VMC performance creates development opportunities

When Mounts and More originally started in 1996 it was intended to be a part-time enterprise, but the business quickly morphed from being a small distributor of products for wheelchair users, into a service and support centre for not only individual users, but hospital groups across the UK and Europe.

From this experience of being what managing director Ian Bullock describes as being the “middle-man” he began to develop his own ideas, which initially were passed straight back to Daessy, the Canada-based supplier of the equipment he was selling.
“As part of that agreement we were precluded from selling other products, but they gave us their blessing and support to start designing and making our own accessories and custom parts to complement the Daessy mounting system,” says Bullock. “As many of these designs were unique to our local requirements, it made sense to invest in our own manufacturing capability. Also, as a manufacturer, we would be able to access greater export support from the Government.”
Mounts and More’s core market is the supply of mounts to assist wheelchair users in the use of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) systems. The most familiar user of such equipment was the late Professor Stephen Hawking. Through its longstanding association with Daessy, Mounts and More has built a strong business supporting higher dependency wheelchair users, which equate to around 10% of the market, where funding is more readily available to purchase accessories that make life easier for these customers.

“The other 90% of wheelchair users find it increasingly difficult to access funding, which is why we are focussing on developing products that allow them to adapt off-the-shelf technology to meet their needs,” explains Bullock. “For example, a fully specified Eyegaze communication device can cost well over £10,000, but we’ve developed a bracket that allows an Eyegaze camera to be used with a Microsoft Surface Pro to create a basic Eyegaze device.”
To develop these products, Mounts and More initially invited quotes for machining work but could not find anyone interested. As a result, the decision was taken to invest in some machining capacity. Budget and space restrictions limited the choice and capability of the first Chinese machines, which also came with their own issues in terms of reliability.
These factors would open the company’s eyes to the potential of investing in more robust and quality machinery. Therefore, when additional floor space became available, Bullock and his son William, looked to invest again, with the first requirement being increased machining centre capacity.
Initial research by William Bullock identified the XYZ 750 LR as the ideal machine, and his investigation confirmed that the quality and performance of the XYZ machine, along with service and support, would meet requirements. Price was also a factor, with Yorkshireman Ian Bullock’s reaction being “how much?” However, with subcontractors now refusing to quote for the volumes needed, or giving extremely long lead times, he knew it was the right investment.
“We initially considered buying a used machine, but the security provided by a new machine in terms of the back-up we could call on if we had any questions related to programming and operating the machine, or in terms of service, convinced us that a new model was the way to go. With the arrival of the XYZ 750 LR we have got back control of production. We could no longer be dependent on others; we had to have the ability to make things ourselves.

“The machine also allows us to provide a much more bespoke service, as we can modify designs quickly to suit customer needs. New product development is enhanced as we can produce prototype parts when we need them. We have hundreds of ideas, such as our recently developed mini floor stand, which takes just 40% of the floor space required by conventional systems. This has proved to be a success and having the XYZ machine means we can turn ideas like this into reality, sooner rather than later.”
The speed and build quality of the XYZ 750 LR linear rail-type machining centre has brought significant productivity gains. An example of this are the riser blocks used on the new Mounts and More mini floor stand. Previously, on the company’s old machine, it took seven minutes to produce a one-off. Now, thanks to the 13 kW, 8000 rpm spindle and up to 20 m/min feed rates, four of these risers are produced each cycle in just over six minutes, a near 80% saving per part.
In addition to cycle time savings, Mounts and More is also seeing an improvement in surface finish thanks to the build quality and performance of the machine’s linear rail construction.
“We can certainly push the XYZ machine harder and faster than before, and achieve better quality products,” says Ian Bullock. “We can now manufacture bespoke systems and further develop our own product range with a view to expanding our market reach to beyond the 10% of the sector that we already serve.
“One unforeseen advantage of the XYZ 750 LR was the effect it has on customers,” he adds. “We regularly get visits from NHS trusts and wheelchair manufacturers, and the machine makes a distinct impression on them. We’re selling them a premium product and having the XYZ machine enhances that perception in their eyes.”
For further information www.xyzmachinetools.com

Bandsaw is twice as productive

Established in 1892 and employing more than 200 staff, family-run firm Thomas Graham & Sons, now in its fifth generation, operates a multi-faceted business in Carlisle. One division is devoted to steel stockholding, which has seen a significant rise in cutting capacity following the purchase of a new KASTOwin A 4.6 bandsaw built by Kasto, Germany and supplied through its Milton Keynes subsidiary.

