West Midlands EDM and precision engineering specialist A&M EDM (0121 558 8352), founded in October 2002, has seen business grow year on year during the past decade; but never so quickly as it did in the last financial year. The number of CNC machine tools on the shopfloor has reached 39, headcount rose to 37, while turnover increased by 35%, all on the back of a number of initiatives instigated by the company in 2010.
One of these was to install its first 5-axis machining centre, a VM10U from Hurco (01494 442222), which joined six 3-axis models from the same supplier. This has quickly increased to three 5-axis machines on site, including a large Hurco VMX60SR installed in March 2012. The advantages of 5-axis interpolative and positional working deliver significant benefits, including fewer set-ups, faster floor-to-floor times and better accuracy. And the purchase at MACH 2012 of one of Hurco's larger capacity machining centres, a twin-column, bridge-type DCX22 with 2,200 by 1,700 by 750 mm axis travels, brought the number of machining centres from this supplier at Smethwick to 10. This machine satisfied a growing trend towards larger parts, including development parts for a new tank, as well as aerospace jigs and tooling. This is a growth area within the subcontract side of the company, which has accreditations to AS9100, Nadcap and SC21.
Recent developments have seen the company working directly for two Midlands-based aerospace OEMs, together with other leading companies within the aerospace sector, notably in the unmanned aerial vehicle sector. For example, many parts are machined for Cubewano fly-by-wire engines that power UAVs worldwide. A&M EDM has also machined titanium parts for a European Space Agency lunar mission.
In fact, the manufacturer's service includes its reputation for very fast turnaround of work and an ability to machine components in a wide range of sizes and materials, from die-sink electrodes for sparking hypodermic needles, up to large parts for press tools like trim dies for Jaguar car body panels. Indeed, buoyancy within the UK automotive industry with a requirement for ever larger press tooling plates was one of the reasons behind the investment at MACH 2012 in the DCX22 and a large indexing head to provide a fourth axis.
Apart from machining centres, two Hurco lathes, the latest a TMM10 with driven tooling, have boosted A&M EDM's mill-turning capability. And with Hurco's proprietary WinMax conversational software running on its Ultimax and Max controls, jobs are programmed quickly by manual data input, including some 3D cycles for milling electrodes. Additionally, 2D DXF electronic files captured from customers' CAD models can be downloaded directly to the Hurco controls, allowing for the use of original information as the basis for on-screen program creation. However, all machine tools on the shopfloor are networked, which allows for downloading of more complex programs that include 3D surfacing, created in Delcam CADCAM systems (0121 766 5544).
Managing director Mark Wingfield adds: "While we are known for producing relatively small batches of high precision, complex components in fast turnaround times, we are keen to translate these skills into larger volume production.
"We have set our sights on winning contracts for longer runs, based on our involvement at the prototyping stage of various projects, and will invest in extending our premises and in new plant, such as multi-pallet machining cells, as opportunities arise."
Moving to a sheet metal expert, Lasershape (0115 972 9921), and a Bystronic press brake (0844 848 5850) is helping to support accurate quotations and is also slashing set-up times.
The company has installed a new Bystronic Xpert 7-axis CNC press brake with laser measuring capability and integrated BySoft 7 modular CADCAM software to deliver to-quote prices.
The investment follows the installation of a new MRP system earlier this year, which was made to accelerate front-end administrative and quotation processes. The company's existing press brake was a weak link in the chain, as the company's director Tim Leam explains.
"With the new MRP system, all of our engineering can be done up front, at point of quotation – it calculates manufacturing cycle times to the second. However, it was falling down with our existing press brakes, as the technology was less advanced.
"Now we can take a customer's 3D CAD model, and develop and prove it at the quotation stage. As a result, we can supply a part that is both accurate to drawing and accurate to quotation.
"The BySoft software not only provides a flat blank development, it will tell us whether we have the tools available and run a simulation of the bending sequence. Ultimately, it has taken the skill out of the operation and returned it to the office, where it should be. Skilled press brake operators are hard to find and, if they take leave or go sick, the customer gets let down. Lasershape won't have this problem."
The 150 tonne capacity Xpert press brake features a 3 m bed length and functionality that supports simple and rapid set-up. Using Lasershape's existing machines, set-up can take 20-30 minutes, which is sometimes uneconomic for low batch sizes. However, with the Xpert 150, everything is automated. Lasershape simply enters the program and the control informs the user what tools to use – LEDs even indicate the tool positions along the bed length. The upshot is that set-up now takes no more than 2-3 mins.
