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The heartbeat of sub-contractor’s rapid growth

A range of Hurco machines enables Kelvin Precision Products to produce components efficiently in fewer set-ups

Posted on 29 Aug 2021 and read 1438 times
The heartbeat of sub-contractor’s rapid growthJames Staniford on the shopfloor at Kelvin Precision Products in Crawley

Installation of one Hurco vertical machining centre (VMC) per year between 2013 and 2017, plus the addition of a sixth in May 2021, partly to take advantage of the UK Government’s 130% capital allowance, have contributed to a sustained improvement in the level of business at sub-contract machining firm Kelvin Precision Products. Disregarding the first year, when the start-up firm's income was relatively low and therefore unrepresentative, turnover has increased five-fold compared with the second year of trading.

Like many employees working at sub-contractors, James Staniford dreamt of branching out on his own. After an eight-year stint at a company in nearby Horsham, he took the plunge in 2013 and started Kelvin Precision Products with Claire McGrath, now the business director, who invested capital and owned a suitable 4,000ft2 unit within the Kelvin Business Centre in Crawley.

The enterprise had the help of Mr Staniford’s friend and mentor Alan Lamberth, who used his turning experience to help out at evenings and weekends. It boosted this side of the business at the time and allowed the company to take on more complex manual turning work than would otherwise have been possible.

Prismatic machining

However it was prismatic machining that quickly took precedence and it now accounts for around 85% of turnover. An online auction on the eBay website secured the first contract to machine a range of small laboratory components from acetal and aluminium for a customer in the scientific industry, which was also a start-up.

HurcoSoon afterwards a manufacturer of broadcasting equipment, another new company, discovered Kelvin via its website and placed an order for a range of milled components. Both companies are still regular customers, along with about a dozen others.

The contracts were fulfilled on a Hurco VM10 three-axis vertical machining centre (VMC), which was purchased new along with a manual lathe, a knee-type mill and a linisher when Mr Staniford started the business. A Hurco machine was chosen for the first major purchase due to the Windows-based easy-to-use conversational programming capability in the machine’s WinMax control.

He said: “At the outset we didn't have a CAM system, so relied on WinMax and its menu-driven 3-D graphics interface to prepare cycles for machining our customers’ components, some of which were quite complex.

"At that time, the other shortlisted machine had a G-code control and 2-D graphics, so we regarded the Hurco offering as superior.

"As time went on and parts became even more complicated, we invested in Autodesk FeatureCAM Ultimate CAD/CAM software, but WinMax is quicker for programming simple components and we still use it about one-third of the time."

Following the success of the first VMC, another three-axis machine was installed one year later — a VM10i with more advanced control technology and diagnostics. Then the first five-axis machine arrived, a VM10Ui, followed by a second in 2016. A larger VM20i three-axis VMC with a 1,168 x 508mm table was delivered a year later and then a third five-axis VM10Ui in early 2021. Interspersed among these purchases were a sliding-head lathe in 2014 and a fixed-head lathe in 2018.

HurcoHaving half of its prismatic metal-cutting capacity able to produce components efficiently in fewer set-ups using three- plus two-axis cycles, with the rotary axes positioned and clamped, sets Staniford apart from many of its competitors of a similar size.

Five-axis milling and drilling

It enables high quality work typically to tolerances of ± 0.05 to 0.10mm to be turned around in short time scales. Normally, components are put on a five-axis machine at Crawley for Op1 and a three-axis machine for Op2 if it is relatively simple. Fully interpolative five-axis milling and drilling on the Hurcos is available if suitable jobs come along.

Based close to Gatwick Airport, the sub-contractor offers machining services with delivery to the South East of England and to the rest of the UK and Europe via a mail order service, with customers able to email a drawing or CAD file. A regular part of the company’s activity is working for other contract machining firms that require more capacity to get an important job out on time.

Today, prismatic machining of a wide range of plastics and metals including stainless steel, mild steel, cast iron, aluminium, brass and copper are the mainstay of the company’s day-to-day work, some parts being over 1m in length. Sliding-and fixed-head turn-milling of components from 1 to 350mm in diameter accounts for around 15% of turnover.

A variety of different industries such as medical, pharmaceutical, oil and gas, filtration, broadcasting and automotive use Kelvin’s design, prototyping and engineering services. The company now plans to expand into an adjacent unit in Kelvin Business Centre to ensure its impressive growth can continue.