Investment paying dividends at Axiom

Axiom Product Development Ltd is a new privately-owned company which has recently acquired the trade and assets of FRH Technical Engineering Ltd, a successful machining, rapid prototyping and tooling business based in West Sussex. Through its experience in the engineering sector, Axiom has made a number of key strategic appointments to put in place an expert management team with ambitious plans for expansion.

Frank Hay founded the original FRH business in 1952 as a pattern-making shop. The company remained a family business for three generations with Frank’s grandson, Adrian Hay at the helm for the past 20 years. Following the purchase, Axiom has kept the family connections strong with Tom Hay, great-grandson of the founder becoming a shareholder and production director of the new business.
Axiom Product Development specialises in the design and manufacture of high-quality tooling, patterns, components, manufacturing aids, and jigs and fixtures for the automotive, motorsport, defence, aerospace and marine industries. The company says it provides a quality-assured, technically capable engineering service to its customers. Five Formula One teams are on the Axiom/FRH books, making tooling for the cars’ carbon-fibre bodies. Some of this tooling has even been used to make the Haas F1 Team car, which of course was made on a Haas machine.
Since 1999, the company has been located in a purpose-built 1,200 sq m factory near Chichester, which houses eight Haas high-speed machining centres and a fully equipped toolmaking facility.
“Our first investment was a Haas VF-4,” explains production director Tom Hay. “We took on an experienced machinist who was familiar with a range of machines, but recommended we buy Haas. We haven’t looked back since.”
The company currently has 10 employees, including CAD designers, machinists and experts in prototype tooling.

“We do all of our own CAD modelling,” says Hay. “Also, we do a lot of work designing prototype tooling, which is then sent straight to the Haas control to make the part.”
The company’s most recent investment is a Haas VF-9 vertical machining centre. With a capacity of 2134 x 1016 x 762 mm, the machine provides the flexibility to make full-scale vehicle parts.
Hay explains the difference the Haas machines have made to the business: “In the past six years we’ve added five spindles to the workshop. This has massively increased our capacity and significantly moved us forward in terms of the technology available at our fingertips. We’ve also replaced some of our older machines with Haas. We find them very useable and their speed has made a huge difference, particularly the ‘Super Speed’ machines.”
Axiom’s five Haas Super Speed verticals are equipped with 15,000 rpm spindles, 24+1 side-mount tool changers and high-speed machining capability for extra-fast cornering.
“Using the newer machines, along with Vero software, has cut our large rough-cut cycle times from five hours to just 30 minutes,” states Hay. “And one engraving job has gone from one hour to 10 minutes. It’s an incredible difference.
“Maintenance is so much easier too, as the machines only have one type of lube and the cartridges last a long while,” he adds. “We spend less time maintaining and more time machining.
“We keep buying Haas because they’ve proved to be accurate and reliable. The control is so simple to use that it’s perfect for our apprentices too. Once you can run one machine you can run them all because the control is universal.
“The service we receive has been excellent. We haven’t needed repair work on the newer machines, and the staff are very helpful and quick to answer queries. The salesman and engineers are friendly, and not too pushy as we have found elsewhere. They have a real understanding of the industry and seem to know our requirements better than we do.”
It’s an exciting time for Axiom/FRH, which recently welcomed Alan Rendle-Eames to the team as managing director and shareholder. Rendle-Eames has over 17 years’ experience in the machine engineering sector and was formerly the project manager leading a team of five designers at Formaplex, a specialist machining and composites company. He previously spent 14 years at FRH Technical Engineering and is therefore the ideal person to oversee the running of the business.

