Family-owned M&J products started life in fabrication, producing architectural ironwork for industrial and domestic customers over 35 years ago. The natural progression was then to move into sheet metal work, where they carved out a reputation for producing computer room racking, among other things. While fabrication and sheet metal work remain a major part of its business, under the direction of Adam Bills, the company has now expanding into machining.
For the Bolsover-Derbyshire-based company, machining was always a secondary function providing basic machining for fabrication. This involved a variety of manual machines, many of which remain a part of the business, but as customer demand grew and competition from other local engineering companies impacted on the work it was winning, the decision was taken to expand its machining capability and move into CNC.
“Like any business we looked to drive down costs and add to our competitiveness, by upgrading our machining capability was key to achieving that,” says Adam, Director, M&J Products. “While our customers appreciate and liked what we did, we knew we had to move on from manual machining and CNC would bring the versatility that we needed. However, our limited experience with CNC meant we had to be careful in which direction we jumped and we probably spent six months researching the best option for us.” That was two years ago and the decision by Adam was to go for an XYZ ProtoTRAK bed mill, on which Adam and a colleague had three days training after which they were happy to program the ProtoTRAK control.
Word quickly spread that M&J Products had this new capacity and work expanded to fill the available machine time. ‘Exciting times’ is how Adam described those early days and it soon became obvious that additional capacity was needed as simply through word of mouth within a 30 mile radius of Bolsover more work began to appear. The next step in M&J Products’ machine shop development was the arrival of an XYZ ProTURN SLX 555 lathe. As with the bed mill the SLX lathe is used mainly for prototype work and low-volume production, with the ProtoTRAK control being ideal for the rapid response required. Capability is also enhanced by the 1.75 m between centre distance, 104 mm spindle bore, 560 mm swing over the bed and, an 1800 revs/min (11kW/15hp) spindle, making it a highly versatile machine.
With the addition of the XYZ ProTURN lathe M&J Products could expand on its business model of working from concept through to design, fabrication, machining, assembly and paint, all of which it offers as in-house services now. The success of this offering saw business grow further and Adam recognised that he had to take the next step along the machining road. “The next step would be significant as we highlighted the XYZ 1020 VMC with the Siemens control and a fourth axis attachment as the ideal solution,” says Adam. “We were being asked to get involved with more complex work including water pump development and mould work, in particular rotational moulds. This meant we needed larger capacity and the XYZ 1020 VMC gave us just what we needed.”
Due to the nature of the work being won and the step up to the Siemens control M &J Products recruited Carl Watkinson who brought to the business his experience of mould tool manufacture and CNC programming. Not being familiar with the Siemens control, Carl fully expected to have to utilise CAM for offline programming, but after a short training session at XYZ’s Nuneaton showroom he is finding it much quicker to program 2.5D jobs at the control using the Siemens ‘JobShop’ system that does all of the code generation in the background. “I was impressed at the simplicity of the Siemens control,” says Carl. “the conversational programming makes it easy to use and even as someone experienced in using CAM it is much quicker to program at the control than create something offline. The Renishaw probing system that we have installed on the XYZ 1020 VMC not only has decreased the set up times, but has allowed us to reverse engineer customer components and, in conjunction with our CAD package it has enabled us to recreate parts to a high accuracy.”
Space is an issue at M&J Products and this had to be a consideration when looking for a vertical machining centre. With the XYZ 1020 VMC Adam feels that they have maximised capacity to match the available space. The XYZ 1020 VMC has axis travels of 1020 by 520 by 540 mm in XYZ, with an 1120 by 520 mm table able to support workpieces up to 800kg. Performance is enhanced by the use of box ways with 20 m/min feedrates in all axes, an 8000 revs/min, 20 hp, BT 40 spindle that is complemented by a 24-position toolchanger. “Given the space limitations the XYZ 1020 was the largest VMC that we could fit in that would give us the option of the fourth axis, which while we don’t use it on a daily basis was an option that we wanted to have. The alternative was the XYZ 710 VMC, but in reality the cost difference is minimal and the 1020 gives so much more capacity,” says Adam.
Word quickly got round that M&J Products had ordered the XYZ 1020 VMC and offers of work started to arrive even before it had been installed. As such Adam was keen to get the machine in and running. “The support we got from XYZ and its service team was excellent and since its installation the after sales support is always there if we need it with any questions we might have answered quickly over the phone. Having the 1020 VMC is like a bug, we still get excited about what we can do and it is opening up lots of opportunities for us.”