The machine was installed in 2018 specifically to fulfil a new contract for cutting 350 tonnes of mild steel alloyed with boron, every year. Used by a forestry industry truck manufacturer for producing chain links, the lengths of flat bar need to have a high boron content to promote hardness during heat treatment.
Bundles of 24 bars of 50 x 20 mm cross section and with two bevelled edges are sawn into 280 mm lengths, each cycle comprising 10 cuts, producing 240 billets. The bars are removed from the output roller table before the next cycle starts.
Thomas Graham’s operations director Phil Barnes, who has been with the company for 17 years, says: “The KASTOwin is our first bandsaw from this supplier but our 11th on site. Boron steel isn’t especially difficult to cut using a standard bimetal blade, so it’s a simple contract to fulfil, but the automatic Kasto saw does it extremely well, day-in day-out, easily holding the required ±1 mm tolerance.
“We were expecting each bundle cutting cycle to take eight hours, but in fact it is completed in just three and a half hours,” he adds.

He goes on to explain that the high performance is partly down to the 10 minutes per cycle that is saved by the Kasto saw’s ability to start the trim cut automatically when each new bundle is loaded. On other machines it is necessary first to cut the bundle to level the face, then measure the bar before production can start.
More important for achieving the high level of productivity is the adaptive down-feed on the bandsaw, which is called KASTOrespond. This function allows a band feed rate that is higher than would otherwise be feasible, as it is automatically backed off momentarily if the built-in pressure sensor detects a rise in cutting force. An unexpected spike in cutting force can occur as the blade reaches transitions between layers of bars in the bundle, or if it encounters a hard spot in the material. Optimal force on the blade is therefore maintained throughout the cycle, ensuring a good quality of cut and avoiding damage to the blade.
Barnes says: “When it came to buying a new bandsaw for this work, bearing in mind we use three makes other than Kasto, we benchmarked various options and asked the potential suppliers to process a sample batch of our boron steel. Our welding division manager Jim Hunter and I were impressed with the Kasto demonstration at their Milton Keynes showroom, added to which the price of the machine was acceptable. In particular, we appreciated the consultative nature of their sales approach, which prompted us to place the order.”

The fully-automated bandsaws from the KASTOwin range have been designed for mass production sawing of solid material, tube and profile. Designed in Germany and manufactured on state-of-the-art production flow lines at assembly plants in Achern and Schalkau, KASTOwin machines are said to create the conditions for optimum efficiency.
Each machine can be customised to the specific application using a modular design system, while rapid motion is said to be assured using servo drive and ball-screw spindle technology for the material feed and linear guided saw frame. Further features include: automatic band guide arm adjustment; quick and easy programming via a colour touchscreen; SmartControl to ensure high bandsaw blade lifetimes; and incremental feed for cutting batches of short workpieces.
Since the bandsaw was installed at Thomas Graham & Sons, the higher-than-expected productivity on the boron steel job has provided spare capacity for general purpose cutting of engineering steel bar, such as EN8 and EN24T, from 10 to 300 mm in diameter, either singly or in bundles. Barnes advises that work transferred from other machines onto the Kasto is completed in approximately half the time, commenting further that when the operator returns to the saw, the job is nearly always finished and ready to be unloaded.
The stockholder’s management is in no doubt that the KASTOwin is highly beneficial to business, not only due to the bandsaw’s productivity on the contract for which it was purchased, but also because of the machine’s ability to cut other materials, including stainless steel and aluminium, so precisely. A tolerance of -0, +1 mm is held routinely, saving wastage by not having to program extra allowance, as would be the case on the company’s other, less accurate saws.

