St Neots-based Tycam Engineering (originally Astral Engineering) has built a solid business supplying machined parts for aerospace and military power supply units. In its early days it was a two-man business utilising manual machines and the skills it had available. Now, over 25 years later, it remains a two-man business, but its production methods have changed significantly through utilisation of machining centre technology from XYZ Machine Tools.
Current owner of Tycam Engineering Andy Tyler, who bought the business from his former employer in early 2000, has transformed the company through investment in four XYZ ProtoTRAK LPM machining systems along with an XYZ 2-OP portable vertical machining centre. “Back in the early days a lot of the components we worked on comprised of fabrications, so manual machining was probably the way to go. However, as our key customer Ipeco Electronics developed their products we had to review how we machined them. This meant looking at CNC, which my boss at the time had little interest in. After a demonstration of the XYZ ProtoTRAK system I managed to convince him to have one retrofitted to an old turret mill we had.”
This early experience of ProtoTRAK helped to change the direction of the business and over the years additional CNC machines were added, including an XYZ MiniMill 560, and a couple of XYZ bed mills. The XYZ MiniMill 560 was bought for a specific job, which ran for four years. When that job finished Tycam decided to look at larger machine capacity and purchased an XYZ ProtoTRAK bed mill, as its remaining work still tended to be low volume, but demanding of CNC capability. “We were very happy with the ProtoTRAK bed mill, but when one complex job turned into a production part, we knew we needed to upgrade to a machine with toolchanging capabilities, but I didn’t want the trouble of learning G-code and a new control system,” says Andy Tyler. The solution lay in the XYZ LPM (Lean Production Machine).
Using the same ProtoTRAK control the XYZ LPM is a three axis vertical machining centre with a 16 position tool magazine, that is quick and easy to set up thanks to the use of ProtoTRAK, tool setting system, and the Jergens ball lock system used for locating vices and fixtures to the table. The latter ensures that the control knows the exact coordinates of any fixturing information this is then stored in the control for use any time a particular set-up is required. The big advantage for Andy Tyler and Tycam, though, was the ability to simply transfer the program from his bed mill to the LPM, with the only adjustment being to add in the tool changes. “This first LPM was a revelation and I am now hooked on them, the ease of use and versatility has made a major difference to how we produce parts, already having the experience of ProtoTRAK made the transition straightforward and I have total confidence in the machines capability, which makes quoting for new work simple.”
The four XYZ LPM machines are operated by just two people, Andy Tyler and his apprentice, Jordan Parish, who joined the company in December. With no programming or production machining experience Jordan quickly got to grips with ProtoTRAK and, after a relatively short period of time, he is now happy to set and program parts on the LPM machines. At Tycam the four XYZ LPMs are set up slightly differently, with a combination of vices and vacuum plates adding to the LPM’s versatility and suiting the work being undertaken. “Bringing Jordan in as an apprentice was a big decision and he spends one day each week at Huntingdon Regional College, while the rest of his time he is learning ‘on the job’. He has taken to the ProtoTRAK control like a duck to water and was quickly able to program basic parts at the control and run two machines simultaneously, such is their ease of use. In time he will move on to programming on the CAD system and transferring the DXF files to the ProtoTRAK.”
In addition to its tool magazine and table layout, the XYZ LPM also features axis travels of 785 mm (x), 470 mm (y) and 530 mm (z). With a11.2 kW (15hp), 8000 revs/min, spindle with rigid tapping capability, 20 m/min rapid/feed rate and a table capacity of 460 kg, the LPM is a highly practical and capable vertical machining centre, which also has the option of a fourth axis capability being fitted.
The four XYZ LPM machines at Tycam have been complemented with the addition of an XYZ 2-OP portable vertical machining centre. Designed to be able to be relocated around the factory, where it is needed, when it is needed, to take pre-op or second operation work off more expensive machines, Tycam also saw its value as a stand-alone vertical machining centre. It was seeing increasing demand for batches of between 50 and 60-off of smaller components, which it didn’t want to tie up an LPM with. Again the big advantage was its use of the ProtoTRAK control system, meaning that any programs from the XYZ LPMs can be used on it, and visa-versa. “Like the LPM machines, the XYZ 2-OP is a really good machine that has not given us any issues whatsoever and for the type of work that we do, which is mainly involved with the electronics industry, it suits our needs perfectly. As our workshop is compact, and there are only the two of us, we don’t need to make use of its portability and just treat it as a small VMC. The fact that it has the ProtoTRAK control made it an easy decision to buy,” says Andy Tyler.