Key to the Group’s continued success has been ongoing investment in state of the art CNC machine tools, facilities, infrastructure and personnel. In excess of £1.5m has been spent on CNC machine tools alone in recent times, including the purchase of two large Mazak 5-axis machines, a Studer CNC universal grinder and a seat of hyperMILL CAM software from OPEN MIND Technologies.
Two separate divisions operate from the Durham site. The recently expanded machine shop produces low volume high complexity CNC machined components and also services the company's Special Purpose Equipment division, which produces sophisticated production automation systems for OEM’s.
As part of the Group’s diversification strategy, Altec now operates within the automotive, military, motorsport, oil & gas and space science industries. The machine shop boasts over 15 CNC machine tools that include a variety of 3, 4 and 5-axis machines from Haas, Hurco, Mazak, Mori Seiki, XYZ and Studer. The one common factor that links these machines is that they are programmed with CAM software from OPEN MIND.
Recalling the arrival of its first seat of hyperMILL, Altec Engineering's CNC Production Engineering Manager, Mr Anthony Powell says: "We bought some Hurco machines almost a decade ago and as our CAM system was inadequate for our needs, Hurco recommended hyperMILL. We diligently trialled various packages, but nothing compared to the hyperMILL package recommended by Hurco. We have since installed a selection of machines from various vendors and OPEN MIND has supplied the post-processors for every machine. This has made the integration of any new plant completely seamless. In addition, our machine purchases have evolved from 3 to 4-axis and now the latest 5-axis machines and hyperMILL has been so user friendly, that any transition to new machines has been simplified."
The North East company now has 3 seats of hyperMILL with a fourth on order, which will include the latest millTURN module for the company's turning centres. With two programmers in the subcontract division working a single shift to keep pace with 15 machine tools and 28 machinists working over two shifts, the additional seat with the millTURN feature will be accompanied by a new programmer promoted from the shop floor. As the epitome of subcontract production, the Altec machine shop produces anything from 1 to 20 off batches of complex parts from materials that range from aluminium and stainless steel through to most exotic materials. With anything from 200 to 500 individual parts produced each month, the efficiency of the programmers is down to their expertise and the programming speed of hyperMILL.
Efficient and Extremely Capable...
Many Altec customers provide the company with digital models that the company instantly drop into hyperMILL to generate a part program. Once the component is programmed it is anti-collision checked and then sent to the shop floor for production.
Commenting upon this, Mr Powell continues: "Firstly, by receiving the digital files we can rapidly simulate the part and calculate a machining time. This fast calculation is given to our sales team to provide accurate quotes for the customer. The combination of productive 4 and 5-axis machine tools and optimised cycles through hyperMILL are primary reasons behind our easy transition into new sectors and our ability to win business in a competitive industry."
Prior to sending part programs to the shop-floor, the programmers select the machine tool, workholding fixtures and toolholding configuration for the job. These are all simulated in hyperMILL to eliminate collisions and optimise the process and toolpaths. To guide operators on the shop floor as well as the inspection department, the programming team use the hyperMILL 'Smart Dimension' feature to dimension the model and provide a fully detailed print-out to staff involved in downstream processes.
Furthermore, the Step files in hyperMILL integrate with the new Mazak machine tools seamlessly and this is enabling Altec to optimise its tooling consumption. As Mr Powell says: "We are implementing the 5S philosophy; a target of this is to reduce our tooling costs and consumption. The Step Files in hyperMILL are enabling us to maximise the use of each tool and carousel position, which is subsequently reducing our tooling inventory. hyperMILL is making us look at our cutting tool methodologies and we are actively working with a tooling vendor to optimise our tooling use and consumption. We also use a 3D printer in the office to visualise the parts, the potential tool paths and tool access to difficult to reach surfaces. This also supports our revised tooling strategies."
What is the benefit of another hyperMILL seat?
Of the 15 CNC machines in the subcontract division at Altec, five of the machines are turning centres. The pending arrival of an additional programmer and hyperMILL seat with millTURN will deliver a host of benefits as Mr Powell reveals: “By programming the turning jobs quickly and efficiently in the office with millTURN, we will eliminate the time currently associated with programming on the shop floor and the subsequent machine idle times. hyperMILL, will also improve consistency in production times and eliminate any potential for operator error.
"Added to these core benefits, hyperMILL and the respective millTURN feature will enable us to implement 5S in the turning department and mirror the efficiencies we have achieved with our machining centres. We fully expect to improve cycle times through optimised tool paths and strategies, which will reduce tooling inventory, eliminate scrap and standardise processes for our turned part production. After all, if hyperMILL has helped revolutionise our milling department, it can do the same for our turning machines."