Luke Newman has also joined the Axiom management team as technical director and shareholder. Newman is a qualified tool maker with over a decade’s experience in the sector, most recently as technical sales manager at Formaplex, where he specialised in growing the Formula One, automotive, defence, aerospace and energy sector accounts.
Axiom Product Development Ltd was set up by Michael Last and Clive Johnson, who are both experienced CEOs with complementary backgrounds in finance, mergers and acquisitions, engineering and manufacturing.
Last was CEO at Formaplex, where he oversaw a period of successful growth and expansion. He has extensive experience across a broad range of technology-driven businesses in multiple industries.
Johnson, a mechanical engineer by training, has managed and grown a range of businesses, from start-ups through to high-tech manufacturing businesses. He was CEO at Portsmouth-based Magma Structures, builders of the tallest composite superyacht masts in the world.
When asked about the future, Hay says: “It’s all about Haas. We have one non-Haas, but compared with a Haas machine featuring the same bed size, it takes up twice the floor area. We found the Haas machines slot into place very easily, making the best use of available space. We’re delighted with our choice; every product is a reflection of the team behind it and Haas truly excels in all areas.”
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Mould tool times cut by half

“Some complex mould tools used to take me nearly a week to design. But when we invested in VISI that immediately came down to a couple of days. And it’s even quicker now.”

Those are the words of Mark Chapman, company secretary and mould maker at family-run business Sharnold Ltd. Designing its moulds in VISI, and machining them with tool paths generated by WorkNC, ensures that the tight tolerances required are met first time, every time.
The company was established as a subcontract mould maker in 1957, moving to its current 3500 sq ft premises in Northamptonshire in 1970 with 10 employees. Nowadays it is run by just four people: Maurice Chapman, his two sons Mark and Stephen, and Stephen’s wife Tracy. Maurice bought into the business in 1982, eventually taking sole ownership.
While making tools for plastic injection moulders remains an important part of business, Sharnold set up its own moulding operation in 2000, and now has seven moulding machines – two Boys, two Battenfelds and three Arburgs. The machines mean the company has a locking force of between 22 and 100 tonnes, giving it the ability to supply moulded plastic parts up to 230 g.
Although Sharnold has used WorkNC from Vero Software to machine its moulds for at least 15 years, VISI (also from Vero) is a relatively new investment.

“It’s already proving to be vital for us,” says Mark Chapman. “CAD designers are producing increasingly more complex parts, but VISI gives us the ability to meet those demands quickly and easily. It’s now simple to achieve aspects that we struggled with before. For example, producing split lines is much easier, as is slide generation. VISI has accelerated the whole design process considerably.”
The combination of mould design with VISI, and WorkNC driving a three-axis Hurco VMX machining centre along with a Hurco Hawk and XYZ bed mills, means that everything Sharnold produces is within the required tolerances; sometimes down to ±0.05 mm.
“Every mould we manufacture goes through both software packages,” says Chapman. “Using the Hurco machines and VISI means that in terms of design and cutting the forms, we save at least half the time, and the overall time taken to produce the complete tool is reduced by around a third.”
He says the process begins with the plastic component – whether the company is producing the tool for another moulder, or to run on its own moulding machines.
“A big advantage of VISI is that we can check the model’s integrity before we start,” he says. “It’s got a variety of tools to ensure that all surfaces meet up, because if we’re trying to work with a poorly designed model, the mould tool won’t work.

“I check the features with the draft analysis function, making sure it has relevant draft tapers, and then move on to the design. As VISI has a large library of materials with all their specifications and characteristics, it’s simple to apply shrinkage to the particular plastic I’m working with.”
And he says core and cavity separation is quick and easy, even with varied split lines, as are sliding-block and tricky shot-out areas.
“I make either the fixed half or moving half transparent on-screen, so I can look inside and ensure the faces are touching, and that everything fits and works properly.”
Once he is happy with the split he subtracts the part out of the inserts and establishes the insert size around it. While VISI automatically picks the mould base when the insert and part are complete, he is particularly impressed at the speed and accuracy with which it can be manually tailored if required.
“And when working on multi-cavity tools, VISI lets me literally copy a completed insert into the next position; and when that operation is finished it automatically selects the bolster – and, again, there are manual editing tools if necessary.”
Chapman says the feed-gate generator and library of ejector pins all help to move the design along at a fast pace, while transferring from VISI’s CAD process to WorkNC for CAM is also quick and seamless.
“I put each plate on a different layer, so l have my clamp plate, as well as the fixed-half form plate and moving-half form plate, all saved as individual parts in native VISI files. As WorkNC reads the VISI files, I simply move them across. I can pull a finished plate design out of VISI, and WorkNC is generating tool paths for it within a minute.”

