One machine does work of two at R&D facility

A Japanese-built Brother Speedio M140X2 five-axis mill-turn centre with 22-position magazine for 30-taper tools has been supplied by UK agent Whitehouse Machine Tools to Jointmedica, a Worcestershire company that carries out research and development into the design and manufacture of artificial knees and hips.

For the creation of prosthesis designs for hip and knee replacements, a new manufacturing cell is being established at the company’s centre for manufacturing research in Hallow. The facility opened two years ago under the present management, although Jointmedica was established back in 2008.
Managing director Terry Smith says: “The essence of successful implant performance is supreme quality, not only of the materials used, but also of the design, manufacture and insertion of the prosthetic during orthopaedic surgery. A case in point is one of our projects, the Polymotion Hip Resurfacing concept. It comprises a highly polished femoral head – currently produced by a partner company using a special low-nickel cobalt-chrome alloy attached to the top of the femur – which locates into a plastic acetabular cup inserted into the pelvis.”
Technical director Roger Ashton adds: “Metal-on-metal hip resurfacing and hip replacement technology has all but disappeared globally due to a number of products on the market performing below expectations, and in certain cases causing significant problems in patients. Some designs with which I have been involved continue to perform extremely well, going on to deliver class-leading results in thousands of satisfied patients. This previous product familiarity provides the basis for our ongoing development of hip resurfacings.”
He goes on to explain that currently the remaining hip resurfacing solutions are metal-on-metal, with a number of companies exploring the use of ceramic-on-ceramic articulations in an attempt to retain the advantages of the procedure. Jointmedica is privileged to be working with Derek McMinn and Ronan Treacy, both pioneers of hip resurfacing implant design and global authorities on metal-on-metal hip resurfacing gleaned from over 20 years’ experience with their previous hip resurfacing enterprise, the Birmingham Hip Resurfacing of Smith & Nephew Orthopaedics.
Together with these specialists, Jointmedica is conducting research into the optimal medical grade polymer to replace the cobalt-chrome previously used for the cup. The company believes this approach to hip resurfacing offers significant advantages to surgeons and, more importantly, the patients who may receive these implants at a relatively young age.

Jointmedica identified a type of highly cross-linked polyethylene with a porous coating as offering the ideal characteristics for use in hip resurfacing. Prototypes are undergoing exhaustive tests in the new R&D cell. At its core is the Brother mill-turn centre, equipped with Blum in-process gauging and tool probing, on which simple turned forms and complex freeform implant shapes can be readily attained.
Development products can be secured easily in an expanding collet on the torque table of the Brother M140X2. Turning and milling operations are then combined to achieve the appropriate geometry, surface texture and finish. Every completed implant is inspected on an Aberlink Axiom Too shop-floor CMM to affirm geometrical characteristics and ensure dimensional accuracy.
Function and wear simulators are used alongside the in-house development work to prove the safety and efficacy of the resulting implants. In the case of hip resurfacing and hip replacement designs, these simulators load and articulate the bearing through millions of cycles in a manner that mimics human movement.
To support the venture financially, in October 2017 Jointmedica was awarded a Proof of Concept grant from Worcestershire County Council as part of the European Regional Development Fund. Five months later, the company received further significant funding assistance from Innovate UK, which has a remit to find and drive science and technology that will expand the UK economy.
“When we reviewed the options for the machining element of our manufacturing cell, which involves the complex milling of textured surfaces and single-point turning of bearing surfaces, we originally thought we would need a five-axis machining centre and a CNC lathe,” says Ashton. “The availability of the Brother M140X2 mill, with accurate turning capability using a direct-drive 2,000 rpm torque table, offered us the chance to use just one machine to complete all cutting operations.”
It was felt that a 30-taper tool interface would suffice for machining all materials to be used in the orthopaedic devices, and such machines have the additional advantage of a small footprint. The preference was for a true five-axis machine rather than a three-axis model with a compound CNC table, as the former would ensure the necessary functionality within a compact envelope.
Three options on the market were considered. The Brother machine was selected due to its superior turning capacity as well as its fast axis movements. This motion is carried out in four of the five CNC axes simultaneously during non-cutting times together with the 0.9 second tool change, so idle times are minimal. Cutting feed rate is high at up to 30 m/min, maximising stock removal for high productivity.
Manufacturing engineer Oliver Clayton says: “The capabilities of this milling machine are beyond impressive. During my induction training, I was able to produce sample parts in record time. The cutting performance and level of detail I can achieve with this variant of the Brother line-up exceeds our expectations.

