The machine shop produces complex parts in batches of from 1- to 20-off, in total 200 to 500 parts per month, in materials that range from aluminium and stainless steel to exotic materials. To do this, it calls on more than 15 CNC machine tools from Haas Automation (01603 760539), Hurco (01494 442222), Mazak, DMG Mori (0247 651 6120), Studer ( and XYZ Machine Tools (01823 674200). The one common factor that links these machines is the CAM software with which they are programmed.

Altec Engineering’s CNC production engineering manager, Anthony Powell, says that since hyperMILL was installed a decade ago, Open Mind has delivered post-processors for every machine that it has added to the shop. He says: “This has made the integration of any new plant completely seamless. In addition, our machine purchases have evolved from 3 to 4-axis and now the latest 5-axis machines, and hyperMILL has been so user friendly that any transition to new machines has been simplified.”

Many Altec customers provide digital models that company staff import into hyperMILL to generate a part program. Once the component is programmed, it is checked for potential collisions and then sent to the shopfloor for production. Commenting upon this, Powell adds: “By receiving the digital files, we can rapidly simulate the part and calculate a machining time. This fast calculation is given to our sales team to provide accurate quotes for the customer.”

Prior to sending part programs to the shopfloor, the programmers select the machine tool, workholding fixtures and toolholding configuration for the job. These are all simulated in hyperMILL to eliminate collisions and optimise the process and toolpaths. To guide shopfloor operators, as well as the inspection department, the programming team use the hyperMILL ‘Smart Dimension’ feature to dimension the model and provide a detailed print-out to staff involved in later stages of production.

Furthermore, hyperMILL, in combination with the new Mazak machine tools, offers the possibility for Altec to optimise its tooling consumption.

“We are implementing the 5S philosophy; a target of this is to reduce our tooling costs and consumption. The STEP files in hyperMILL are enabling us to maximise the use of each tool and carousel position, which is subsequently reducing our tooling inventory. hyperMILL is making us look at our cutting tool methodologies and we are actively working with a tooling vendor to optimise our tooling use and consumption. We also use a 3D printer in the office to visualise the parts, the potential toolpaths and tool access to difficult-to-reach surfaces. This also supports our revised tooling strategies,” adds the engineering manager.

The North East company’s fourth seat of hyperMILL is currently on order; this includes the latest millTURN module for Altec’s turning centres. As two programmers in the subcontract division working a single shift must keep pace with production managed by 28 machinists working over two shifts, the additional seat with millTURN will be accompanied by a new programmer promoted from the shopfloor. The additional hyperMILL seat will allow Altec Engineering to improve turning job programming and implement 5S in the turning department.

Powell concludes: “We fully expect to improve cycle times through optimised toolpaths and strategies, which will reduce tooling inventory, eliminate scrap and standardise processes for our turned part production."

This article was published in the energy supplement of the July 2016 issue of Machinery magazine.