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Machining of stainless steel is Ideal for our Hurco's

Machining of stainless steel is Ideal for our Hurco's

Added to MTDCNC by Hurco Europe Ltd on 06 February 2013

Cumbernauld-based subcontractor, Cowie Engineering, is a good example of the type of entrepreneurial company that Government is relying upon to kick-start recovery in the UK and rebalance the economy towards manufacturing.

Started on spec by Rodger Cowie in 1999, he had to endure three months without any work before a manufacturer in the bottling industry ordered a batch of components, which he produced on manual mills and a lathe. It was quickly followed by a contract to machine fireproof switchgear cabinets for the mining sector. In 2006, he doubled the size of the factory and doubled it again at the end of 2011.

Now employing 13 including wife Cathie, daughter Julie and sons Grant and Ross, the company has just taken on its first apprentice and plans to add one every year to address a lack of skilled machinists in North Lanarkshire.

At least half of the subcontractor's throughput and variously up to 70 per cent involves machining of stainless steel, so good quality CNC machine tools are essential. A majority on the shop floor are from one supplier, Hurco.

The first machine, a second-hand, vertical machining centre with a one metre by half metre table, was installed in 2001 when Rodger secured additional work making fixings for supporting glass walls and brass frames. They have been used widely in Scotland and beyond, including for prestigious refurbishment projects including at Rosslyn Chapel, south of Edinburgh and the Municipal Buildings in George Square, Glasgow.

Mr Cowie commented, "I knew the capabilities of Hurco machines and their conversational control system from previous employment.

"As I was producing mainly one-offs and small batches up to 50-off maximum, I bought a used, 1989-built Hurco BMC25, which was quick to program and ideal for those quantities.

"We carried on using it until the end of 2011, when it was replaced with a new Hurco VMX30, and in all that time it only broke down twice, despite being 23 years old when we sold it."

Based on this level of reliability, as business grew Mr Cowie took the decision to standardise on machines from the same supplier and currently has seven installed, including a Hurco lathe with a 10-inch chuck. It has similar Windows-based WinMax conversationally-friendly programming software as is used in the latest machining centres.

Part of Cowie Engineering's success lies in its retention of business. By and large, when new work is won, it tends to represent a net increase in turnover. Thirteen years on, the subcontractor continues to supply its first two customers and as the years have gone by, the switchgear components have increased in size. It prompted investment in a Hurco BMC4020 in 2004 and five years later in an even larger VMX64 with fourth axis.

Mr Cowie continued, "Once the 4-axis machine was installed, we did not need to seek work for it; new business found us.

"One of the first jobs was the manufacture of 2,500 military parts in mild steel, each weighing around 26 kg and requiring about a 40-minute cycle.

"Using the fourth axis, we got the job off in one hit, whereas the lead contract machinist was having trouble trying to produce the part in three operations on three machines.

"Despite tolerances as tight as -0 / +0.03 mm on hole position and 0.05 mm concentricity of bores, only two of our components needed reworking."

New business being fulfilled by the VMX64 includes the machining of EN19 steel castings to produce roll shafts weighing up to 400 kg for robotic applications in foundries, notably in China, Russia and the US.

Software options chosen by Cowie Engineering for its latest WinMax control software include Swept Surface, which allows a 2D surface to be moved along a contour to creating complex, smooth, 3D geometries within one conversational data block. For simpler surfaces involving rotation or translation of a 2D profile, the 3D Mold feature optimises milling tool paths to achieve good surface finishes with fine stepovers. In the rare instances when programs are prepared off-line or CAD files are supplied by the customer, data is downloaded to the appropriate Hurco machine as a DXF file, which the Ultimax controls can read directly.

In early 2011, the subcontractor took delivery of its first CNC lathe, a Hurco TM10. It was bought to streamline production of mainly small batches of components up to 30-off maximum and has been very busy since it was installed, tackling around 35 different jobs per month. One defence contract involved machining pipe fittings in bronze and nickel alloy.

More recently, knowing of Cowie Engineering's expertise in machining stainless steel, a new customer in Aberdeen has begun to regularly order hydraulic couplings in 316 stainless which are turned on the TM10 and completed on one of the subcontractor's two Hurco VM1 machining centres.

Cowie Engineering's burgeoning business has meant that staff has been working 60-hour weeks, including overtime, for the past two and a half years. If thousands of firms around the UK followed its example by keeping customers happy and continuously finding new business, while installing good quality plant to fulfil the work and investing in people to operate it, recovery and balance within the UK economy would be accelerated.

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