In conclusion, Barnes says: “We have an evolving customer base, more than half of which requires material cut to size, so bandsawing is a crucial function for us. Certainly the KASTOwin has been a revelation in terms of its productivity and accuracy of cut.
“We’ve also been impressed with Kasto as a company and feel that we have entered into an alliance whereby we can consult with them on bandsaw technology and receive unbiased advice,” he states.
For further information www.kasto.com

Laser-cutting subcontractor witnesses rapid growth

After completing his apprenticeship and gaining an HND in mechanical engineering, as well as an NVQ Level 3 in AutoCad, Iain Summerfield found himself at a sheet-metal subcontractor in 2001 sweeping the floor and loading material on to four Bystronic CO2 flat-bed laser-cutting machines. Within the first three months he had reorganised the firm’s production processes, started programming and operating the lasers, and took a course in the nesting, programming and simulation software, BySoft.

Seven years later, in mid-2008, he decided to use a small inheritance, re-mortgage his house and join forces with co-director Paul King to set up their own company, Laser 24, to provide similar subcontract services. In a little over a decade, the subcontractor has grown to employ 26 staff and has added CNC bending to its capacity.
Due to the reliability of the Bystronic machines at his previous company and, in particular, the user-friendliness of the software, Laser 24’s first purchase was a second-hand BySprint 1.8 kW CO2 3015 (3 x 1.5 m) laser-cutting machine, which ran 24-7 in a 3500 sq ft factory unit in Wickford, Essex. At the time, one of the early contracts was the production of 5000 decorative snowflakes from 0.5 mm aluminium sheet for a Christmas display at Harrods department store in London.
Various permutations of more powerful CO2 laser-cutting machines were operational on the shop floor over the next seven years. However, it had become apparent that for cutting stainless steel and aluminium, it was impossible to be competitive with a CO2 laser as fibre lasers were so efficient at processing these reflective materials. Copper and its alloys, which previously could not have been considered at all, can additionally be cut as there are no conventional optics to be damaged by back reflections.
So in 2015, one of the CO2 machines was exchanged for Laser 24’s first fibre laser cutting machine, a Bystronic 3 kW ByStar Fiber 3015. The machine was automated with a ByTrans Extended sheet-handling system purchased two years earlier with a previous machine, shortly after the subcontractor moved into new premises near the original unit and almost double its size.
The effectiveness of fibre laser cutting was immediately apparent, and the wider range of materials that could be processed resulted in new work being won. Fibre technology had matured by then into one that was supplanting CO2 in almost all application areas, and was clearly the future. By mid-2018, the subcontractor had attached a 10 kW ByStar Fiber to the ByTrans Extended, which was joined by a second identical production cell six months later. Laser 24 is the only company in the south of England to operate a pair of 10 kW sheet-metal cutting centres.

Summerfield says: “With our latest machines we opted for the PowerCut feature in the BySoft 7 control software, as it produces a clean cut edge on thicker, even reflective materials up to 30 mm. It is also economical, as it more than halves the volume of assist gas consumed.
“The 10 kW fibre laser is twice as fast as our previous fibre machine and over three times more productive than our old CO2 equipment,” he continues. “We now cut 10 mm mild steel sheet at around 5 m/min on the 10 kW machine, whereas on our CO2 machines, the best we could achieve in the same material was 1.5 m/min.”
Summerfield adds that the company mainly uses nitrogen as the assist gas, rather than oxygen, as it results in an un-oxidised edge that does not need to be finished before it is painted or powder coated.
A further advantage of having a 10 kW fibre laser source is that there is sufficient power to use air rather than oxygen as the assist gas for certain jobs. This strategy results in an edge quality that is indistinguishable from oxygen when cutting material up to 1.5 mm thick, and is still acceptable for thicknesses up to 3 mm. In fact, Laser 24 is currently considering air cutting, which avoids the cost of using bottled gas, as an economical alternative to plasma cutting for applications that do not require top-quality edge finish. Trials are currently being performed.
A further significant benefit of the higher power laser is its ability to guarantee the edge quality on both sides of a sheet when cutting coated material. Normally, due to the coating on the underside, a burr results that needs to be removed by hand, but the 10 kW fibre source eliminates this problem and leaves a clean edge.
Coupled with the use of ByTrans automation, which avoids the risk of manual handling damage, parts delivered to customers require no buffing or cleaning. A case in point was the supply of mirror polished stainless steel frames that supported glass displays and were visible from both sides at this year’s Chelsea Flower Show.
Maximum cutting capacities of the 10 kW fibre laser are 25 mm mild steel, 30 mm stainless steel and aluminium, 15 mm brass, and 12 mm copper. Summerfield makes the point that the ability to tackle thicker plate overlaps with the use of waterjet cutting, compared with which laser processing is half the cost. Unless a heat-affected zone at the component edge created by the laser (but not the waterjet) is a problem, for the aforementioned gauges of material, the 10 kW Bystronic ByStar Fiber is the obvious choice.
At the end of 2017, Steve Westgate was employed by Laser 24 as operations manager to oversee a gradual transition to a paperless working environment, which included the replacement of a wall-mounted T-card planner. Two additional software modules within BySoft 7 that are accelerating this process are ‘Plant Manager’ and ‘ByCockpit’.
Plant Manager is an analysis, planning and monitoring module that automatically assesses machine and job data so that parts can be cut and bent more quickly, at a lower cost and without errors. As manual data input is no longer necessary, processes run more reliably. The software provides comprehensive statistical data on production efficiency, which Westgate says exceeds 90% OEE at Laser 24.

