That ‘must have’ machine at Thomas Brown

Sub-contractor makes a detailed analysis of its machining requirements before buying another five-axis VMC

Posted on 02 Oct 2019 and read 1163 times
That ‘must have’ machine at Thomas BrownIn January this year, Thomas Brown Engineering Ltd installed a new high-performance five-axis machining centre — a Mikron MILL P 500U — at its 20,000ft2 facility in Huddersfield.

This is being used to machine precision components for customers operating in the aerospace, medical, automotive, robotics, food-processing, oil and gas and steel-manufacturing/
processing sectors.

The components machined on the MILL P 500U — supplied by Coventry-based GF Machining Solutions Ltd (GFMS — — are diverse.

Typical materials machined include aluminium, steel, stainless steel and Inconel, and batch sizes are mainly in the low to medium range.

Moreover, these parts are characterised by their accuracy and surface finishes: a 20µm geometric tolerance and an Ra 0.2µm surface finish requirement are the rule rather than the exception.

Tom Brown, managing director of Thomas Brown Engineering, said: “The sectors where we operate are competitive and demanding.

“Quality is non-negotiable, and stringent delivery times are increasingly prevalent.

“To meet customer demands and survive in these environments, you need to be committed to continuous improvement and continually raise your game.

“By investing in the latest and most advanced machine tool technologies, and by combining our manufacturing prowess with excellent customer service, we have been able to grow our business.”

Humble beginnings

Mr Brown established his company in 1983, and it has grown steadily over the last 35 years, from being a one-man band to a business that now employs 20 people.

Other changes in the company have been even more marked.

Mr Brown said: “When the company started, it operated out of two old garage units; and as a fledgling engineering sub-contractor, we were relying on a couple of used manual machines to machine parts and make a living.”

In stark contrast to those early days, the company now has 14 CNC machine tools at its disposal; it is also looking to increase its floor space by 4,000ft2 by the end of the year.

The company’s customer profile and customer base have also changed significantly.

Mr Brown said: “We are a Tier Two supplier in the sectors where we operate.

That must have 2“The investment we have made in plant, people, technologies, systems and processes has enabled us to consolidate our position in these sectors with existing customers — and win contracts with new customers.”

Gaining new business, particularly in the aerospace sector, was helped by achieving AS9100 accreditation.

However, increasing demand did create some production issues that resulted in the decision to buy the new Mikron MILL P 500U.

Mr Brown said: “When we assessed our machining strengths and weaknesses and identified where the ‘pinch’ points existed, we knew we needed to increase our five-axis milling capacity and capabilities as a matter of some urgency.

“We had bought a Mikron HPM 450U five-axis machine some years ago, and it had served us well.

“We particularly liked its built-in automation, and the way the automatic pallet changers increased our productivity and reduced our costs.

“We drew up a list of technical and performance requirements for the new machine we needed and benchmarked these against the five-axis machines in GF Machining Solutions’ portfolio.

“As a result, it became clear that the MILL P 500U was the preferred choice.”

High performance

GFMS describes this machine as “an ultra-high-performance simultaneous five-axis machining centre that offers powerful and dynamic material removal capabilities, thermal stability and high stiffness, to deliver high levels of precision and surface finish on complex parts”.

Features include a thermo-stable and symmetrical design, so that even when machining at high speed over long production runs, accuracy and process reliability remain high and consistent.

It also offers 1.7g axis acceleration, a high-torque 36kW Step-Tec motor spindle, a 215-position ATC and an APC that accommodates up to 12 pallets.

Thomas Brown Engineering also takes full advantage of the Mikron MILL P 500U’s ability to undertake interpolation turning.

This is a technique developed for advanced machining centres and B-axis multi-tasking machines; it enables turning operations to be carried out by “interpolating the X axis and Y axis in a circular direction and rotating the machine spindle in time with the rotational contour”.

Moreover, the circular movement can be either increased or decreased in diameter to undertake facing operations — or it can be combined with the Z axis to produce a bore or outer diameter.

In conclusion, Mr Brown said: “We mainly use the machine for 3+2 positional five-axis machining operations, as opposed to full simultaneous five-axis machining.

“That said, its performance to date — no matter what we’ve asked it to do — has been exceptional.”

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