Five-axis search ends at XYZ

For over 30 years Peterborough-based Rivercircle has developed its business as a designer and manufacturer of special-purpose test and assembly machines, and multi-cavity rubber and plastic mould tooling. The company prides itself on being able to provide a complete service, keeping as much as possible in-house, from design, through to final mechanical and electrical assembly and testing. This strategy includes machining.

A policy of continuous investment in people and machine tools has seen Rivercircle create extensive capability, with its machine shop now populated almost in its entirety with CNC machinery. Three- and four-axis machining centres with capacity up to 1700 x 1000 x 1000 mm are complemented by turning centres, grinders and spark-erosion equipment. The one thing missing was five-axis machining capacity.
“Our investments in machining capacity had led us to ever more complex machines and we had been considering five-axis for a few years, but always struggled to justify the price versus capability argument,” explains Jonathan Theobalds, managing director at Rivercircle. “The size of machine we needed always appeared far too expensive, while the machines we felt we could justify on price just didn’t have the performance or capacity, limiting the potential gains for the business. Therefore, when we were introduced to the XYZ UMC-5X, which was in the right ball park as far as price and performance were concerned, we went for it!”
In its standard configuration, XYZ says that the UMC-5X is a highly competitive package, with its gantry-style design and rigid construction ensuring a capable machine. A team from Rivercircle visited XYZ’s headquarters in Devon to see the machine in action and talk through its potential with the company’s sales and applications teams. Given the type of work undertaken by Rivercircle, particularly on its mould tools where materials such as P20 tool steel is commonly machined, spindle performance and overall machine rigidity where vital to the purchase decision.

“There were several factors that swung in favour of the XYZ UMC-5X,” says Paul Langan, Rivercircle’s production manager. “The machine construction and design gave us the confidence that it would perform as we expected and, with our mould tool work, the high-torque (260 Nm), 15,000 rpm spindle is perfect for roughing and finishing tool steel. Another key point was the option of the Heidenhain CNC, as this is a control system that we favour here. Not having that option would have been a barrier to us placing an order. As it was, we only required one day of training to familiarise ourselves with the machine, and our CAM programming engineer, Steve Goodson, has fully embraced the move to five-axis with no further requirement for programming support from XYZ. We have also fully integrated our Mastercam software with the machine control; the post-processors were all updated during the installation of the machine, making it a seamless process.”
The XYZ UMC-5X has the option of either the Siemens 840 DSL ShopMill or Heidenhain iTNC 640 HSCI control, both of which feature traori (transformation orientation)/kinematic functions, respectively, for improved accuracy during five-axis simultaneous machining. In addition, the UMC-5X also benefits from built-in thermal-growth compensation for enhanced accuracy and repeatability, and integrated (and patented) smart machining technology for improved productivity.
Other key features of the machine are its C axis with 90 rpm rotation via direct drive, low-maintenance, high-torque motor; ±120° on the tilting A-axis, with 2.5 sec for full movement, and rigidity aided by the use of identical sized bearing at both ends of the axis; front loading for ease of access; linear scales on the X, Y and Z axes; 600 mm axis travel in X and Y (500 mm in Z); and a 600 mm table diameter with capacity to carry components up to 600 kg.
The arrival of the XYZ UMC-5X at Rivercircle will initially allow the company to improve efficiency by transferring work from three- and four-axis machines that require multiple operations. New opportunities will also be created for the subcontact side of the business.

Ultimately, continuous investment in the latest design and manufacturing technologies with integrated CAD/CAM systems enable full 3-D machining of complex forms to be undertaken. The addition of an XYZ UMC-5X vertical machining centre brings high-precision, high-speed, simultaneous five-axis machining to Rivercircle’s capabilities
“Whether it is for our own production, or for subcontract work, we operate in a very competitive sector supplying first and second tier customers in the automotive, transport, pharmaceutical, construction and petrochemical sectors, among others,” says Theobalds. “Lead-times are often short, so we have to be able to meet our delivery promises at the right quality and at the right price. This move to five-axis machining with the XYZ UMC-5X will enhance our ability to meet customer demands. The support we had from XYZ prior to placing the order and the competitive price for such a capable machine made this transition straightforward.”
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