Advanced sub-contract production

Supplier to Formula One teams gains benefits from new five-axis machining centre

Posted on 30 Oct 2017 and read 1251 times
Advanced sub-contract productionRay Harris started a five-year mould- and tool-making apprenticeship at a High Wycombe engineering company when he was 16 years old.

However, he left after two years, as much of this type of work was being off-shored at that time, and he could see little future in it.

He moved to a nearby sub-contractor that specialised in supplying components for Formula One and has worked in the industry ever since, both in the supply chain and in-house for two leading F1 teams.

Mr Harris has always been interested in motor-sport, having participated in various racing formulas since the age of 13, most recently Intermarque.

In 2015, he set up his own sub-contracting company — Driven Precision Engineering — to specialise in F1 manufacturing. He rents space on the shopfloor of LW&T Engineering, a sub-contract machining firm in the Farlington district of Portsmouth.

Mr Harris’s first machine was a second-hand three-axis VMC, followed by a five-axis model from the same supplier a year later.

This extended the complexity of work that could be taken on by exploiting simultaneous five-axis machining and allowing the more-efficient manufacture of standard parts by positioning and clamping the two rotary axes.

To increase the amount of work he could undertake, while increasing the size of parts he could accommodate to 850 x 700 x 500mm, Mr Harris bought another five-axis machining centre — this time a Hermle C 400 supplied by Gosport-based Geo Kingsbury (www.geokingsbury.com), which is the sole UK agent for the German machine builder.

Explaining how he came to buy a machine costing significantly more than a five-axis machining centre of equivalent capacity from the incumbent supplier, Mr Harris said: “It was our local tooling company — Southampton-based Betta-Cut — that suggested we look at Hermle, as the sales engineer is an ex-employee of Geo Kingsbury and knew the machines well.

I searched the Internet and found only positive comments about the machines; normally, you can unearth some negatives about machine tools on discussion forums, but I couldn’t find any about Hermle.

“Next, I went to a sub-contractor in Gosport — Norjon — whose owner Kevin Fox has operated five-axis Hermles for many years and now has five.

“He didn’t have a bad word to say about them either, so the C 400 more or less sold itself. Geo Kingsbury further helped by introducing us to Deutsche Leasing UK for finance, which deferred the start of payments for six months from the May 2017 installation date.

“This will push our first instalment into the busy F1 build period from December through to February, when our income is at its highest. Work is practically non-stop, making racing-car components in a range of materials, as well as jigs and fixtures — plus aluminium moulds for manufacturing carbon-fibre car parts.

Geo“Working almost seven days a week during this three-month busy period will generate sufficient income to pay for the machine over five years; it also means that additional jobs carried out during the other nine months of the year will be profit and will go towards the purchase of the next machine.”

During the close season, there are F1 racing-car prototypes and components to be made —work that is frequently won by Driven Precision Engineering, due to the good reputation that it has established for reliability and service.

However, the company has cast its net wider and also serves the high-end road car, oil and gas, aerospace and yachting sectors.

Mr Harris says: “I try to make sure I buy only the best equipment, such as Schunk work-holding and HyperMill CAM software, as our customers expect top-accuracy parts and prompt deliveries — sometimes same-day turn-rounds.

“The Hermle impressed me even when I was looking through the catalogue and saw the Y axis on top of the main structure and the size of the swivelling rotary table’s A-axis bearings in the mineral cast bed.

“The machine performs as well as I thought it would. Every job comes out really well, and blends are perfect. Once I machined the top of a component with an indexable-insert face mill and then used a different tool to face-mill the
reverse.

“The drawing tolerance across the width was 10 microns, but the accuracy I was able to hold on the Hermle was one fifth of that.”

The success of Driven Precision Engineering since its inception two years ago has been such that Mr Harris already has his first employee lined up to start in November — just in time to help him cope with the busy racing-car build season.

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