Maximising production capability at Sub Drill

CAM software helps oil and gas sub-contractor to undertake complex machining applications

Posted on 16 Apr 2018 and read 771 times
Maximising production capability at Sub DrillThe economic situation surrounding the UK offshore industry has been well documented for its difficulties in recent years.

To rise above the uncertainty and build success where others have failed, Sub Drill has invested heavily — and achieved notable results.

In 2011, the Westhill (Aberdeenshire) manufacturer of sub-sea tools and drilling equipment for the global energy industry moved to a purpose built factory, which was then extended to 24,000ft2 in 2014.

Sub Drill highlights two of the reasons for its success. Firstly, the company manufactures its own brand of products and offers support services for the offshore sector — and continually extends both.

Secondly, it faced adverse market conditions by investing in the very latest machine tools and CAM software — plus the new factory.

Sub Drill operations director Mark Paton said: “With difficult market conditions, we knew that we had to invest in new technology to streamline the business, improve productivity, reduce costs and generate efficiency savings.

“We bought a Mazak E500H turning centre with a 3m bed and five-axis capability. This machine enabled us to reduce the number of set-ups required, undertake one-hit machining, cut lead times and increase productivity; it was followed in 2015 by a Mazak Nexus 450 II M.

“The latest machine — a Mazak Integrex e-670 turning centre — has only recently been installed. It features a 4m bed, a large ‘through spindle’ that enables us to machine substantial and complex parts, and a 70-bar high-pressure coolant system that allows us to gun-drill oil and gas industry components.

Moreover, it is the first machine of its type in Scotland with Mazak’s new Smooth control system.”

Mr Paton says the production flexibility of the new machines and their ability to reduce set-ups and undertake one-hit machining has taken the production of large components in a variety of materials — including high-strength carbon steel, stainless steel, P550 non-magnetic stainless steel, super duplex and Inconel — from 20-30 weeks down to 8-10 weeks.

He also says the introduction of HyperMill CAM software from Bicester-based Open Mind Technologies ( “has been instrumental in reducing lead times and improving our machining capabilities.”

Fast programming

Before the arrival of HyperMill, all components were programmed on the shopfloor, using the Mazak Mazatrol and Smooth control systems.

However, the development of new and prototype products at Sub Drill required the machining of more-complex geometries; in turn, this considerably extended programming times, with some geometries too complex to be readily programmed at the machine — hence the introduction of HyperMill CAM software.

Mr Paton recalls: “We spoke with Mazak and our shopfloor staff who had previously used CAM software, and they all recommended HyperMill.

“Open Mind supplied the CAM package with the latest MAXX Machining module and HyperCAD-S. The benefits were almost immediate.

“Generally, programming times have been reduced from 4-5 days to around 8hr; and complex tool forms that couldn’t realistically be programmed at the machine — even with the latest CNC system — are now programmed with HyperMill in 4-6hr, using features such as Shape Offset Roughing/Finishing and trochoidal milling cycles to deliver efficient programming and machining times.

Previously, Sub Drill was using the SolidWorks modelling package and manually programming the CNC system from SolidWorks and AutoCAD drawings.

However, HyperCAD-S has a direct SolidWorks interface, which allows Sub Drill to receive SolidWorks CAD files, transfer the native file format into HyperCAD-S and prepare the files for downstream programming with HyperMill.

With regard to a particularly complex part known as Handle Style Lift Caps, the programming of these had previously been subbed out.

Sub Drill now has the CAM software capable of programming these ‘kettle bell shaped’ caps in-house — and machining them economically, using HyperMill’s five-axis helical drilling feature and ‘barrel cutting’ strategies.

Demonstrating the capabilities of the MAXX Machining package, Sub Drill is now manufacturing a number of its down-hole tools in less than 10hr; previously, the machining time was 40hr.

Mr Paton said: “We apply Shape Offset Roughing strategies and trochoidal milling to rough out most of the material, then follow this with the ‘barrel cutting’ cycles within MAXX Machining, along with other five-axis tangential machining cycles that further reduce our finishing times.

“The tool-paths and machining strategies used by HyperMill also improve tool life, reduce spindle load and enhance the surface finish.”

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