Achieving a balanced machining portfolio that matched present and predicted work-flow has long been the investment policy of A Fawcett Precision Engineering.
It is also a policy that gained fresh impetus when Joanne Thompson took over the running of the Elland-based business from her father when he retired in 2009.
Ms Thompson, who had a background in the banking sector and had worked part-time in her father’s business for 15 years, not only maintained this investment strategy but also changed the focus of the company, dropping the word Toolmaker from its title and adding Precision Engineering.
This resulted in an increase in business from a much wider customer base that includes valve manufacturers (this work is central to the company’s turnover), as well as aerospace, defence and automotive; it still maintains its tool-making heritage.
However, this change in focus highlighted an imbalance in machining capacity — one that mainly related to the company’s turning capabilities.
Ms Thompson said: “When I took over the business from my father, we had a wide range of lathes, but all of them were manual; many were getting old and causing bottlenecks in production.
“To address this, we bought a second-hand CNC lathe in 2012, along with a new XYZ SLX 555 ProTurn lathe.
“While the SLX 555 is still with us and working well, the old CNC lathe had seen better days and needed replacing.”
This saw the arrival, in March this year, of another new machine from Burlescombe-based XYZ Machine Tools (www.xyzmachinetools.com
The largest turning centre in the XYZ range, the TC400 is ‘built as a workhorse’, offering a maximum swing of 600mm, a 32kW spindle and axis travels of 275 and 650mm in X and Z respectively.
It also features a substantial Meehanite cast frame, hardened Turcite-coated box slideways and a Siemens 828D ShopTurn control.
It is proving to be an ideal machine for the variety of work undertaken by A Fawcett Precision Engineering, being capable of handling small to large components with ease.
After participating in — and graduating from — the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme (aimed at “helping entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing greater access to education and business support services”), Ms Thompson said she had both the incentive and confidence for further investment in the business.
An order was placed with XYZ Machine Tools for the latest RLX425 ProTurn lathe, which was delivered in July.
This lathe, which also features a substantial cast construction, is available with either a 1.25m or 2m between-centres distance and is equipped as standard with a 7.5kW 25-2,500rev/min spindle (over three speed ranges).
The maximum swing over the bed is 480mm (up to 700mm in the gap), and the headstock uses induction-hardened and precision-ground gears, along with taper roller bearings and a support journal for the spindle to ensure maximum rigidity and concentricity.
Also featured is the new RX ProtoTrak control system with its 15.6in touch-screen control, which offers 21 additional features compared with its predecessor.
These include: the option of a DXF converter to make it easier and more intuitive to input design data; ‘fly out’ windows that speedily bring information readily to hand for greater efficiency; and speed and feed control with an on-screen override dial that gives improved functionality — including ‘fine control’, touch rotate and ‘instant set’ features.
Ms Thompson said: “You have to be realistic — and confident — about what you can do for customers and not promise something you can’t deliver, which is why we have continued to focus on the low to medium batch quantities in sectors that we have extensive experience of.
“The XYZ machines meet our needs perfectly for that type of work, allowing us to be more cost-effective as a machine shop, reducing our labour costs and making us more competitive.”
When the XYZ TC400 was installed, it was decided to have the free training on-site in Elland, as this would allow real-life jobs to be used when learning the conversational programming offered by the Siemens control.
Indeed, works manager Mark O’Brien said he was able to start using it within a few hours.
With regard to both the ProtoTrak and Siemens controls, Mr O’Brien said: “We were ‘sold’ on the first ProtoTrak lathe by its competitive price and the control.
“Coming from using manual machines, this machine was a significant step-up in performance and capability, but thanks to its control system the transition was straightforward.
“It was the same when we brought in the TC 400; this was another natural progression for us, but one that happened without any issues.
“We see the new RLX ProTurn lathe as the next logical step in developing our turning capacity.
“Because we do all our programming at the machine, the touch-screen and the graphics capability of the new RX control will be a major plus.”