Although only founded in 2004, the directors at Machfab Engineering can offer more than 60 years of manufacturing expertise in all aspects of machining, sheet metal and fabrication. But regardless of experience, everyone can learn new tricks – and for this Birkenhead-based company, the learning curve has taken a new twist with investment in 3D printing and CNC machine tools from Dugard.
Servicing customers in sectors as diverse as automotive, aerospace and offshore, through to petrochemical, pharmaceutical and food, Machfab offers a complete service portfolio that includes conventional and CNC milling and turning, jigs and fixtures, breakdown and repair work, press tool manufacture, reverse engineering, prototyping, R&D, and sheet metalworking. Some of these services were not previously available.
As Machfab Engineering director Ian Hazlehurst says: “Two years ago, we had the idea to diversify the company. We’ve always predominantly been a conventional machine shop and we wanted to get into CNC machining – but we had to offer something different to everybody else. So, we went down the 3D printing route to get into additive manufacturing. We worked with the Liverpool Innovation Fund and managed to get funding from them to purchase our first 3D printer.”
The company bought a Stratasys Fortus 380mc. Explaining the reason for buying the machine, Hazlehurst continues: “We bought this machine primarily to get into prototyping for R&D work. However, if we got a project that needs final production parts, we would never be able to offer the service to manufacture those components, which is why we invested in CNC machining – to offer customers the full package.”
Another reason the company opted to invest in CNC machine tools was that it was not always competitive on batch work or small production runs of components.
“We weren’t competitive on volume work as everyone has CNC machines and we had conventional machines, which meant our production times were a lot longer,” explains Hazlehurst. “So we decided – as part of the project with the 3D printer – to invest in two Dugard machining centres.”
The subcontract manufacturer simultaneously purchased a three-axis Dugard 1100 machining centre with a rotary table and a Dugard 1000E machining centre.
“The story behind the 1000E is that Dugard actually gave us the machine as a ‘test model’ as we had initially decided to buy the larger Dugard 1100,” says Hazlehurst. “The Dugard 1000E machine was installed for our guys to learn on – and we liked the machine so much we bought it, as well as the larger Dugard 1100 machine.”
For a company that had not yet stepped into the realms of CNC machining and had a history steeped in conventional machining, the initial loan of a CNC machining centre to prepare it for CNC production goes a long way to demonstrate the service provided by Dugard Machine Tools.
Referring to the larger of the two machines and why the company chose the Dugard 1100, Hazlehurst recalls: “We wanted a solution that gave us the diversity of components that we could put on the machine. We’ve installed a 4th axis unit so we can offer additional services and flexibility. We also have a Renishaw probing system, which means we can take measurements of parts before we remove them from the machine – as certain customers asked if we could do that. Equally important is the fact that the machine has a large bed and a powerful spindle, where we can take large chunks of material off. And we can machine hard steels as well.”
The Dugard 1100 VMC provides a work envelope of 1100 x 610 x 560 mm in the X, Y and Z axis respectively, with a 1000 kg maximum table load accommodated on the 1250 x 600 mm bed. A 20 to 10,000 rpm speed capability guarantees high levels of torque throughout the speed range.
Complementing this attribute is the 24-position automatic tool change carousel and the BT40 spindle taper that permits heavy-duty cutting on a complete range of materials, including challenging aerospace-grade metals. Furthermore, both machines supplied to Machfab include a Siemens CNC, although FANUC and Mitsubishi options are also available to suit end-user requirements.
The Dugard 1000E that was initially installed as a ‘test model’ is a cost-effective VMC with similar characteristics to the Dugard 1100 VMC, which is why the company opted to keep the trial machine alongside the larger 4th axis Dugard 1100.
“Now we have the Dugard machines, we know we can make the parts and make them right,” concludes Hazlehurst. “The machines also make us competitive, so we pride ourselves on the fact that we know our pricing will be right and we will deliver on time. Our customers will always get exactly what they ask for.”
For further information www.dugard.com