Rail demand drives investment at Ferrabyrne

Ferrabyrne is a specialist moulding company predominantly producing bonded rubber for metal technology and suspension systems used in the rail industry and commercial vehicles. The Littlehampton-based business manufactures as much as possible in-house, including the design and production of mould tools. Recent growth in demand from its rail customers, driven by refurbishment of existing roiling stock to extend its service life and new projects, meant that the company’s tool room had to meet unprecedented production challenges. This saw a need for improved and increased machining capacity.

“The rail market is very active at present, which has led to unprecedented demand for our products,” explains Mike Wood, Ferrabyrne’s project director. “Customers such as Hitachi, Siemens, Bombardier, CAF and Stadler are very active in the UK and Europe. The development of new rolling stock has led to an increased number of new vehicles that our customers are bringing to market, and it is a privilege to working with them. We have invested heavily in rapid prototyping to ease pressure at the design stage, but our tool room was faced with major production challenges. We would typically produce one mould tool every 2 to 3 weeks, but at present we have a waiting list of over 40 mould tools, with a similar number of assembly tools. Additional tool room machining capacity was clearly a priority, hence the need for investment.”
As products have developed in size and complexity, demands on the mould tools have also increased, and the need for a machine capable of meeting these challenges has led Ferrabyrne to XYZ Machine Tools and its XYZ 2010 vertical machining centre.
Part of XYZ’s HD (heavy-duty) range, the 2010 VMC is a box-slideway based machine built on solid Meehanite castings, with the machine weighing in at 20,000 kg. One feature that attracted Ferrabyrne to this machine was its 1,000 mm of Y-axis travel, which is supported on six hardened box ways.

“As our work was increasing in size, we were finding that we were having to shuffle work around on our existing machines in order to fully manufacture them,” says Phil Nell, Ferrabyrne’s tooling design engineer. “So, having the large Y axis was an important part in our decision making and, although we did our research, the XYZ was the only machine of this type that could give us that. Our requirements also included a need to quickly set-up jobs for one-off and low-volume production, and the XYZ gives us that ability, in combination with our WorkNC and Autodesk software, which help create complex tool paths quickly for download to the Siemens control.”
Prior to placing the order for the XYZ 2010 HD VMC, the team from Ferrabyrne visited an XYZ showroom for a demonstration and, while there, attention was drawn to the ProtoTRAK lathe, in particular the new ProTURN RLX 425 with a 1.25 m bed length. This machine features the latest RX ProtoTRAK control.
“I used ProtoTRAK when it was first introduced, and we have an XYZ SLV turret mill in the tool room with one of the older EMX controls, so I was interested to see the new control and I have to say it’s brilliant,” says Nell.
The impact that the new control had on Nell and his colleagues saw them go away and produce a justification for the purchase of the RLX 425 that included the elimination of an existing CNC lathe.
“The benefits of the RLX 425 have fully justified our commitment to purchase it,” says Nell. “We did have some resistance from people who were used to the old machine, but the simplicity and ease-of-use of the ProtoTRAK control quickly won them over. Our efficiency producing low-volume parts has improved, as we can load DXF files for more complex jobs to the control, but still program many jobs at the machine and quickly be in production. However, the thing that mostly won us over was the TRAKing facility, whereby we can verify programs before pressing cycle start. This gives a lot of confidence to the operators; it is a perfect machine for our tool room work.”

XYZ’s ProTURN RLX 425 sits in the middle of the company’s ProTURN lathe range and is available with either a 1.25 or 2 m distance between centres. Performance is enhanced by a 7.5 kW spindle with three speed ranges covering 25 to 2500 rpm. In addition to the TRAKing facility, the ProtoTRAK control delivers constant surface speed, a touchscreen interface with the now familiar ‘pinch to zoom’ and ‘twist to rotate graphics’, a tool library, and on-screen speed and feed override. These features are among many enhancements that lead to smoother workflow and greater productivity, yet retain the familiar ease-of-use to which ProtoTRAK users have become accustomed, making the step up from older versions straightforward.
For further information www.xyzmachinetools.com

Growth through automated grinding

The transition to being a member of a global group has seen Apex Cutting Tools expand its reach into the aerospace market, but with automotive tier one suppliers, as well as GM and Chrysler nearby, the automotive industry remains a core focus. The growth of the company located near Niagara Falls now sees it undertake the processing of over 1000 re-grinds a week for a single customer. With an output of more than 10,000 carbide and PCD tools a month, the company also manufactures hundreds of steel tool bodies with indexable inserts in the same timeframe.

