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‘Herculean effort’ pays off at Devon-based firm

Posted on 23 Mar 2024 and read 650 times
‘Herculean effort’ pays off at Devon-based firmFounded in 2004, Hercules Hydraulics Ltd offers a complete service covering hydraulic, pneumatic, electrical and mechanical engineering from its two sites in Dartmouth and Paignton to customers in the UK, Europe, and around the world. In prototyping and testing, Hercules adeptly transforms customer ideas into reality, ensuring that projects of all sizes meet expectations while staying within budget constraints. Hercules’ engineers regularly travel to all corners of the world to oversee installations, guaranteeing smooth operations.

Director Lee Drury said: “A large number of orders placed are for our own products; largely parts for offshore windfarm support vessels such as winches, thrusters, and watertight deck hatches. We also manufacture parts for super yachts and racing yachts, “It’s niche work and is very complex, we are machining a variety of materials such as stainless steels, titanium, bronze, and specialist composites.

Mr Drury began his career with the company, aged just 17. While first learning the trade on manual machines, he read engineering magazines and was captivated by pictures of workshops full of Haas CNC machines. He continued: “This was how I wanted to work. It was honestly a dream of mine.” Lee convinced his then boss to consider investing in a Haas machine. “We went to see a Mini Mill being demonstrated at first, and came away with a VF-2 and a TL-1.”

The Haas VF-2 vertical machining centre and TL-1 Toolroom Lathe were quickly followed by a Mini Mill. “These machines have changed the way we manufacture and have opened so many doors. We can design in a way we couldn’t before because of what we can now produce.”

The purchase of a VF-6 large-frame vertical machining centre (VMC) took manufacturing to a new level. The VF-6 has a 1,626 x 813 x 762mm work envelope, 8,100rev/min direct drive spindle and 30+1 side-mount tool changer.

Mr Drury added: “As the business grew, so did the machines. We were milling our winches and deck hatches manually. With the VF-6 on board we’re now 95% automated and our numbers are through the roof because we can make more parts. It is the same with our CNC turning operations. We bought a larger lathe and it runs all day.” Hercules opted for the Haas ST-25 turning centre with tailstock and bar feeder. “We had a manual lathe which produced small batches; now we simply load the bar feeder and it makes thousands of components in the same time.”

The team has recently enhanced its two latest VMCs with Haas/Renishaw wireless probing options. “We needed to keep up with demand and the probes have helped us massively. They have reduced set up times and improved quality and reliability. Most importantly, they free up our operators to get on with other things rather than clocking in a job manually. The probe system gives us peace of mind; we are now running the machines unmanned more often, both during the day and into the night. I wouldn’t buy another machine without the wireless probing option; I cannot imagine not having it to hand.”

Hercules’ latest acquisition is a Haas VF-4SS Super Speed vertical machining centre with 12,000rev/min spindle and next-generation control. Mr Drury added through-spindle coolant and high-speed machining options. He explained: “This reduced cycle and labour times and you can see the difference in technology in the work it produces. The in-line spindle is so quiet and smooth and the Haas control is a pleasure to use. It is very user friendly and the touchscreen and easy layout really appeal to the younger operators, it is always surprising how familiar people seem to be with the control, and how little the learning curve is.

“It is important for us to bring the next generation into engineering. Haas has installed CNC machines in several local colleges, so new operators will come to us with useful knowledge and skills. It is critical to invest in people and it is securing all our futures. The machines are assistive, we upload photos, videos and notes onto the screen using the media display so programmers can communicate directly with operators — the information is conveniently right in front of them at the machine. We move apprentices around from mills to lathes with confidence because everything from the controls to the tooling is common — it’s a big catch.

“Our Haas sales manager, Rene, was originally an engineer working exclusively on Haas machines, so he understands the product and helps us technically, but he has also a become a friend. If we have a query, we call either him or our local engineer and they sort us out over the telephone. Haas has changed our company; we wouldn’t be doing what we do now without the machine tool supplier.”