Not many businesses can trace a history back over 240 years, but Thomas Keating, which began life in the shadow of St Paul’s cathedral in London, making Flea Powders and, in spite of its strapline ‘Keatings Kills’, it became very successful, moving into a variety of other health giving products, such as throat lozenges. The business eventually passed into the hands of the Wylde family, where it has been for the past four generations. As living conditions improved the company turned its attention from flea bites to engineering, creating what is now a leading, ISO 9007-2015 accredited, provider of precision engineering and toolmaking services, with capabilities covering jig boring and grinding, EDM, Electro-forming, and CNC and manual machining; it is also the recipient of The Queen’s Award for Enterprise for International Trade.
Under the guidance of current Managing Director Dr Richard Wylde FREng, Thomas Keating is also helping to push the boundaries of satellite-based weather prediction. Its ongoing success has meant increased demand for machining capacity and a review of its existing capability saw Thomas Keating turn to XYZ Machine Tools for a solution.
While the manufacture of flea powders continued into the 1970s, precision engineering at Thomas Keating had been growing and becoming the main focus of the business since the 1940s, when it helped the war effort by producing tailplanes for Hurricane aircraft. Now, over 70 years later the company is truly reaching for the stars having been successful in winning contracts worth €8.5 million from the European Space Agency and Airbus to design, manufacture and test a range of sub-systems for the microwave instruments in the ESA MetOp-SG weather satellite programme. The instruments, featuring proprietary technology from Thomas Keating include: On Board Calibration Targets for the MicroWave Sounder (MWS), on-board calibration targets for the ICE Cloud Imager (ICI), and the Quasi-Optical Network of the MWSl measure. This equipment will take soundings of atmospheric temperature and humidity, which will provide a significant part of the backbone data required for global weather predictions when it is launched.
This contract has placed additional load on an already busy machine shop so Thomas Keating’s Technical Manager, Simon Duke started to review existing capacity. “We initially wanted to replace some older manual machines and had no intention of looking at CNC, but when we came across the XYZ SMX 4000 bed mill fitted with the ProtoTRAK control, we realised we could have the best of both worlds, that said, we are rarely using the machine in manual as programming it is so straightforward.” The XYZ SMX 4000 is now playing an important role being used for roughing operations and pre-op work as well as on development projects. This is having a significant impact on the available capacity of more expensive machines, which are now free to concentrate on finishing operations to tolerances at sub-five micron levels.
Thomas Keating chose the SMX 4000 due to its spindle power and table size. The 5.75 Kw (7.5HP) allows it to carry out roughing operations on materials such a titanium and Vanadis 10 tool steel, while the 1470 x 356mm table has created the opportunity to have multiple set-ups in place at the same time. The ProtoTRAK control and its ease of use was also a major influence in the purchase of the machine. “With only one day’s training we were confident in the operation of the machine and we have now entrusted its operation to Thierry Chapman, who has just completed his apprenticeship. In a way we threw him in at the deep-end when the machine arrived, but he has taken to it like a duck to water,” says Simon Duke.
Thierry was one of three people from Thomas Keating to attend the one-day training course where the basic machine operation and use of the ProtoTRAK was explained, including the conversational programming, canned cycles, and how to make use of the innovative TRAKing, which allows the operator to manually wind handles to move the machine through the program, to confirm that all movements are OK, before pressing cycle start. This is added reassurance for new and existing users over and above the graphical representation of the program on screen. “After the one day training and about one week of operating the machine I was very confident in operating and programming it. Now it is a case of constantly improving how I make it work and my next project is to develop the 3D machining capability of the machine,” says Thierry.
The overall capability of the XYZ SMX 4000 has been a revelation to Thomas Keating and its versatility is allowing much more to be done on it than originally intended. It is being used as a test bed for machining strategies and developing fixturing. “These are things that we simply did not have capacity to do on our machining centres. For example, we do a lot of electroforming, which requires mandrels/forms to be machined, onto which we deposit copper and gold. We can experiment with the development of these on the SMX without interfering with intricate setups on our machining centres. So, the decision to buy the SMX with its ProtoTRAK control was definitely a good one,” says Simon Duke.
Of course, there is more to buying a machine than checking if its specification meets your requirements and here XYZ Machine Tools also gets a glowing report from Thomas Keating’s Works Director, Michael Clack: “Working with XYZ Machine Tools was much easier than the experiences we have had with other machine tool companies. The service we received was fantastic and when you combine that with the value for money and ease of use it has proved to be one of the best machine purchases we have made.”