Apex Cutting Tools produces more than 2000 new PCD and solid carbide tools each month, with more than 8000 tools on a repeat cycle of re-grind, re-coat and re-supply to clients. This total output has more than doubled in the past 10 years. Notably, each and every tool is a special, which makes production at Apex Cutting Tools far removed from the volume production market. The company operates two shifts, and if machines can be loaded with a batch of tools for overnight production at the end of the second shift, they will be. This strategy sees machines like the Vollmer Vgrind 160 running up to 24 hours a day.
CNC Grinding Department supervisor at Apex Cutting Tools, Stephan Rodrigue, says: “The breakdown of our production is relatively equal between PCD and indexable tools, with solid carbide being the majority of production. Our volumes are generally in the range of 5 to 50 tools, with some runs occasionally reaching a few hundred. We have one customer that comes in on a Friday with a 1000 tools that have to be re-ground by the following Monday.”
The company has a series of manually loaded CNC tool grinders, which are now reaching the end of their service life, something likely to be expedited by poor machine support and the arrival of automated machines like the Vollmer Vgrind 160.
Referring to the acquisition of the Vollmer Vgrind 160 just over two years ago, Rodrigue says: “The company invested heavily in DMG Mori and Mazak machine tools for producing tool bodies, Zoller Genius tool measuring machines and a range of CNC tool and cutter grinders. We were invited to look at the Vollmer Vgrind 160 machine but, as it was going to be our first Vollmer, we were somewhat apprehensive. Our opinion changed as soon as we looked closer. Now it’s here we’re thoroughly impressed and already looking at a Vollmer erosion machine.”

One of the key features that drew Apex Cutting Tools to the Vollmer Vgrind 160 was the CNC control platform, as Rodrigue explains: “The Vollmer has the Numroto Plus CNC software platform, which is a different control system to our older tool grinding machines. Numroto is now on most of our new machine acquisitions and the Numroto Plus platform is a must for us going forward. This is because it allows any program to be swapped between any of our new machines, regardless of brand.”
The thousands of solid carbide tools are produced or re-ground on four automated CNC grinding machines and three ageing manually loaded machines.
“As we produce tools with shank diameters from 3 up to 20 mm in 1 mm increments on the Vollmer, they were kind enough to give us the drawings to produce our own collection of auto-load pallets in our own machine shop,” says Rodrigue. “As standard, the HP160 pallet magazine can hold 272 tools with 3 mm shanks, while for larger tools with 20 mm shanks, we can hold 54 tools. We also have a special collet in the spindle for doing tool shanks up to 25 mm and the machine has a steady rest to support the production of drills over 200 mm long. The HP160 with its two-pallet system works fantastically well, and the tool capacity gives us long periods of automated production.”
Of critical importance to the prolonged periods of unmanned running is the auto-change six-wheel pack that is stored at the rear of the machine. Automatically, the wheels are measured in-cycle with a probe, dressed and/or changed depending upon the geometry of each tool. So, regardless of whether the HP160 is loaded with carbide blanks or tools for re-grinding, the Vgrind will undertake complete fluting, geometry generation or re-grinding to the exact program specifications.
Comparing tool production cycle times to alternate machines in operation at Apex Cutting Tools, Rodrigue says: “This is a tough question as all our machines have different capacities and power levels, but in most cases the Vollmer gives us cycle time gains over our other machines. This is largely due to the vertically aligned spindle configuration on the Vgrind. For example, we will rough grind the flutes on the lower spindle and then do the finishing cycle on the top spindle, which instantly removes the constant wheel changes that are common on our other machines.
“The finishing wheel will undertake micron precision grinding with outstanding surface finishes whereas the rough grinding can really rip the material off,” he continues. “We are doing a 24 mm diameter tool at present with a 12 mm core diameter and the Vgrind will grind the flutes in a single pass. Compared with most of our other machines, this stock removal is well above their rates. The Vgrind is at least 30% faster at roughing than some of our older machines. This is impressive considering the machine has belt driven spindles as opposed to the direct drive spindles on newer Vollmer machines.”