“Importantly, the package supplied by Whitehouse was comprehensive,” he adds. “It consisted of not only the Brother machine and one week of operator instruction at their Kenilworth technical centre, but also professional telephone support and recommendations as to suitable CADCAM software. We chose Alphacam, whose engineers have also been helpful. They defined the process, supplied the post processor for the Brother mill-turn centre and provided training.”
Other facets of the installation, he singles out for praise, are the machine’s speed and accuracy, and its user-friendliness, especially regarding the usability of the Brother high-speed C-00 control system. He describes the control as being convenient for editing the off-line programmed feeds and speeds, and as having a huge memory able to hold multiple program files.
“Once we have proved the Polyethylene Hip Resurfacing design and production process, and obtained class 3 CE marking, we will be marketing a holistic design and manufacturing package to the big multinational prosthetics producers,” concludes Smith.
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Turning the dream into reality

Everyone has dreams and Thomas Karpasitis is no different, except he turned his dream into reality with the creation of Karpas Engineering in the summer of 2018. Taking a leap of faith, Karpasitis, along with his wife Sophie, invested their savings and committed to making their new venture a success. This bold move is already starting to pay dividends, as customers recognise the all-round capability of the start-up business.

At just 30 years of age, Karpasitis has had a varied career within the CCTV, electromagnetic compatibility testing and 3D printing environments, but making things was always a passion.
“I got to that stage where I was fed up of working for other people and needed a new challenge,” he says. “The result is Karpas Engineering, a business that allows me to use my experience in design, project management and 3D development, and combine it with machining capability and machine assembly services. I knew that to do the job well I had to invest wisely, hence the decision to work with XYZ Machine Tools.”
With no business track record, financing any machine purchase may have posed additional challenges. However, working with XYZ Machine Tools, along with Mike Hankin of Capital Funding Solutions, the right machine and finance package was created, which saw the arrival three months ago of an XYZ 2-OP machining centre and an SMX 2500 ProtoTrak bed mill.
“After detailed discussions with XYZ’s area sales manager, we identified the machines that would be right for the business and began our journey,” says Karpasitis. “The partnership between XYZ and Hankin made the process go smoothly with a deal that was built around our personal credit history and a commitment to back it up with our own equity. The positives of the deal will see the machines being ours within a few years, and they will form the foundations of our machining capability.
My vision is to have several XYZ 2-OPs side-by-side to create a highly flexible machining cell.”

The combination of the XYZ 2-OP with its eight-position tool changer and the XYZ SMX 2500 ProtoTrak bed mill suits the mix of work that Karpas Engineering is targeting. The focus is on one-off prototype/development work, along with small-to-medium sized batch production and, with both machines sharing the ProtoTrak control system, transferring work from one to the other is straightforward when required.
“The compatibility of the ProtoTrak controls on the two machines makes it simple to scale up from prototype one-off work to production quantities,” says Karpasitis. “Programming is also quick and easy, which is what you need in order to maximise machine time and, more crucially, deliver accurate and on-time components to customers – from day one I was programming at the controls. I also have the option of importing programs directly from our CADCAM system when customers have provided drawing data.”
Within the first three months of the XYZ machines arriving, Karpas has gone from having no customers to a growing portfolio of regular business, even winning work that had previously been offshored to China.
“It is great to see that customers are buying into our commitment to them through our investment in machining capability,” states Karpasitis. “We will continue to develop our offering and gradually build up our capacity, including additional employees as the workload demands it.
“What we have achieved so far, we couldn’t have done without the XYZ 2-OP and SMX 2500 machines,” he adds. “They have provided the flexibility and efficiency that a small business needs, while at the same time making the transition to becoming a subcontract machinist straightforward due to their ease of use. If we can compete with China when it comes to machining, we are obviously doing something right.”
The XYZ 2-OP vertical machining centre, while compact in size, measuring just 775 mm wide by 1380 mm deep, provides a machining envelope with axis travels of 355 x 305 x 455 mm in the X, Y and Z axes, with up to 525 mm between the table and spindle nose. The spindle is a 6000 rpm, 2.24 kW BT30 unit, making it suitable for general machining or, as its name implies, second operation work. Components weighing up to 250 kg can be accommodated on the machine’s 457 x 381 mm table. Although designed as a portable machining centre that could be moved anywhere in the workshop to provide back-up to more expensive machinery, it has found a niche for itself as a stand-alone vertical machining centre.