Sharnold’s moulded parts are largely for the automotive, security door, electronics, conveyor belt, licensed trade and airport industries. They include a brewery ‘python’ strap, and a pulley wheel system for a conveyor belt.
Python straps are used for securing pipework leading from pub cellars to the taps on the bar, and comprise reground plastic waste from other manufacturing processes. Once the company had been briefed on the project by Leicestershire-based customer L’isolante K-Flex, Sharnold used VISI to create the mould tool from an existing part that was previously manufactured using a different method.
The contract for the pulley wheel system came about after producing a small clamping block for Axiom GB.
“We made around 5000 parts, which was their first venture into moulding,” explains Chapman. “It was so successful that they asked us to work on the wheels for their conveyor system. We designed the full mould in VISI and transferred the files to WorkNC for machining the bolster, forms and electrodes.”
Overall, Sharnold makes around a dozen mould tools a year, ranging from 75 mm square bolster plates up to 445 mm square, and ships around 40 different moulded products totalling 100,000 piece parts every month.
“Not bad for just the four of us,” says Chapman.
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Fewer costs, increased productivity and new orders

A need to radically improve the component cleaning capabilities at a precision engineering company has resulted in significant savings, reduced production times and new orders; all thanks to a new MecWash industrial parts-washing system.

Nottinghamshire-based Swiftool Precision Engineering is an award-winning subcontract manufacturing business boasting a range of blue-chip customers in the aerospace, nuclear, marine and petrochemical sectors, among others.
With demanding quality standards for its precision-machined components, the company found that an existing basic spray-wash and small ultrasonic bench-washing system was not as thorough as the exacting requirements needed to meet growing demands from customers. Swiftool Precision duly turned to industrial parts-washing specialist MecWash for a solution.
“Quality is what Swiftool is all about,” states Andy Carnell, project manager at Swiftool. “The existing washing system was just not cleaning well enough. We needed to surpass the standards that not only we expect, but that our clients demand.
“The system was dated and, more importantly, unable to clean to the much smaller micron levels expected nowadays within the sectors we work in,” he continues. “Manufacturing high volumes of precision machined components in a range of materials also meant we needed to increase production time without losing quality.”
Working with the company, a MecWash MWX400 system was tested and configured, along with trials involving MecWash’s in-house laboratory and chemist to ensure the right wash chemicals were designed and matched, before the system was commissioned.
The MecWash MWX400 system provides ultrasonic wash and rinse, flood wash and rinse, mist rinse, spray wash and rinse, and hot air dry and vacuum dry. Contaminants needing to be removed from the manufactured components at Swiftool include neat oil, coolant and metal swarf.
The MWX400 system was commissioned into the manufacturing process and, in addition to significantly enhanced levels in cleanliness, production was also increased as a direct result.
“The MecWash system is far superior to what we had,” says Carnell. “It has saved so much time. It’s a lot quicker, more thorough and the results are far better.”

