Established 48 years ago, turned parts contract machining specialist Precision Products, based in Rustington, West Sussex, has weathered the recent turbulent times remarkably well. Although it had to downgrade its turnover target in April 2020 at the start of the last financial year due to a collapse in aerospace contracts, which traditionally account for 10% of turnover, the loss was largely offset by winning Covid-related medical contracts for the production of components for ventilators, hospital beds and testing kits. Some new medical work is ongoing, such as the manufacture of parts for micro-pumps used in disinfectant spraying equipment.

Consequently, the firm met its planned turnover for the period to April 2021 and is ahead of target for the year to April 2022. Profitability has increased following a detailed analysis of cost structures and working practices by managing director Sally Thorley, enabling the company to quote more competitive prices. Around-the-clock running five days a week has continued and there have been few staff changes, except for a couple of retirements and the appointment of two additional personnel. One is finance manager Charlotte Turner and the other is sales and estimating engineer Sean Keet, who has a wealth of experience in a similar role. They bring the total number of staff to 32. Following on from all personnel trained to Level 2 in NVQ Business Improvement Techniques, four managers are currently undergoing training with the Institute of Leadership & Management, two at level 5 and the others at level 3.

Extra business received from UK sources that have helped the company to achieve a positive result during such a difficult period includes machining families of stainless steel spindles, studs and end caps to tight tolerances for top-end mountain bike pedals manufactured by Pembree in Heathfield, East Sussex.

Together with other new UK contracts, some gained as a result of Precision Products taking a stand at the Southern Manufacturing 2020 show in Farnborough, the subcontractor’s tally of active customers is 136. The company also exhibited at the 2022 show earlier this month.

Helping to boost turnover further has been an increase in direct exports, which now accounts for 12% of turnover due in part to a major new contract for the supply of brass air caps to the Chinese factory of a multinational air humidifier manufacturer. Other overseas markets that are regular recipients of the subcontractor’s components include Hungary, Mexico and the US.

The subcontractor’s first Citizen Cincom slider with LFV (low-frequency vibration) software for automatically chip breaking difficult materials arrived in early 2020. The 20 mm bar capacity L20-VIIILFV with B and Y axes, which can be operated with or without a guide bush, allows technically challenging components to be produced more efficiently from normally long-chipping plastics and stainless steels.

Thorley says that customers are increasingly asking for components produced from both materials, with plastics being used more and more for medical work, while stainless steel accounts for as much as 40% of throughput.

Citizen trained five of Precision Products’ operators in the use of LFV and feedback from the shop floor on the software’s effectiveness has been positive. It is proving particularly useful in view of the current trend towards industry increasingly asking for miniature parts machined from these and other problematic materials to tolerances measured in microns.

Environmentally, it is significant that, as with all modern Citizen turn-milling centres, the L20 is an eco-friendly machine that has undergone comprehensive assessment in respect of emissions during operation, the use of recyclable materials in its construction and the minimisation of ecologically hazardous substances during machine build.

Regenerative technology saves energy for reuse by storing decelerating axis movements as electrical power. Additionally, when the spindles and feed axes are stopped, for example during program editing, the servo drives turn off automatically so that the amount of power consumed during standby is reduced.

This was the first sliding-head lathe in Rustington to be fitted with a Wogaard Oil Saver system for recycling neat oil, although four of the Miyanos on-site are already equipped with a similar coolant saver unit. The maintenance-free device sits at the bottom of the swarf bin, continuously sucking up cutting fluid that has been transported there on the swarf, automatically returning it to the machine’s coolant tank for reuse. It not only saves oil or coolant but also reduces subsequent energy expenditure required for spinning the swarf prior to recycling.

Again with ecology in mind, the subcontractor’s MecWash aqueous cleaning machine has been replaced by a more efficient, environmentally friendly Duo 400 model that combines flood and spray washing, followed by heated spray rinsing and hot air drying. The rinse stage can be used to apply a corrosion inhibitor to ferrous components. The machine incorporates the Aqua-Save system for treating and recycling up to 90% of the wastewater, minimising expensive off-site treatment and disposal.

Other energy-intensive areas addressed by Precision Products include the replacement of an old air compressor with a new model that consumes considerably less power, producing savings in carbon dioxide emissions of more than 12 tonnes; and the replacement of tungsten and fluorescent lighting throughout the factory with LEDs, saving the release of a further 4.8 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually.

On a final note, Thorley says that Precision Products is proud to have been able to keep going virtually unaffected during the difficult trading conditions created by the pandemic. She adds that the company manufactures high-quality CNC turned parts backed by CBS EN ISO 9001:2015 approval and AS 9100 Rev D accreditation in the case of aerospace components. Shortly before the end of last year, the subcontractor had its former approval recertified. The company that carried out the online reassessment is on record as saying that it was one of the best audits it has ever completed and that Precision Products was the only company it dealt with during the pandemic that achieved or exceeded all of its key performance indicators.

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