XYZ’s SMX 2500 is the smallest of the ProtoTrak controlled bed mills with axis travels of 762 x 381 x 560 mm in X, Y and Z, with an additional 127 mm of quill travel. The spindle has two speed ranges covering 50 to 3600 rpm, and has an R8 taper as standard or, as in the case of Karpas Engineering, an ISO 30 spindle can be specified. The table measures 1245 x 228 mm and can carry up to 600 kg, making it highly versatile.
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Supplying parts for metal puzzles

Dawson Precision Components (DPC) is supplying world-class British-engineered parts for thousands of 3D revolving Revomaze metal puzzles. The Greater Manchester engineering firm manufactures components for Revomaze developer Ashton Pitt Ltd, based in Cumbria, which sells the cylindrical mazes globally.

Players need dexterity, memory, endurance and self-control to unlock the metal puzzles. They have to avoid traps and stick closely to tiny walls and bridges to find their way out.
Oldham-based DPC has so far supplied 5000 mazes plus other precision-engineered parts, including aluminium sleeves and stainless-steel drawbars and pins.
The first Revomaze puzzles went on sale in 2009. Since then, the range has expanded to 18 designs, each offering increasingly complicated challenges.
Simon Dawson, managing director of DPC, says: “The Revomaze concept is a top-of-the-range maze or executive toy comprising brass nickel-plated bodies, stainless steel pins and draw bars, and aluminium outer sleeves. Our client, Ashton Pitt, wanted a highly-reliable precision engineering company to manufacture the parts, while they focus on promotional work and designing new puzzles.
“DPC first made parts for the beginner level blue-coloured maze,” he adds. “There are currently eight different versions in production with more planned.”
The mazes have very complex designs, with square and circular moves, different paths and depths. For example, the indigo-coloured game has seven depths. Precision-engineered parts include ramps leading from one level to another, sliders, pins and bridges. Some mazes include magnets.

“Machining the parts requires very complicated G-code programming for our equipment, which can take two days to complete,” says Dawson. “The client provides the designs for each maze, then we work hand-in-hand with them to develop their designs into machinable parts.”
DPC uses a top-of-the-range Citizen M32 machine for the main maze bodies and a Mazak turn-mill centre for aluminium sleeves. Further Citizen machines are used to manufacture other parts. In addition, DPC’s product inspection and process control services are also critical. There are 21 aspects that are checked thoroughly.
“The finish of the mazes is crucial,” states Dawson. “The brass raised body is nickel-plated to a bright, durable finish. Outer sleeves are diamond-turned to get a beautiful finish, then colour-anodised to match its particular mating maze design.”
The foundation sets of Revomazes are finished in aqua, blue, green and bronze colours, while the master set is coloured indigo, gunmetal, copper and mint. Further puzzles are orange, red, black, gold, titanium, lime, purple, salmon and silver.
Commenting on the mazes’ global popularity, Dawson says: “There is a big scene around these including YouTube videos and online forums. A YouTube review of the blue Revomaze by Mr Puzzle on how to complete the puzzle has nearly five million views. There are limited editions, collectors’ versions, puzzlers and gamers. There’s a real buzz.”
The Oldham precision engineering company is working closely with Chris Pitt, of Ashton Pitt, based in Askam-in-Furness, Cumbria.

Pitt, who has a background in engineering, electronics and data systems development, says: “We looked carefully for a production manufacturer who has the same passion about quality that we, and all our worldwide clients, require for a premium product. We have enjoyed a very successful relationship with DPC due to the meticulous attention to detail by Simon and all the staff. Our success to compete worldwide relies on the very high quality of the machining and the subcontractors to provide the best finish that allows us to grow year-on-year.”
DPC was founded in 1965 and provides wide-ranging precision engineering and subcontract services to clients in the UK, Europe and beyond. A member of the British Turned Parts Manufacturing Association (BTMA), the company works across sectors including aerospace, defence, energy, environmental, marine, medical, motorsport and rail.
Over £1m has been invested in expanding DPC’s workshops and premises in recent years by owners Simon Dawson, Paul Dawson and Julie Hughes.
DPC’s new machines include a Miyano BNA 42 GTY with low frequency vibration (LFV) technology, and a Citizen L20 Type 8, also with LFV, which enables better swarf management in metal or plastics.
The Citizen is a 20 mm capacity sliding-head with sub-spindle live tooling and magazine bar feed, while the Miyano is 42 mm capacity and of similar configuration to the Citizen. DPC says it is the first of its type to be installed in the UK with LFV technology. The Miyano has replaced two older machines and complements other machining capabilities of 32 and 50 mm diameters.
A family owned company, founded in 1965, DPC has built a strong reputation for being progressive and innovative, with a programme of continuous investment in the latest machine tools. Together with the latest production control software and inspection facilities, this strategy ensures that the company offers a premium service at the forefront of engineering technology.
DPC’s production facility houses CNC turning and milling equipment, comprehensive inspection facilities and bespoke finishing and packaging services. The company’s approved subcontractors provide heat treatment and plating services to complement DPC’s in-house portfolio, ensuring all customer requirements are satisfied. A highly skilled and motivated workforce is a reflection of a company that places great emphasis on continual training and career development.