Swiftool has one of the most safety-critical environments, with the verified absence of foreign debris and contaminated material being vital. The company even has its own clean room certified to Rolls-Royce SABRe standard.
Carnell says the cycle times for cleaning both at the end and during the process have been improved significantly and “this has allowed us to reduce lead times and overall costs, thus attracting more business from our customers”.
Alan Atkinson of MecWash adds: “Swiftool works with companies that have the highest level of cleanliness requirements. We are talking particles sizes no larger than 500 µm. It’s vital there are no contaminants leaving the production process.
“Our systems provide the levels of cleanliness for such exacting results,” he adds. “They are designed to clean at much higher speeds with the same results, which means that production processes can also increase without compromise. This saves time and boosts productivity for our clients. And that’s through our team working with each customer to ensure the final commissioned system is optimised for their needs.”
Swiftool is one of many examples highlighting current confidence in the UK manufacturing supply chain. Indeed, this was further demonstrated at the MACH 2018 exhibition in April, with a surge of interest in MecWash technologies from new and existing customers.
With its range of aqueous parts-cleaning and degreasing systems on show at the UK’s main engineering-based manufacturing trade exhibition, MecWash managing director John Pattison says growth is not something just being talked about, it is happening, as demonstrated by the number and quality of leads generated at the event.
“MACH mirrored what we’ve witnessed over recent months from customers seeking to invest in new washing systems as their own orders rise,” he says. “The footfall on our stand wasn’t just to view our technology, it was to discuss specific investment projects from existing and new customers who are experiencing a surge in orders themselves and are looking to ramp up production.
“From smaller precision engineering suppliers through to the blue-chip giants within the automotive, aerospace and general engineering sectors, there were some very encouraging signs for the UK and global markets at MACH,” he adds.
Pattison also highlights research that found more than 40% of UK manufacturers expect growth in global trading conditions. The research by EEF and AIG also stated that nearly 70% of UK companies expect to increase productivity in 2018.

“MACH 2018 is one of the UK’s largest engineering-based manufacturing exhibitions, attracting thousands of representatives from key stakeholders, companies and investors,” says Pattison. “It is one of several key trade exhibitions in the UK, Europe and US that MecWash attends.
“Another factor in the investment coming through is the need for quality,” he concludes. “We believe the interest and leads generated at MACH highlight the high reputation of our aqueous washing systems.”
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Cycle times halved at motorsport specialist

A specialist in gearbox and transmission systems for the motorsport industry is branching out into electric vehicle transmissions, and has benefitted with a new manager driving its Edgecam software use up a gear.

Dominic Prinsloo, production engineering manager at Hewland Engineering, works closely with the design team to ensure that all components can be accurately produced through their manufacturing cells.
Hewland has a long history of being the “go-to” company to provide racing gearboxes for vehicles in competitions such as Formula One, LeMans GT, WRC rally, Open-wheel formula and Touring Cars; along with high performance sports cars that are equally at home on the road or track. The company also produces transmission systems for Formula E electric cars, and is now working on a number of projects for electric road cars.
Core business at Hewland comprises gear components that include the box, gears and layshafts – in fact everything that makes up the entire transmission system. Around 95% of parts are programmed through Edgecam, and almost all are complex, with tight tolerances of 5-10 µm.
Since joining the company in September 2017, Prinsloo has introduced new ways of working with Edgecam. “Hewland have used Edgecam for many years, but weren’t utilising it to its full potential,” he says.

Implementing his methods has led to reduced time and tooling costs. On a gearbox selector fork, for example, the cycle time was cut from 65 to 38 minutes, and when tooling costs were also taken into consideration, the savings on that component were “considerable.”
And with a larger fork, Prinsloo’s methods with Edgecam saved around 30 minutes on each individual item. Forecasts show that over a 12 month period, the Edgecam changes will also lead to considerable savings on every type of gearbox fork manufactured at Hewland. “It all means we can offer far more competitive prices to our customers.”
Those changes include bringing in solid models for programming and generating features from the model.
“We also use profile features, either generated from the ‘Features Find’ function, or generated manually. When I came to the company, the system was to input the values manually, which was time-consuming and prone to error. Now, the code is generated by associating the tool paths to the features, so whenever the component is upgraded to the next version and the model manipulated – such as a particular diameter being changed from 32 to 45mm – we just regenerate the feature and the tool path changes automatically.”
However, he says the biggest game-changer was introducing Edgecam’s Waveform roughing, both for the company’s milling and turning cells. “It’s now used for all our face grooves, groove turning and full rad inserts, which has reduced cycle times dramatically.”

