In-house machining at ICEoxford

Manufacturer of cryogenic systems minimises its dependence on out-sourcing machined parts

Posted on 24 Jul 2017 and read 1408 times
In-house machining at ICEoxfordFounded in 2004, ICEoxford is a world-leading designer and manufacturer of cryogenic systems, specialising in ultra-low temperature equipment.

The company’s systems are either wet or dry units that operate at temperatures between one kelvin (-272.15°C) and 50 millikelvin (-273.1°C) and are used extensively for cooling chips in super-computers and quantum computers.

ICEoxford also supplies bespoke systems to the research departments of leading universities and to government establishments around the globe.

Managing director Chris Busby says: “Our USP is that we make bespoke machines and tailor them to an individual customer’s environment, so while we have a suite of products, no two customers want the same thing.

“It is this aspect of our business that makes us different, but it also puts added pressure on manufacturing — particularly for machined parts — as there is a large requirement for one-off and small-batch production.”

Initially, the vast majority of machined parts were put out to sub-contract, but this caused backlogs in production, so materials manager Garry Hudson was tasked with reviewing ICEoxford’s machining requirements with the aim of improving ‘agility’ and work-flow, while at the same time reducing costs.

The company decided to bring machining in-house, as Mr Hudson explains: “We were spending a lot of money externally sourcing these components and then suffering them being delivered late, which had a knock-on effect on our deliveries to customers.

Moreover, because everything we build is bespoke, there are always times when things need to be modified, but even our most efficient sub-contractor would want two days to re-machine a part. With machining now in-house, we can undertake any modifications immediately, which makes a massive difference to us.”

Machine choice

The machines selected by ICEoxford for its in-house machining were an XYZ SMX 3500 bed mill and an XYZ SLX 1630 ProTurn lathe from Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools (

ICEoxford 2The SMX 3500 bed mill is a three-axis CNC machine with a work envelope of 787 x 508 x 530mm, a swivel head for enhanced versatility, a manual quill and a 5,000rev/min 3.75kW spindle; and while the SLX 1630 ProTurn is the smallest ProtoTrak-controlled lathe in XYZ’s range, it has the capacity to accommodate a wide variety of work.

It offers a 400mm swing over the bed, a 54mm-diameter spindle bore, 760mm between centres, and a 2500rev/min 5.75kW spindle for high rates of metal removal.

When it bought these machines, ICEoxford also employed a machinist/programmer; and while he had no previous experience of the ProtoTrak control system, a short training course at XYZ’s Nuneaton showroom allowed him and other staff to quickly get up and running.

Currently all parts are programmed at the control, but ICEoxford is investing in XYZ’s off-line programming software, along with DXF and Parasolid converters, in order to take programming away from the shopfloor.

Mr Busby said: “The two machines were fully justified by bringing machining in-house and taking control of lead times and productivity.

“With our production schedules being tight, we never really had time to give work to somebody who would promise a one-week delivery that turned into three weeks. Having the XYZ machines has given us control over delivery, quality and costs.”

The agility that Mr Hudson refers to was highlighted in March, the last month of ICEoxford’s financial year. The company had been using the XYZ machines for less than six weeks, but they were to play an important role in boosting its financial performance.

Mr Busby says: “We had an incredibly busy end of year, and to be honest, without the new machines we wouldn’t have delivered half of the cryogenic systems that we did. We had the machines and the materials, so it was a case of getting on with it.

iceoxford 1“The ability to get four cryogenic systems out of the door in March had a significant impact on our profitability for the year.

“It doesn’t matter what people tell you, you can have the best sub-contractors in the world — and we had some great guys that we sent work to — but same-day or next-day delivery isn’t always possible.

“Some of our systems will take 48hr to cool down before we can run a test on them, so we want to get them running by Friday afternoon, allow them to cool over the weekend and then run tests on Monday morning — but if we can’t get components on a Friday afternoon, we lose all that time.

“Having the ability to make changes immediately they are required has made a positive contribution to our bottom line. Bringing machining in-house was a massive boost for us.

“For a business that had never focused on machining before, with the XYZ machines in place, we are turning out better-quality work that is costing us 40% less than when we used sub-contractors.”

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