Despite the Vollmer Vgrind 160 being significantly faster than alternate machines, Rodrigue says it is difficult to draw parallels between the various grinding centres at Apex Cutting Tools.
“We have manually loaded grinding machines, machines dedicated to small tools and others dedicated to hob grinding, so like-for-like comparisons are difficult. What we have noted is the kinematic advantages of the vertically aligned twin spindles that pivot around the C axis. Firstly, having two wheels in the work envelope reduces wheel changes to improve processing speed. Secondly, the extremely robust grinding wheel column maximises rigidity and vibration damping. It is this rigidity that contributes to massively reducing flute roughing times. The closest comparative machine would be a very high-end machine that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars more than the Vgrind.
“An extra rail at the top of the C axis gives the axis support from the top and bottom and the whole thing can swing around and grind from two positions,” he adds. “The solidity of that whole system and the spindles Vollmer uses, that’s just the biggest factor. There is no comparing that. Some of our machines have a suspended spindle, so you lose precision, surface finish and the rigidity depends fully on the spindle. Here, you have a massive structure that comes in and really takes out the material.”
For further information www.vollmer-group.com

Turn-mill centres ideal for hydraulic components

A second pair of Miyano BNE-51MSY turn-mill centres from Citizen Machinery UK has been installed at contract machinist Unicut Precision of Welwyn Garden City. Joining two identical twin-spindle, twin-turret lathes with live tooling and a Y axis supplied at the end of 2017, the latest arrivals form the mainstay of efficient production for complex components used in the hydraulics industry, which accounts for a large proportion of Unicut’s business.

Unicut was established in 1990 by 24-year-old Jason Nicholson and a partner, who has since left the company, in a double garage in Barnet. Back then, the company had just £5000 to spend on second-hand manual and cam-controlled machines, but progressed to CNC turning in 1993. In 2017 the company diversified into prismatic machining with the purchase of a multi-pallet machining cell, followed quickly by a second. A third cell is now on order for delivery later in 2019, which will be a record year for capital investment at £2.3m.
Over the years, Nicholson has bought 104 CNC lathes, 93 of which were either Citizen Cincom sliding-head models or fixed-head lathes from Miyano, which merged with Citizen in 2011. Today, Unicut operates 22 Cincom lathes with up to 13 CNC axes, 80 cutting tools and 138 bar coolant pressure, as well as eight Miyano machines deploying up to 72 cutters. The machines are usually replaced every five-to-seven years, to take advantage of the high residual value of the lathes at that age.
While turning machines have been sourced mainly from this supplier, each purchase is rigorously analysed by Nicholson with respect to machine cost and achievable cycle times to ensure lowest cost per part and the most rapid return on investment. Ease of machine integration and use, and the desired quality of component, are also paramount considerations. Additionally, prompt provision of service is an important deciding factor.

In 1999, the first Cincom sliding-head lathe was delivered to Unicut, a 12 mm bar auto, and within a year three more were installed, followed three months later by a 32 mm model. The first Miyano appeared on the shop floor in 2002. The CNC lathes replaced cam-controlled turning machines, which had all gone by 2003. CNC equipment was by then achieving similar cycle times to cam-type lathes, with the added advantages of higher quality and unattended running, including overnight, leading to much higher profitability.
To distinguish Unicut from other subcontractors, Nicholson decided early on to adopt a different business model by approaching OEMs, analysing their main cost drivers, investigating the possibility of re-engineering components for more efficient production, establishing desired cycle times, identifying machine tools needed to produce parts within those times, and then proposing to make the required capital investments, subject to the manufacturer’s commitment to a fixed-term contract. Strategic supplier status is what Unicut seeks in its business relationships with customers, and 80% of throughput at the Welwyn Garden City factory is produced on this basis.
For machining larger diameter parts, a 51 mm capacity Miyano costs about the same as a top-end 32 mm Cincom sliding-head model. Unless a high component length-to-diameter ratio dictates otherwise, Nicholson prefers the fixed-head option based on a number of factors, including rigidity, thermal stability, value for money and speed. Bar capacity is greater, offering more flexibility; spindle power is higher, leading to increased productivity; cycle times are comparable; access is easy for setting up, despite the compact machining area; and the Mitsubishi control supports superimposed machining whereby three tools can be in cut at the same time, a facility regularly used at the Welwyn Garden City facility for elevated levels of productivity.

