A focus on the ProtoTrak control

Two companies highlight the benefits gained from easy-to-program systems for milling and turning

Posted on 01 Jun 2017 and read 1934 times
A focus on the ProtoTrak controlAt the height of the 2008 financial crisis, Darren Pierce found himself facing redundancy as a tooling project manager in the food and drink sector. Unfazed by the state of the economy, he decided to start his own tool-making business — Pierce Precision Engineering Ltd. Mr Pierce even returned to his old employer to buy his first machines.

Pierce Precision can undertake the reverse engineering of components and rapid prototyping; it also gets involved with maintenance projects aimed at helping customers keep their production lines running smoothly and efficiently.

Mr Pierce describes the business as ‘reactive engineering’ as he, along with his tool-making colleague Peter Hurd, are often called on at short notice to help companies supplying the fast-moving consumer goods and consumer packaged goods markets.

He says: “Our customers come to us via word of mouth, as we have developed a reputation for providing a right-first-time and on-time service. Given that in many cases we only have a broken or worn part to work from
— or even a ‘concept sketch’ — we are often able to get customers’ production lines back up and running within hours.

“While the business has grown and developed over the past seven years, it retains a toolroom environment — one capable of working to tight deadlines.

“We have a typical mix of toolroom machines: manual and CNC turret mills, bed mills, lathes and grinders. One of our first machines, a turret mill, was purchased from my previous employer. This had been retrofitted with a two-axis ProtoTrak Edge control by XYZ Machine Tools.”

This was the first machine with the ProtoTrak control from Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools (www.xyzmachinetools.com) that Mr Pierce and Mr Hurd had experienced; and while only a two-axis version, it was used to produce some complex components.

The positive experience they had with this ProtoTrak machine meant that when the time came to expand Pierce Precision’s milling capability, an XYZ SMX4000 bed mill with the latest three-axis SMX ProtoTrak control system and the optional DXF file converter was bought.

This was a timely decision, as the company was getting frequent requests for batch work comprising as many as 50 parts. We were very quickly up to speed with the SMX4000, thanks to the first class training we received and the simplicity of the machine’s control. If we had any issues they were quickly resolved over the phone using XYZ’s programming hotline.”

With Pierce Precision’s milling capability updated, attention was focused on turning. With a high demand for generated forms, which would be virtually impossible to produce on the company’s manual machines, an XYZ ProTurn SLX 425 was selected.

This lathe features a substantial cast base and can be specified with a between-centres distance of either 1.25 or 2m. The spindle is rated at 7.5kW 25-2,500rev/min (over three speed ranges) and has an 80mm-diameter through bore.

Mr Pierce says: “In the same way that the SMX bed mill transformed how we milled components the SLX lathe is doing the same for turning. On both machines we are achieving tolerances down to micron levels, and on the SMX bed mill we can interpolate bores to bearing-fit tolerances.

“Furthermore, while I generally do most of the turning work and Mr Hurd focuses on milling, having a ProtoTrak control on both machines means we can easily swap over when the need arises.”

Helping with relocation

The opportunity to relocate to a purpose-built 100,000ft2 factory on the outskirts of Gainsborough provided AMP Rose (a confectionary packaging machinery and process solutions provider) with a reason to review its manufacturing processes — in particular its machine shop.

Proto2Founded as AM Packaging by Alan Mann in 1978, the company initially focused on servicing and refurbishing machines built by Rose Brothers (which claimed to have produced the first automated packaging machine back in 1881) and Rose Forgrove.

In 1990, Mr Mann was able to purchase the rights to the two companies and form AMP Rose, which is now a world leader in the design and manufacture of packaging and processing machinery for the confectionery industry.

Around 80% of its production goes to export markets, which are currently strong as AMP Rose’s competitors are in the Eurozone and not benefiting from the current pound/euro exchange rate. The company now has 120 employees (75 in production) and a regular intake of apprentices.

AMP Rose has a policy of manufacturing as much as possible in-house. With relocation planned, production manager Phil Brown took the opportunity to review the company’s machining capabilities, with the aim of reducing the reliance on traditional machining skills, which were hard to replace as older employees retired. The result was an investment in machines from XYZ Machine Tools fitted with the ProtoTrak control system.

Mr Brown said: “We had a number of manual machines on-site, as well as some older G-code CNC machines. Finding the right skills to be able to be productive on these machines was proving difficult, so we needed an alternative. Looking around we found that the XYZ SMX bed mills with the ProtoTrak controls could give us what we wanted in terms of ease of use and value for money.”

The positive impact that the two SMX 3500s and one SMX 2500 had on productivity prompted Mr Brown to look at replacing the older machining centres that AMP Rose had. Based on the ease of use of the ProtoTrak control fitted to these machines he ordered a pair of ProtoTrak LPM machining centres.

The LPM features a 16-position tool-changer and a 15hp 8,000rev/min spindle; it is also fitted with a Jergens Ball Lock location system on the 900 ¥ 500mm table — a feature that is very useful for AMP Rose, as Mr Brown confirms.

“Our production is limited to one-offs and low volumes, so the ability to minimise set-up times is vital; and while the ease of use of the ProtoTrak control helps in this respect, the speed with which we can locate parts using the Jergens system is a major benefit.

“We have a number of plates with vices and fixtures located on them; with the Jergens location co-ordinates we know exactly where these are, which simplifies the set-up procedure and shortens the setting time.”

AMP Rose does almost all programming at the machine, the only exception being cam forms; these are generated on CAD and imported as DXF files. Dan Otter, the company’s head programmer and setter, says: “We find programming at the machine easy, especially profiling and pocketing work, as ProtoTrak’s conversational system guides you through with ease.”

While the introduction of the SMX bed mills achieved Mr Brown’s aim of reducing AMP Rose’s reliance on skills and manual machining knowledge, manual machines still have their place at the company. Its most recent acquisition was an XYZ 1550 VS manual lathe to handle some toolroom-type turning requirements.

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