Today, DPC employs 50 staff, including apprentices, and looks to grow the business through expansion and recruitment. The company is accredited to ISO9001 and can supply FAIR Certification in accordance with AS9102.
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CAM plus automation is formula for success

At its 30,000 sq ft facility, Metri-Tech manufactures ultra-precision, high-volume components for the aerospace, medical, defence and commercial industries. Based in Huntington Beach, Metri-Tech Engineering is not a typical job shop – that much is evident from the company’s factory filled with automated production equipment, including a wall-mounted live scheduler, which resembles a 2 m tall iPad. Hans Gratzer Jr, COO/CTO of Metri-Tech and son of company founders Hans and Katharina Gratzer, developed the scheduling program to help his 38 employees better visualise what is happening in the shop at any given time and plan for the next jobs. This strategy is part of the company’s forward-thinking approach to automation.

“Most job scheduling systems are number-driven, but people like pictures,” Gratzer says. “With this system, what you see is what you get — kind of like Esprit.”
Metri-Tech has used Esprit CAM software almost since its inception; Gratzer estimates it was first installed in 1988.
“My dad bought the software, and he was very happy with it because we were mainly in the fitting business at that time; he liked that it could program families of parts,” he says. “It was a huge time saving.”
But just as crucial to Metri-Tech were Esprit’s accurate, full-colour simulations, which were said to be the first in the industry.
“That allowed us to give more visibility to our programming and reduce mistakes in our set-up the first time around,” says Gratzer. “Most of our machinists do both the set-up and the machine operation; they know what they’re doing. Now they do not have to worry during the set-up process and first-off run; they know the program will be right due to the precise nature of Esprit simulation, set-up sheets and posts.”
Some 30 years later, Esprit keeps Metri-Tech at the top of its game, thanks to its ease of use and quick support. The company uses the software for full five-axis contour composite milling, swarf milling and multi-axis multi-spindle turning.
“Esprit is very progressive in the five-axis and multi-axis realms,” Gratzer notes. “The software is just easier, faster, stronger and more accurate than other CAM programs we have tested or demonstrated over the years.”

At its plant, Metri-Tech machines all types of materials, including more exotic types like Inconel, titanium, Nitronic, Invar, Kovar, Ferrium, polyurethane, Teflon, PEEK and Ultem, to list but a few.
“Customers use us as a solution; they have problems and we fix them,” Gratzer says. “We’re experts in most manufacturing processes, and our customers come to us for
the precision and quality of part we produce.”
The company started out making fittings, which provided it with an understanding of how these parts fit into the larger assemblies. This comprehension allowed Metri-Tech to gradually move into more complicated parts.
“Doing fittings evolved into us going in the opposite direction: manufacturing the parts the fittings fit into, which were housings and manifolds,” says Gratzer. “Then obviously, when you get into the more complex and assembly side of medical and aerospace, you get into the critical finishes and close tolerances of the internal workings of the manifolds and housings, like spool and sleeve assemblies, and shaft work. It was a very interesting and methodical transition.”
The company operates 42 machines in total, with a number of three-axis Mori Seiki lathes and Nakamura-Tome lathes featuring up to 13 axes, which allow the company to be more creative with small parts. Metri-Tech also runs three and four-axis vertical mills, and several Matsuura five-axis vertical trunnion machines with up to 42 pallets and 520 tools.
In combination, Metri-Tech’s arsenal of machines provides programmers with hundreds of pallets and thousands of different tool options. Many of the shop’s palletised machines are automated, and the company is working to bring in mobile robots to transfer parts from machine to machine, along with virtual augmentation to help programmers easily view the custom manufacturing software and scheduler on the shop floor.
Metri-Tech, which boasts ISO AS9100D certification, offers polishing and ultra-critical finishes, as well as a high-end quality control facility in-house.
“What sets Metri-Tech apart from the competition is the quality when producing components in larger volumes,” says Gratzer. “Anybody can make a few good parts, but consistency and repeatability over larger volumes is the key to our success. Most customers say that quality is a given nowadays; it’s truly not. We take so many steps in assuring a quality part gets to the customer. We have a group of very dedicated employees, and everybody’s looking out for the quality of the product. The main reason why customers come to us is 100% quality, all the time. If they need a job done fast and they need it done right the first time, they come to us.”

