East Midlands-based Hi-Spec Precision Engineering Ltd, established over 17 years ago, has evolved from a small start-up enterprise to become a fully fledged sub-contract manufacturer that has embraced the latest CNC technology, and more recently automation, to drive growth and productivity.
The company, which has a facility in Market Overton, encompasses everything from conventional and CNC machining to grinding, lapping, honing, welding and fabrication, hydraulic pressure testing and assembly and has 14 CNCs on the shopfloor.
As part of the journey, Hi-Spec has invested in automation. The first foray involved investing in bar feeds for its turning centres, followed more recently by robotic loading/unloading for machining centres and now — taking centre stage — a 10-pallet Kitamura Mycenter HX250iG horizontal machining centre supplied by East Sussex-based Dugard
In the last four years since starting the automation journey, Hi-Spec has lost staff due to retirement and now, the business, which currently employs eight people, is more productive than ever. Despite having employees in non-production roles such as administration, inspection and fabrication, the turnover to staff ratio per employee was once 8%, this is now 16% and the arrival of the multi-pallet machine will only increase this profitability further.
The workload at Hi-Spec is wide ranging and includes the production of components for agriculture and aggregate, construction, motorsport, fluid power and electric guitars. The parts manufactured at Hi-Spec include hydraulic valves and cylinders through to prototypes, from small batches up to production runs of 10,000-plus.
The company has built up a reputation in the music industry manufacturing custom precision-crafted electric guitars. The company claims to be the only UK manufacturer and sales outlet for precision guitar components including guitar and bass bridges and spares, control plates, pick-up screws, neck ferrules and screws and pick-up surrounds which can be purchased via the website (www.graingerguitarparts.com
). The components that are in demand worldwide can now be manufactured on the Kitamura Mycenter.
Commenting on the decision to invest in the Kitamura, Hi-Spec Precision Engineering Ltd managing director Darren Grainger said: “The milling work has increased a lot over the last year and the cycle times are getting longer with more complex components. This means that some jobs can tie a machine up for one to two weeks at a time, so we needed to look at some way of getting higher production rates and more unmanned hours. Horizontal machining centres are known as production machines, and it seemed like an obvious choice. The 10-pallet pool is the icing on the cake.”
He added: “We have one order for 300 parts that is about to arrive and each part requires two operations of more than 30min each. This order will tie up one machine for four weeks doing the first operation and another four weeks completing the job with the second operation. Multi-pallet Kitamura
“However, on the Kitamura machine, we will be able to reduce this cycle time from eight weeks to less than two weeks. This order is only one in a family of five or six variants that we regularly receive in similar volumes. Some of the parts take up to 1hr per operation. This type of work can tie-up a single machine for up to three months — and this is why we needed the multi-pallet Kitamura.”
Mr Grainger continued: “The first thing that attracted me with the Kitamura was the compact footprint. Like many machine shops, we have a little bit of a space issue, and for a horizontal machine, this is absolutely tiny. It is perfectly adequate for the components we produce and it slots right into our facility.
“The parts going on this machine will range from 10-off to production runs in the hundreds. We have kitted the machine out with Microloc
tombstones and vices, so we will be able to put multiple jobs on the machine in various sizes and batch numbers and then schedule their journey through the shopfloor. This is adding highly productive unmanned automated manufacturing to our company.”
Looking closer at the Kitamura brand, Mr Grainger explained: “While we haven’t had a Kitamura machine before, everyone knows they have an excellent reputation — the build quality is outstanding and the base is all hand scraped for precision.
“The spindle speeds and the power levels are ideal for us. We have gone for a 30-taper spindle with 15,000rev/min, a 102-tool automatic tool changer, 10-pallet automation, mist extraction, Renishaw spindle and tool probes.
“The probing will be particularly important for checking tool breakage when we are producing M2 and M3 tapped holes and running small tools, especially when we run lights-out.”
The four-axis Kitamura Mycenter HX250iG offers industry leading rapid feed rates of 60m/min and a pallet change time of fewer than 8sec and tool changes in less than 1sec. The precision level is epitomised by the 4th axis 0.001-degree table indexing that has a positional accuracy of +/-2 arc/sec. This is complemented by a positional accuracy on all linear axes of +/-0.002mm with repeatability of +/-0.001mm.
The compact machine provides X, Y and Z-axis travel of 305 x 305 x 350mm with full 360deg B-axis rotation and a powerful 11kW spindle motor that offers the perfect blend for both heavy material removal rates and high-speed cutting of small- to medium-size components.
Quality is instilled throughout the machine with high-resolution built-in encoders, double roller linear guideways, dual contact spindle and the ground-breaking Arumatik-Mi CNC control system that incorporates 67 million pulse encoder technology and a 8,192 block look-ahead capability.
The pandemic has created obvious challenges for manufacturers and machine tool builders with regards to restrictions on travel as well as reduced engineer availability through furlough, short-time working and health and safety restrictions. The innovation and technology behind the Kitamura Mycenter HX250iG from Dugard has helped to alleviate this problem.
Mr Grainger said: “We have a camera on the control panel of this machine which allows both Kitamura and Dugard to dial into our machine for any maintenance issues and even training purposes. If there should ever be an issue with the machine, they can instantly dial into the Mycenter HX250iG and investigate and resolve any issues.”
“When it came to the demonstration and training via Zoom, it was all done with the camera on the machine. Unfortunately, we could not go to the Dugard showroom in Brighton to see the machine due to Covid-19 restrictions, so it was really good to link up through this technology and complete all our training at our facility.”
Mr Grainger concluded: “The Kitamura machine is going to allow us to concentrate on multiple jobs at one time, rather than setting a vertical mill to do one job and run it until it is finished. Now, we can schedule pallets and jobs into the workflow. So, if a customer shouts that they need a job urgently, we can easily drop a pallet into the schedule on the Kitamura and get parts out to the customer to keep them happy - then we can revert to our normal schedule. I am excited about the potential of this machine, I think it is going to be a good move for our business.”