Within the Plant Manager suite, ‘Parts Removal’ software is especially popular with the production staff. Among other abilities, Parts Removal allows the suction cups on the ByTrans to be positioned such that individual components within a sheet can be picked up and stacked on to pallets, with the skeleton also being removed, all of which reduces handling time and cost.
ByCockpit is a more recent introduction that monitors, in real time, all processes taking place within Bystronic laser-cutting machines and press brakes. Running on a laptop, smartphone or tablet, the software collects data without manual intervention, evaluates it and generates status reports while machines are actually producing parts, allowing production output to be continually optimised. Westgate says that the app allows all KPIs (key performance indicators) to be managed within the Wickford facility.
For many years, customers had been asking for laser-cut parts to be bent, a service that was fulfilled by putting the work out to other subcontractors. This situation changed in September last year with the arrival of Laser 24’s first press brake, an 80-tonne, 1.5-m capacity Bystronic Xpert 80. The press brake is of a design that allows a robot to be attached to the front so that loading and unloading can be automated. Such a retrofit is being seriously considered, since as many as half of current customers have expressed interest in having their parts bent.
A particular strength of BySoft 7 is that it is used to program not only laser-cutting machines, but also press brakes, so only a single program is needed for producing a bent part from a flat sheet. Having one program speeds the end-to-end manufacturing process and virtually eliminates the possibility of mistakes, so even the first-off part is right.
Summerfield states: “The Xpert press brake is the fastest and most advanced on the market. Its high productivity allows us to add value to parts quickly and undercut the competition.
“BySoft does the majority of the thinking for you and has taken the trial-and-error out of press braking,” he adds. “An internal database allows bend allowance, spring-back angle and punch stroke to be calculated automatically according to the type and thickness of material. High accuracies are routinely achieved, typically ± 0.25°.”
Laser 24’s customers are to be found in a wide range of sectors, including automotive, aerospace, marine, yellow goods, construction, retail, catering, signmaking and general engineering. Due to a high level of interest in the provision of additional services, the company is considering expanding the extent of its in-house processing capability to include fabrication and painting, and perhaps additional machining operations such as milling, tapping and countersinking.
For further information www.bystronic.co.uk

The preferred choice

GF Machining Solutions has supplied a precision subcontractor – Thomas Brown Engineering Ltd – with a new five-axis machining centre.

The Mikron MILL P 500U was installed at the company’s 20,000 sq ft facility in Huddersfield earlier this year and is being used to machine precision components for customers operating in the aerospace, medical, automotive, robotics, food processing, oil and gas, and steel manufacturing sectors.
Components machined by Thomas Brown Engineering on the MILL P 500U are diverse and varied. Typical materials processed include aluminium, steel, stainless steel and Inconel, while batch sizes are mainly in the low-to-medium range.
The parts machined on the Mikron are characterised by their accuracy and surface finishes, with a 20 µm geometric tolerance and a Ra 0.2 µm surface finish requirement being the rule rather than the exception.
Says Tom Brown, managing director: “The sectors where we operate are competitive and demanding. Quality is non-negotiable, and ever-stringent delivery times are increasingly prevalent. To meet customer demands and survive in these environments you need to be committed to continuous improvement and continually raise your game. By investing in the latest and most advanced machine-tool technologies, and by combining our manufacturing prowess with excellent customer service, we’ve found that we have been able to grow our business.”

