Hydrafeed: More than meets the eye

A recognised manufacturer of barfeed systems for CNC lathes, Milton Keynes-based Hydrafeed is also a subcontract machinist for the aerospace, special purpose machinery and tobacco machinery sectors. To meet the machining demands of both sides of its business, the company has extensive machine shop capacity, ranging from manual machines through to CNC machining and turning centres. Sitting central to this capacity are four XYZ ProtoTrak-controlled machines.

Hydrafeed has been in operation for almost 50 years as a family-owned business with current managing director Martyn Page joining the company as a toolmaker 35 years ago. In 2012, along with his wife and son, he took the opportunity to buy Hydrafeed and maintain that family-owned tradition. Along the way, the barfeed element of the business has grown, with around one unit per day being dispatched. In addition, robotic automation for machine tools is now part of the Hydrafeed portfolio.
The company’s barfeed systems are sold mainly through OEM machine tool suppliers, such as XYZ Machine Tools. However, the resulting ongoing investment in machining capacity to meet the needs of barfeed production, meant that machines were sometimes underused. With this in mind, Hydrafeed expanded its operations to offer a subcontract machining service.
“Our subcontract work is tightly controlled and we manage the type of business we take on quite closely; focussing on regular customers with none of them dominating our capacity – the old 80/20 rule applies here,” explains Page. “Over the years we have continued to invest in machining technology, but like many, we have faced the skills challenge. Helping to overcome that are the four XYZ machines, which sit perfectly between our manual capacity and our CNC machining and turning centres. The ProtoTrak controls on the XYZ mills and lathes are straightforward to use and we have been very pleased with them. They are perfect for one-offs and smaller batch work.”

The XYZ machines installed at Hydrafeed are an SLX355 ProTurn lathe, an SLX 1630 ProTurn lathe and two SMX 2000 ProtoTrak turret mills. All four feature the ProtoTrak conversational control system, which is said to be notable for its ease of use. According to XYZ, operators who are new to CNC can be programming fairly complex parts with just a few hours of tuition.
On the SMX 2000 turret mill, the control is available as either a two- or three-axis system, with canned cycles to produce features such as various shaped pockets (including pockets with islands), thread milling, bolt-hole patterns, drilling, tapping and boring. ProtoTrak SMX also features its novel ‘guess’ button. If a dimension is missing from the drawing, the user can simply estimate the approximate position of a point or intersection, press the ‘guess’ button, and the control performs the calculation. Further advantages include 3D surfacing with on-board DNC, and the capability to handle virtually unlimited program size.
For its ProTurn lathes, XYZ uses the SLX variant of the ProtoTrak control, which also has many benefits in relation to ease of use. As with the mills, the control allows both manual and full CNC operation, with a key feature being the ‘Traking’ facility that is standard on all XYZ ProTurn lathes. Traking is one of a number of ways that the ProtoTrak control allows the verification of a program. Using this feature, the operator can work through the program using the two hand wheels. Traking can be used in such a way to go through the entire program or, up to a point where the operator is confident to stop the feature and press cycle start. Traking can be re-engaged at any time during the cycle. In addition to conversational, at-machine programming, which is said to allow even complex parts to be programmed in a matter of a few minutes, CAD drawings can be converted into programs using the optional on-board DXF file converter.

“Our sub-contract work continues to grow, and we occasionally need to call on others to help with over-capacity issues,” concludes Page. “This is where the value of our customer/supplier relationship with XYZ Machine Tools comes in. Talking with our XYZ area sales manager, he was able to point us in the direction of another XYZ customer, DJM Engineering, who had similar machines and skill sets to Hydrafeed, and this gave us the confidence to place work with them in the knowledge that they could maintain the delivery and quality which we expected. This is a great example of networking between businesses with similar work ethics to ourselves: being good at what we do and enjoying it at the same time.”
For further information www.xyzmachinetools.com