Once a BNE-51MSY is set, Nicolson says that it will produce a run of say 1000 components to very high accuracy without having to touch the machine by the simple expedient of including macros in the program to offset tools automatically after a predetermined number of parts have been produced. Tolerances down to ±2 µm can be held and surface finish is described as impeccable. He favours the Mitsubishi CNC system fitted to Miyano and Cincom lathes due to its flexibility and ease of operation using the drop-down menus and comprehensive graphical support. Citizen’s
off-line Alkart Wizard software helps to ensure jobs quickly enter production. However,
for larger production runs, time can generally be cut from a cycle by tweaking the program at the control.
Citizen’s operating system in the CNC system fitted to one of Unicut’s Cincom sliders features patented LFV (low frequency vibration) software that operates in two CNC axes simultaneously, allowing stringy swarf to be broken into shorter chips of a length to suit the material being cut and the swarf conveyor. The feature is popular with operators, as it enables uninterrupted production without having to stop the lathe due to ‘bird nests’ clogging the workpiece and tools.
Citing a 320 stainless steel part that was previously impossible to run unattended, even during the day yet is now routinely left to run lights-out with LFV, Nicholson says: “The feature is easy to use and does not require any special skill set. The software can be switched on and off, either manually or within a program, and parameters can be adjusted. It is especially good for processing plastics unattended, as well as other difficult-to-machine metals such as Duplex and titanium. It just works.”
In conclusion, he shares his thoughts on the current buoyancy of the subcontract machining sector due to the weakness of the pound against overseas currencies. This factor has cut 20% from the price of components that Unicut exports and boosted turnover, despite raw material, and indeed the equipment on which to machine it being more expensive. The firm’s first order from China
was delivered in August this year and exports overall currently account for 40% of turnover, up from 10 to 30%
in previous years.
For further information www.citizenmachinery.co.uk

First Brother R650X2 arrives in Europe

At the beginning of November 2019, Whitehouse Machine Tools delivered to the Andover facility of MRT Castings (an aluminium diecasting and machining specialist), the first Brother Speedio R650X2 machining centre to be installed in Europe. The 30-taper machine is equipped with twin pallets carrying 4th-axis trunnions, as well as Blum workpiece and tool probing to ensure the accuracy of machined parts.

Replacing a 20-year-old Brother model with a standard table that was still producing parts within tolerance, the new machine has reduced cycle times by 30% when running identical programs due to the speed and power of the manufacturer’s CNC C00 control system. Additionally, automatic pallet change cuts loading times, presenting parts to the spindle faster and increasing productivity still further.
A sequel to Brother’s flagship TC-32B QT, the latest 16,000 rpm spindle machine has the largest number of tools available in the Speedio range, 40 as opposed to the former machine’s 21, as well as a larger X-axis stroke, up from 550 to 650 mm, and an 800 mm long table instead of 600 mm. Z-axis travel is also slightly more. That the R650X2 has these characteristics is partly down to the closeness of Phil Rawnson, managing director of MRT Castings, to the Japanese machine builder.

Regular meetings serve to advise the manufacturer about the UK manufacturing sector and what the market requires. For example, increased X-axis capacity is a standard request from MRT, as evidenced by the company’s involvement in the development and introduction of the Brother Speedio S1000X1 with 1000 mm X axis. A pair of these machines was installed at Andover four years ago, the first models to be sold by Brother’s sole UK and Ireland agent Whitehouse Machine Tools.
Similarly, in April 2019, MRT was the first in the UK to receive a Brother cell with Feedio robotic component handling to automate a five-axis M140X2 machining centre that was purchased at the same time.
Rawnson says: “Brother’s willingness to consult with its customers is a good sign, as it means it is listening to what the market wants. We made it clear to them that we prefer a large machining envelope to give us more flexibility in the methods we use to fixture parts. There are several ways we exploit the additional working volume, especially extra X-axis travel.
“If we need to hit several faces of a component, we can carry out a second machining operation sequentially by fixturing parts side by side on a single fixture,” he adds. “Or we can clamp a larger number of small parts to fill the table. By putting more castings under the spindle at the same time, fewer tool changes are needed per component and productivity is increased.
“Alternatively, we can use the three or four CNC axes to machine longer castings at the highly productive rates possible using a 30-taper machine.”

Pallet-change Brothers are generally employed at the Andover facility if cycle times are short, say less than five minutes, to minimise spindle idle time during sequential Op 1 and Op 2 machining on six sides of a casting. Fixed-table machines are more economical if cycles are longer, as one operator is able to load and unload a pair of machines to complete the two operations in tandem.
The accuracies achieved are impressive, down to a couple of microns for bearing bores. Some electrical assemblies comprise up to 20 individual castings and tolerance build-up can become a problem if such tight limits are not held. Other work for the electronics, defence and high-end lighting sectors also stipulates tolerances that are sometimes very tight. Parts coming off the Brothers are not only dimensionally accurate, but highly repeatable, according to Rawnson.
He says: “MRT Castings has been a family run business since its formation in 1947 and has always worked in partnership with its customers, constantly evolving to meet their demands. Brother has adopted a similar partnership approach by listening to what we and other subcontractors want, and developing new machines that fit our changing requirements.”