Metri-Tech’s performance has been strong since its inception in 1978, but shortly after Gratzer came to work for the company in 1998, and with his vision for technology, automation and reinvestment, the company has experienced significant growth. Forecasts show that Metri-Tech may double its business within the near future.
“I credit the success to our passion for this industry; striving for automation and all the technology we use, including Esprit,” concludes Gratzer. “I feel our next 40 years are going to be stronger than the last 40.”
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AMRC helps develop novel laser tracker

Engineers at the AMRC have helped develop a novel laser tracking measurement device that has the potential to be a disruptive technology in high-value manufacturing and a key capability in factories of the future.

A team at the University of Sheffield’s Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) believes Reflex Imaging’s Laser Metrology Module – LAMM for short – has the power to shake up the metrology market due to the low costs of the sensor it uses compared with more conventional metrology systems.
The sensor – which uses a laser to track a target and generate co-ordinates for that target – was originally developed for use in medical equipment. However, the AMRC saw the potential for the sensor to have multiple uses in high-value manufacturing. LAMM is still in development but the AMRC has helped Reflex Imaging develop the technology so that its functionality is suited to manufacturing applications.
This Catapult-funded collaborative project between Reflex Imaging and the AMRC’s Integrated Manufacturing Group (IMG) involved two workshops at the AMRC’s Factory 2050 to develop use cases and demonstrators for LAMM. The scope was to find application areas within the high-value manufacturing industry and help Reflex develop the sensor to suit these applications.
An initial workshop was staged to better understand LAMM and scope potential use cases. Basic demonstrator testing was also performed. A follow-up workshop was held after the development and prototyping phase focused on specific manufacturing tasks identified during the first session.
Large volume metrology technical lead for the IMG, Thomas Hodgson, oversaw the development work, and says possible applications identified for the technology include robotic tracking, fixture validation and robotic machining: “One of the uses of the trackers is for ensuring robotic drills are in the right place before drilling a hole, a task that is often performed with expensive equipment. The robot moves into position, before measurement and drilling takes place. The cost of the metrology devices that perform these measurements can be expensive, but we’ve worked with LAMM to show it can be done much cheaper.

“This technology exist already and is used widely in the aerospace industry because it allows for large scale measurements,” he adds. “For example, in order to certify a jig, you have to measure before you build anything on it because that’s how product quality is controlled. The trackers used to do this can cost anywhere up to £250,000. They are very expensive pieces of kit.
“The LAMM is novel in that the technology behind it makes it significantly cheaper than traditional laser tracking measurements.”
Reflex Imaging was set up in 2013 and is jointly owned by Peter Hart, chief executive officer, and Malcolm Humphrey, chief technical officer. Armed with their ideas and an early prototype of LAMM, the pair visited the European Portable Metrology Conference in Coventry last year to assess the market, and it is there they met representatives from the AMRC.
“As a start-up, we must use our scarce resources very efficiently, and having access to the experience, facilities and personnel of AMRC was to prove extremely valuable,” states Hart.
Those early discussions helped Hart and Humphrey identify the strongest potential applications and confidently set the focus for the company’s final hardware and software development.
“The ability to subsequently access working manufacturing cells at the AMRC and install our equipment to prove out the ideas was immensely valuable,” says Hart. “The conventional method of working with potential customers, with all their commercial pressures, would not have been as easy, nor, importantly, could we have done it in such a short time. Furthermore, in the AMRC we are working with not only today’s manufacturing challenges, but seeing manufacturing concepts for decades to come.”
Hart says that the future scope for LAMM technology is wide as it lets users achieve an order of magnitude improvement in precision over conventional systems for a given cost.

“LAMMs are designed to be simply connected together to achieve higher target coverage, higher sampling rates, higher averaging and system redundancy,” he explains. “The ability to use multiple, lower cost units opens up the potential of using laser-based metrology in applications that previously could not afford it, such as automatic calibration of robotic machine systems as standard. The factory of the future will use a scaleable network of integrated, precise, measuring devices.
“Above all the experience, information and facilities of the AMRC, one of the most valuable things coming from the project has been the strong personal confidence that AMRC individuals had in us throughout the project,” concludes Hart. “One year on at this year’s EPMC conference, our ideas have turned into a booth and products and applications, and the huge credibility that comes from the support of the AMRC.”
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