Thomas Brown Engineering was established in 1983. Over the past 35 years the company has grown steadily from a one-man band to a business that now employs 20 members of staff. Other changes in the company have been even more noticeable – and dramatic.
Says Brown: “When the company was created, it operated out of a couple of old garage units. As a fledgling engineering subcontractor we were, at that time, relying on a couple of used manual machines to produce parts and make a living.”
In stark contrast to these early days, the company today has 14 CNC machine tools at its disposal, and by the end of the year is looking to increase its floor space by an extra 4,000 sq ft.
The company’s customer profile and client base has also changed significantly, as Brown explains: “We’re a tier-two supplier in the sectors where we operate. The investment we’ve made in plant, people, technologies, systems and processes has enabled us to consolidate our position in these industries with existing customers, and win contracts with new customers too.”
This result is exemplified by the company’s position in aerospace sector, where its AS9100 accreditation has been instrumental in achieving a number of new contract wins. Such an increase in demand for the company’s engineering services did, however, create some production issues, resulting ultimately in the decision to invest in the new Mikron MILL P 500U.
“We audited and reviewed our machining strengths and weaknesses, and identified where the ‘pinch’ points existed,” states Brown. “This exercise helped determine that we needed to increase our five-axis milling capacity and capabilities as a matter of some urgency.

“We had invested in a Mikron HPM 450U five-axis machining centre some years earlier and the machine had served us well,” he continues. “We particularly liked the machine’s built-in automation and the way in which its integrated automatic pallet changers helped us increase our productivity and efficiency, and reduce our operational costs.”
Thomas Brown Engineering drew up a list of technical and performance requirements for the new machine and benchmarked these against the five-axis machines in GF Machining Solutions’ portfolio. It became clear that the MILL P 500U was the preferred choice.
The Mikron MILL P 500U is described as a high-performance, simultaneous five-axis machining centre that offers powerful and dynamic material removal capabilities, thermal stability and high stiffness, to deliver precision and high surface finish on complex parts. A thermo-stable and symmetrical design is featured so that even when machining at a fast pace and over long production runs, accuracy and process reliability remain high and consistent.
GF Machining Solutions says that the machine delivers fast acceleration (1.7g) and is equipped with a high-torque, 36 kW Step-Tec motor spindle that is highly reliable. The machine’s productivity is enhanced by its (in-built) automation which comprises up to a 215-position ATC and up to a 12-pallet APC.
Thomas Brown Engineering also wanted the machine to be able to perform interpolation turning operations. Interpolation turning is a machining technique developed for advanced machining centres and B-axis multi-task machines. The strategy enables a turning operation to be performed by interpolating the X- and Y-axis in a circular direction, and rotating the machine spindle in time with the rotational contour. Circular movement can either increase or decrease in diameter to perform facing operations, or be combined with the Z axis to produce a bore or outer diameter.
Concludes Brown: “The MILL P 500U is a great machine. It is accurate, fast and flexible. We mainly use the machine for 3+2 positional machining operations as opposed to full simultaneous five-axis machining, and its performance to date, no matter what we’ve asked it to do, has been exceptional.”

For further information www.gfms.com

Tornos bites into productivity and innovation

Before he became a practicing dentist – and even longer before his entrepreneurial spirit gave rise to PartMaker, a West Heidelberg, Australia-based precision part manufacturing firm – native Australian Dr Chris Hart had already fallen in love with Switzerland. Swiss dental training improved his scope of practice and now, Tornos’ Swiss-made single-spindle lathes are helping him redefine Australian manufacturing.