Early 2020 will see the opening on the Andover site of a new foundry that is some 60% larger than the existing facility, which will close to provide extra space for an additional machine shop to cope with the ever-increasing amount of new contracts being won by MRT, from both existing and new customers. More and more these orders are arriving from overseas, the firm having won the ‘Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade’ in 2016 after increasing overseas sales by 330% in the previous three years to a point where exports now account for half of annual turnover.
For further information www.wmtcnc.com

Soaring ambitions at Birds Precision

Mills CNC, the exclusive distributor of Doosan machine tools in the UK and Ireland, has supplied family-owned precision subcontract specialist Birds Precision Engineering Ltd with a new, large-capacity Fanuc-controlled Doosan DNM 6700XL vertical machining centre.

The machine, which incidentally was one of the first (if not the first) of its type to be sold by Mills in the UK, was installed at Birds Precision’s 3000 sq ft facility in Nuneaton in September 2019. The DNM 6700XL is being used, predominantly at this moment in time, to machine high-precision, complex prismatic parts for one of the company’s many long-established UK customers.
Essentially comprising base castings and guideways for state-of-the-art, special purpose machines, the components being produced on the Doosan are made from cast iron and steel. The castings are large (1.2 m long x 640 mm wide) and often weigh up to 500 kg. Machining typically takes place in small batches (one-off through to five- or six-off) to tight dimensional tolerances (0.01 mm) and exacting surface finishes (Ra 1.6).
Birds Precision supplies the parts direct to its customer and, according to owner and managing director, Chris Bird, “they have to be right first time…every time”.
The quality, lead-time fulfilment and cost demands of this customer, and others like it, were among the main reasons why Birds Precision invested in the Doosan DNM 6700XL.
Says Bird: “To maintain our preferred partner relationship with existing customers and win new business contracts with new and existing customers, we made the strategic decision to upgrade our machine-tool capacity and capabilities.”

As a consequence, the company’s machine tools that were being used to produce the large guideway parts, were soon in the spotlight.
“We had been using Herbert DeVlieg horizontal jig mill borers to machine these types of parts,” explains Bird. “Although these machines, despite their age, were still capable of delivering the accuracies required, it was becoming increasingly difficult to source spare and replacement parts. We realised that this situation would only become more acute over time, and so we decided to search the market for an alternative.”
The machine decision-making process was designed and implemented by consensus, with a number of the company’s younger members of staff playing the lead role in contacting machine-tool suppliers and drawing up a shortlist of potential machines that could meet the company’s immediate and future requirements.
“The future of the company lies, to a large extent, in our ability to recruit and retain top young talent,” states Bird. “Our recently-introduced apprentice programme, which enables our apprentices to gain valuable skills, relevant work experience and nationally recognised qualifications, is helping us meet this objective.
“Another angle to our commitment to investing in young people is involving them, where possible, in the future direction of the company and trusting them with important decisions, such as future machine tool acquisitions,” he adds.
Although not a Doosan machine-tool user at the time, staff members from Birds Precision had visited Mills CNC’s stand at MACH 2018, where they had seen a number of Doosan vertical machining centres being put through their paces.
One of these members of staff was machine shop manager, Tom Bird, who says: “Mills CNC has a good reputation in the market, and we liked the Doosan machines on their stand. So much so in fact that we invited sales staff from Mills to visit us at our facility to discuss our future requirements.”
It was during these discussions that Birds Precision was alerted to the imminent introduction of the new Doosan DNM 6700XL machine, a three-axis vertical machining centre with a 2.1 m X-axis stroke.

Explains Tom Bird: “The technical specifications of the DNM 6700XL, including its size, rigidity and power, ticked all the right boxes for us. We also liked the machine’s competitive price, quick availability and the fact that it was backed by Mills CNC’s aftersales service and support. Furthermore, because the DNM 6700XL is a new machine, we were convinced that it would help differentiate us in the market and provide a distinct competitive advantage.”
Since being installed, the DNM 6700XL has not missed a beat, and employees at Birds Precision have been impressed with the machine’s cutting performance, especially its high stock-removal capabilities and its ability to maintain high volumetric accuracy over long machining runs.
Concludes Chris Bird: “Such is the accuracy and surface finish of the parts being produced on the DNM 6700XL that they no longer need to be ground and hand scraped. The DNM 6700XL represents a significant investment, but armed with this technology we are confident about our future growth and prosperity.”
In addition to its large capacity, the DNM 6700XL is equipped with a 18.5 kW/15,000 rpm spindle with 20 bar through-spindle coolant capability, a large work table (2200 mm x 570 mm) and an integrated thermal compensation system. The latter minimises the effects of heat generation and regulates thermal expansion, ensuring high component accuracies and process optimisation.
For further information www.millscnc.co.uk