stainless steel and mild steel to aluminium and some plastics. Batch sizes range from one-off to around 1,000-off for prismatic components and more for turned parts.

As to the future, IES is looking to expand its turning section and introduce larger prismatic machining capacity. It is also considering adding 5-axis machining to help win Formula 1 work, principally 3+2 axis machining, particularly during the busy closed season.

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