Filling a capacity gap

Manufacturer of machines and tooling finds the move to five-axis machining easier than anticipated

Posted on 23 Mar 2018 and read 1829 times
Filling a capacity gapPeterborough-based Rivercircle has continually developed its business for over 30 years and is now a leading designer and manufacturer of special-purpose test and assembly machines, as well as multi-cavity mould tooling for making rubber and plastic components.

The company prides itself on being able to provide a complete service, undertaking as much as possible in-house — from design through to final mechanical and electrical assembly and testing, as well as machining.

Continuous investment in people and machine tools has seen Rivercircle create extensive capabilities, and the company’s machine shop is now populated almost entirely by CNC machinery; three- and four-axis machining centres with work envelopes up to 1,700 x 1,000 x 1,000mm are complemented by turning centres, grinding machines and spark erosion equipment. The one thing missing until recently was a five-axis machining capability.

Managing director Jonathan Theobalds said: “Our investments in machining capacity had resulted in us buying ever more complex machines; and while we had been considering five-axis machining for a few years, we always struggled to justify the ‘price versus capability’ argument.

"The size of machine we needed always appeared far too expensive, while the machines we felt we could justify on price didn’t have the performance or capacity we needed, limiting the potential gains for the business from five-axis working. However, when XYZ introduced the UMC-5X, it was in the right ballpark as far as price and performance were concerned, and we went for it.”

Decision time

xyz River bA team from Rivercircle visited XYZ’s factory in Devon ( to see the machine in action and talk through its potential with the sales and applications teams.

Given the type of work undertaken by Rivercircle — particularly for its mould tools, where materials such as P20 tool steel are commonly machined — spindle performance and overall machine rigidity were key to the purchasing decision.

Rivercircle’s production manager, Paul Langan, said: “There were several factors that swung the argument in favour of the UMC-5X. When looking at the design and construction of the machine, we were confident that it would perform as we expected.

"Moreover, the high-torque — 260Nm — 15,000rev/min spindle is ideally suited to both roughing and finishing the types of tool steel we use for our mould-tool work. Another key point was the option of a Heidenhain control, as this is the CNC system we favour at Rivercircle; not having that option would have been a barrier to us placing an order.

“Our familiarity with Heidenhain also meant we only needed one day of training to familiarise ourselves with the machine. In fact, our CAM programming engineer, Steve Goodson, has fully embraced the move to five-axis with no requirement for further programming support from XYZ. We have also fully integrated our Mastercam software with the machine control, and the post-processors were all updated during the installation of the machine.”

Five-axis accuracy

XYZ river cXYZ’s UMC-5X has the option of either the Siemens 840 DSL ShopMill or the Heidenhain iTNC 640 HSCI control, both of which feature ‘Traori/Kinematic functions’ for improved accuracy during simultaneous five-axis machining.

The UMC-5X also benefits from built-in thermal-growth compensation (for improved accuracy and repeatability) and patented ‘Smart Machining Technology’ for improved productivity.

Other key features of the machine are: a C axis (90rev/min rotation via a direct-drive low-maintenance high-torque motor); a ±120deg tilting A axis (2.5sec for full movement, and rigidity optimised by the use of the same size of large-capacity bearing at each end of the axis); front loading for ease of access; high-accuracy linear scales on the X, Y and Z axes; 600mm of axis travel in X and Y (500 mm in Z); and a 600mm-diameter table with a 600kg load capacity.

Rivercircle’s UMC-5X is already allowing the company to improve efficiency by transferring work from three- and four-axis machines that required multiple operations. It will also open new opportunities for the sub-contact machining side of the business.

Mr Theobalds said: “Whether it is for our own production, or for sub-contract work, we operate in a very competitive sector, supplying the first and second tier customers in the automotive, transport, pharmaceutical, construction and petrochemical sectors, among others.

“Lead times are often short, so we have to be able to meet our delivery promises with the right quality at the right price. This move to five-axis machining with the XYZ UMC-5X will enhance our ability to meet customer demands.”

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