Moving to a more specialist and unusual process and application, Premier Deep Hole Drilling (01727 825031) has supported the rebuilding of one of the rarest Aston Martin race cars, a DBR2, which is being carefully overseen by enthusiast Jonathan Dormer.
The aircraft grade aluminium engine block has a cast in main oil feed galley, which needs to be drilled through (picture, p18). As the oil galley passes through the most intricate parts of the casting, there is a risk of porosity, so the decision was made to drill the feed hole before any other machining operations were carried out.
Premier's managing director, Stuart Grant, explains: "A 19 mm diameter hole had to be drilled through the 747 mm block to form the main oil feed galley. Because the oil galley is close to the surface across the aluminium block, there is no allowance for the drill to vary from the intended trajectory, so we drilled it from both ends to meet in the middle."
Staying with engines, but a more unusual subcontract service is being undertaken by Inca Geometric (01227 738565), based in Chartham, Nr Canterbury, Kent. The company is processing batches of 200 engine cylinder blocks as part of a reclamation contract to remove broken solid carbide taps, re-tap the offending threaded hole and return the blocks to an automotive manufacturer's production line.
Taps between 6 and 12 mm, plus BSP pipe threads, are removed. In the process, the solid centre of the tap is burned out, rather like an apple core, allowing the flutes of the tap to be easily removed.
Inca has set up an indexing fixture that will present any face of the engine block to the spindle of a radial drill, which carries a range of hollow carbon tube electrodes. The tube is connected to a metal disintegrator, which provides the power and coolant supply to burn out the centre of the broken carbide tool using a series of intermittent electric arcs.
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Subcontracting news in brief
 Construction work is now underway on Keighley Laboratories' new heat treatment processes building, at its West Yorkshire headquarters (01535 664211). Representing a total capital investment in excess of £1 million, the purpose-built unit will house furnaces, controls and ancillary equipment for new and complimentary processes. http://is.gd/qfZqm6
 Press tool specialist Lodent Precision (01543-453700) has participated in its first overseas exhibition, Fabtech, in Las Vegas. The company was encouraged to do so by its partnership with American Press tool simulation leader Stamping Simulation.com. Says Chris Sharrat, Lodent director: "The US market is in exactly the same position as ours. There is a distinct shortage of know-how and understanding in the engineering sector and, although still driven by price, quality, longevity and ease of maintenance, this is now becoming a pre-requisite when purchasing tooling. It was very noticeable the number of visitors who discussed with us the problems and hidden costs of purchasing offshore tooling." The company is already booked for Fabtech 2013, in Chicago.
 Dawson Shanahan has launched a YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/user/dawsonshanahan
). The first wave of videos comprises seven short films that illustrate processes such as cold forming, turning and milling.
 Dunstable-based precision engineering company High-Tech Engineering (01582 662277) last month received its fourth consecutive aerospace SC 21 Silver Award, making it the first company in the UK to achieve this. Since signing up to SC 21 in July 2006, High-Tech Engineering's customer base has changed significantly, with 75% of turnover now coming from the aerospace sector (previously, it had no exposure).
 Unicut Precision (01707 331227) spent £1.2 million in 2012, with the company seeing business growth of 25% during the year, contributing to a doubling of the company's turnover in just two years. In support of this, the company installed a Miyano ABX64-SYY twin turret turning centre in January (Citizen Machinery, 01923 691500); two Citizen A20 S sliding-head turning centres followed in the middle of the year, a Citizen M32 replaced a previous generation model, slashing cycle times by 25%, and a three-tank Durr EcoClean aqueous degreasing system followed (Geo Kingsbury, 023 9258 0371), with this located next to a new despatch area. Unicut produces 1.3 million parts every month.
 Kenard Engineering (01273 666996) has appointed Terry Paterson as managing director of the company's Tewkesbury facility, a new position within the company. With Mr Patterson having an aerospace background, this will add further to the company's knowledge and links to that sector.
 Portsmouth-based Amdale (02393 660 726 ) has secured additional adjacent premises. The expansion was prompted by the high demand for more intricate and demanding 5-axis machining, says the company. Managing director Martin Koerner explains: "The new premise is an exciting move forward for Amdale. We have seen our busiest year since opening in 1988 and we are now looking to invest further into facilities and machinery as we grow our business within the next three years. It is encouraging to see an engineering company growing in the current economic climate and we look forward to the future."
First published in February 2013