Previously, when milling the company’s range of gear selector forks, a high feed method was used, with multiple face cutters for one component. Prinsloo says: “Those step cutters only lasted for three parts before having to be replaced.” He changed the manufacturing process to incorporate Waveform, machining 2.8 m/min minute at 4200 rpm with a 10% step-over, which has cut the number of tools required to produce the component.
“We’ve reduced the cycle time by 20 minutes on stage one machining, and eight and a half minutes on stage two machining, which means we’ve saved around 30 minutes on each fork,” says Prinsloo. “And we cut around 23 billets per carbide, instead of three.”
Many of Hewland’s shop-floor workers were a little wary of Edgecam’s Waveform strategy at first, worrying that the ramped up feeds and speeds would break the cutting tools.
“They’d never seen anything like it,” says Prinsloo. “I introduced it slowly, starting with a low revolution, then gradually increased it until we got to a 10% step-over, and 2.2 m feed. That was on EN36 case-hardening steel, so the team very quickly realised exactly what Waveform could do. I know we can push the machine even more, but this is perfect for our needs. It means the operator can leave the machine running while he goes on to work on another one.”
And those same operators now want Waveform to be the default machining strategy.
“We have what we call legacy components, which were originally programmed a long time ago,” he says. “Shop-floor personnel are asking us to change the programming to Waveform, telling us they find it more reliable, and that it reduces load on the spindle.”
Prinsloo says another Edgecam benefit is its ease of use. “We load the STEP file, and if it’s not a raw casting, we generate stock through Edgecam’s stock library. Then we load a chuck if it’s a turned component, or vice if it’s a milled part.”
After that comes what he calls the real power behind Edgecam – generating the features on the model before the programming sequence is started; loading the machine, and generating the toolkit, which in turn creates the set-up sheet as the live job report.
“We have everything within Edgecam: the stock, the model, chuck, machine, and tool kit. We simply couldn’t run our shop without it.”
Prinsloo predicts that Edgecam is going to be even more vital in future, for prototyping new gear components used on electric vehicles. Design engineer Ashley Craig is currently working on a number of transmission systems for that growing market.

“I liaise closely with Dominic to ensure that the finished 3D model can be accurately machined,” he says. “It gives me total confidence that my designs will be faithfully translated into the finished part, and ensures that Hewland continues to compete at the top level in terms of the gears and transmissions produced. Thanks to Edgecam, we can give our customers competitive prices, because it keeps both development and manufacturing costs to a minimum.”
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Subcontractor gets a grip on productivity

Leaving the comfort of employment and starting a business is a decision loaded with emotion and taken with cautious trepidation. For the two ex-aerospace engineers that founded GD Precision, re-mortgaging their homes to finance the leap emphasises their confidence and passion. Some 17 years later and the decision has paid dividends for the West Sussex entrepreneurs.

Now operating from a 4400 sq ft facility in Arundel, the company has seven staff, a host of Mazak, XYZ and Dugard CNC machine tools, and a list of clients that span across the Formula One, aerospace, transport and medical industries. Like most subcontract machine shops, GD Precision is continually striving for cost reductions, efficiency, productivity and quality. Luckily, the company has many of these facets covered by cutting tool supplier, Industrial Tooling Corporation (ITC).
Recalling life before the cold call of ITC sales engineer Dave Cleeve some 10 years ago, company director Dale Buckthorpe says: “In the early days we were conscious of our spending and watched every penny. We would buy low-cost tools from a variety of suppliers, and when the tools were near burn-out, we would get buckets of tools re-ground. Of course, this was a false economy. When Dave Cleeve came in with tools that were considerably more expensive than the cheap tools we were using, we took some convincing.”
Taking up the story, fellow director and head of the milling department, Gary Short, says: “Dave from ITC reviewed our workload and offered us the 3081 series square-end, three-flute, solid-carbide end mill. At the time, we were using a 20 mm diameter ripper cutter from another supplier to machine an aluminium component at the full 20 mm width – at a depth of 0.5xD – applying a low feed rate. Taking-on-board Dave’s expertise, we applied the 3081 series at full flute depth with smaller cuts, at speeds and feeds that were remarkably high. We were sceptical, but we trusted Dave and immediately realised cycle time reductions of 50%.
“Not only did we achieve 50% cycle time reductions, but the surface finishes and tool life were anything from four to five times better than our previous tools,” he continues. “While we instantly realised the benefits of paying more for tools from a premium brand manufacturer like ITC, we also recognised the technical expertise was invaluable.”
This success noted the arrival of a full line of 3081 end mills from 6 to 20 mm diameter for everything from roughing to finishing applications.
“The 3081 series blew our previous tools away,” says Short. “It’s a general purpose end mill with a high helix that we now use for just about every aluminium machining task. We have recently been machining dental mould tools and the 3081 series is achieving 70+ hours of trochoidal machining on high-grade HE15 aluminium.”
ITC’s 3081 series soon became the tool of choice for all aluminium machining tasks at GD Precision, giving the directors confidence to trial further ITC tools. This followed in the guise of the ITC Widia VariMill range of TiAlN coated four-flute end mills for machining stainless steel and exotic materials. Instantly outperforming previous tools, the VariMill proved every bit as successful on challenging materials as the 3081 showed on aluminium.