An experienced prosthodontist specialising in pioneering practical and cost-effective solutions, Hart has made a name for himself as an innovator and leader in his profession. Once he has gained his Bachelor of Dental Science from the University of Melbourne, Hart built up expertise in a variety of patient care environments by working as a dentist. After earning his Master of Dental Science degree, he was selected to be part of an international team of implantology scholars, an accolade that took him to the University of Bern in Switzerland, where he was mentored by world-renowned faculty member Professor Daniel Buser, both at the university’s dental medicine clinic (ZMK) and its department of surgery.
Upon returning to Australia and working in both private practice and hospital settings, Hart discovered that he could not find adequate prostheses to serve the functional needs of oncology patients. So, he decided to make those parts himself. Thus, PartMaker was born in 2012. Describing himself as ‘an engineer trapped in a dentist’s body’, Hart’s entrepreneurial spirit is driven by his passion to make a real difference in the appearance, comfort and confidence of patients.

“Before we started making our own components, we were heavily modifying existing parts,” he states. “That means we were basically butchering really well-made parts in order to remedy simple problems, like patients not being able to open their mouths wide enough to accommodate available screwdrivers.”
The solution was obvious. Hart started making his own parts and instruments.
“Back in 2012, we started making everything with milling machines,” he says. “I even went to night school and earnt a certificate in CNC programming, so I could get a better understanding of manufacturing technology.”
Hart never intended to buy a lathe, but he found that the dental implants and maxillofacial hardware he needed to produce, were beyond the capabilities of simple milling.
“With so many dental parts being too long or too short, and with existing systems going in and out of fashion, I really saw a need for bespoke, custom dental and biomedical parts,” he says.
Implants require turned components, so among PartMaker’s early purchases were a Tornos ENC 264 four-axis lathe and a Tornos Delta 20.

“Being new to Swiss-type turning and CNC machining as a whole, we had a pretty small wish list of parts to make. Peter Staebner at Tornos agent SwissTec Australia was instrumental in helping me get our first few parts made with the Delta 20. I would go into the shop after work and Peter helped me at the weekends, and we got our wish list accomplished.”
Before too long, Hart saw that Tornos Swiss-type technology opened up a whole world of possibilities. However, even running the Delta 20 all day, the company was limited in the parts it could produce. Enter the simple and ergonomic Swiss GT13, offering easy access to all tool positions and designed to drive the successful production of long and short parts.
“It has six linear axes, so it allows us to make some parts that we can’t produce on the Delta 20, and we can use 99% of our existing programming with the new machine,” says Hart. “The Swiss GT13 is so much easier to use than our old machine.”
Accommodating up to 30 tools, including 12 rotating tools, the Swiss GT13 has a Y axis that increases machining capability in secondary operations and allows some complex workpieces to be produced without reworking.
Hart points out that the new machine is slashing PartMaker’s cycle time on many parts simply because of the additional access it provides: “It’s easier to set up and its cycle times are significantly faster. In fact, because of the easier access, we’re saving 40% in cycle time on a lot of components. I know we’re not using our Swiss GT13 to its fullest capabilities yet, but that’s the goal. It’s already optimising our manufacturing. Now that we have two machines running, our ability to keep on top of orders is significantly improved. It has enough tool positions that we’ve got it set up to produce families of parts for our three main lines.”
Moreover, Hart is impressed with Tornos TISIS communication and programming software: “With TISIS, it’s a lot easier to generate programs for our parts because we’re really just assembling programming modules. The software is easy to use and I estimate that it is saving us 50% in time spent on programming because we’re not writing a new program for every different component to be produced.”
To say that Hart is pleased with his purchase is an understatement. One example, he says, is the “amazing job” the new machine does with an original PartMaker dental abutment featuring a complex taper geometry, external threading and a milled octagon. The component, with its M1.4 thread to a depth of 4 mm through a 1.2 x 1.5 mm deep hexagon, is easily executed with the addition of the Swiss GT13. In fact, PartMaker has become so productive with its Swiss GT13 that Hart has ordered an optional bar feeder.

“We’re achieving results that we thought existed only in technical drawings,” he says. “For the past five years, we’ve been relying on our own homemade bar feeder, but today we’re chewing through the bars a lot faster.”
With Tornos technology, SwissTec expertise and his own ingenuity, Hart looks to the future with confidence: “I have a dream for PartMaker to end up with six Tornos lathes and four milling machines. Of our customers, half are international, from the US, Canada, Taiwan and Mexico. With the increasing uptake of CADCAM in dentistry, dentists are realising the possibilities of what’s available from dental implant companies, so we know the potential for custom machining is there.”
For further information www.tornos.com