“It took us a while to adjust to the VariMill’s high speeds and feeds, but we are now hitting jobs faster with smaller cuts while pulling 30-40% less horsepower,” says Short. “We opted for more trochoidal milling and ITC was integral in the evolution of our machining strategies. With the VariMill generating 30-40% productivity improvements, and tool life gains of beyond 50%, we have phased out the majority of tooling from alternate suppliers.”
For dedicated high-speed roughing of challenging materials, GD Precision is now utilising the ITC 6051 series of six-flute centre-cutting end mills. As Short recalls: “The long length 6051 has a 60 mm flute length that permits higher material removal rates with excellent reach characteristics. There is very little depth in the flutes of the 6051 series and this increases strength and eliminates vibration, enabling us to run at 3 to 4 m/min. On materials like stainless, we are machining at feed of 0.2mm per tooth using the full 60 mm flute length.”
The success of the 3081 series, the VariMill and the 6051 series has seen GD Precision continually implement new machining strategies and tooling lines from ITC. Recent additions include the 4071 series for deburring and chamfering, 4011 series radius tools and 2001 series necked back tools for 3D and profile machining.
A newly added Dugard Eagle 1000+ machining centre with a Big-Plus logo on the spindle housing, is something which did not go unnoticed by Cleeve, who recommended that GD Precision should purchase a Big Kaiser face and taper contact Hi-Power milling chuck to complement the spindle interface.
“When Dave recommended we try the BBT40 Hi-Power milling chuck, we trusted his judgement based on previous results – we were not disappointed,” says Short. “The Dugard machines are very robust and stable, but we were struggling to reach ITC’s recommended speeds and feeds. As soon as the Big Kaiser Hi-Power milling chuck arrived, we knew the weak link was our old milling chucks. With the Big-Plus we can reach the recommended speeds and feeds with no chatter and vastly improved surface finishes. Without the Big-Plus chuck, we have to reduce our cutting parameters by at least 25%.
“The Big-Plus Hi-Power has improved our tool life by at least 20%, increased our machining performance and cutting parameters by over 25%, and the run-out is well below 5 µm. In fact, we don’t have equipment accurate enough to measure how little run-out there is.
“The Big-Plus milling chuck allows us to run the VariMill 12 and 16 mm diameter tools with a trochoidal strategy on stainless steel at machining feeds of 100 m/min and a spindle speed of 2000 rpm. In fact, since applying the chuck, we have realised there is little point in buying high-end tools without this rigid system. By using the chuck with trochiodal strategies, we have reduced our cycle time on dental mould tools from 12 minutes to 6 minutes 45 seconds, a 45% cycle time improvement.”

Despite all the strategic, purchasing and manufacturing enhancements instigated by ITC, there is one habit the company has not dropped, as Short concludes: “We still collect boxes of used solid carbide end mills. The difference now is that ITC is a UK manufacturer, and we are returning the cutting tools to the OEM for regrinding. The benefit is that ITC has the geometries of all its tools and the regrinds are conducted on the same machines that produced them in the first place. This means that we get our re-ground tools returned in an ‘as-new’ condition at a fraction of the cost of new tools.”
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