Tuned-in to 5-axis Productivity


Rapidly approaching 20 years of business, Hi-Spec Precision Engineering Ltd has evolved from a small start-up business to an established subcontract manufacturer that has fully embraced the latest automation and CNC technology with robots and multi-pallet 3 to 5-axis machining centres to drive growth and productivity.

The Market Overton company has evolved rapidly over the last decade to encompass everything from conventional and CNC machining to grinding, lapping, honing, welding and fabrication, hydraulic pressure testing and assembly with 15 CNCs now on the shop floor. The latest addition to the shop floor was a Matsuura MX330 10-pallet 5-axis machining centre. To drive this investment, Hi-Spec invested in CAM software from OPEN MIND Technologies.

The Hi-Spec journey of investing in the latest technology and automation now sees the 10-employee business deploy two machinists across 8 CNC machining centres and another two machinists on 6 turning centres with the remaining 6 employees deployed in non-production tasks such as fabrication, inspection, stores and assembly departments. This lean business has increased turnover by more than 40% in recent years without increasing staff numbers due to its ongoing investments.

As part of the investment trail, the company that already has a 4-axis pallet loaded Kitamura Mycenter and Hurco 3 and 5-axis machines needed to increase its 5-axis capabilities, which led to the arrival of the Matsuura machine in the first quarter of 2022. Hi-Spec was already utilising a well-known 3-axis CAM system that was sufficient for many of its machine tools and also the 4-axis Kitamura. Simultaneously, the easy-to-use conversational programming on the 5-axis Hurco only required occasional 5-axis CAM programming. However, the existing CAM system was unreliable.

Alluding to this, Hi-Spec Founder and Managing Director, Mr Darren Grainger recalls: “Our CAM system had very poor support and on occasions, it would crash or fail to ‘boot-up’. We managed for a while but when we knew the Matsuura machine was being delivered, we had to up our game on the CAM software. We looked at a couple of packages and had some very insightful demos, but hyperMILL just jumped out at both my brother and me. We instantly felt comfortable with hyperMILL, the demo showed its user-friendliness and functionality – it just seemed to click into place.”

The workload at Hi-Spec encompasses everything from agriculture and aggregate, construction, motorsport, fluid power and electric guitars. The company is renowned in the music industry manufacturing custom precision-crafted electric guitars (www.graingerguitarparts.com). The components at Hi-Spec include hydraulic valves and cylinders through to equipment for the quarry and aggregate industry, producing anything from prototypes and small batches up to production runs of 10,000+ – with such a diversity in both component types and volumes, a 5-axis solution with a powerful CAM system was a necessity.

The East Midlands manufacturer acquired one seat of hyperMILL a couple of weeks before the arrival of the Matsuura machine and it hasn’t looked back since. “We had our training and set up the post-processors for all of our other machines too. There was a learning curve, but the OPEN MIND support team were fantastic – initially, we may have called them 3-4 times a day, but nothing was too much trouble for them. Both the product and support from OPEN MIND team compared to our previous supplier is like comparing a Ford Model T with a Bugatti,” says Darren.

With the company rapidly gaining familiarity with hyperMILL, the CAM system is gradually being rolled out on its other machine tools. As Darren adds: “The strategies in hyperMILL have drastically improved our cycle times and surface finishes. The strategies have also reduced our cutting tool consumption and costs, freed more positions in the tooling carousels and enabled us to look at how we programme jobs differently.”

Looking at some of the strategies, Darren says: “An example of how we are programming parts differently is our use of 5-axis cycles where we wouldn’t have considered them previously. This highlights the ease of use, our confidence in hyperMILL and the benefits of the different strategies. For example, we are now using the 5-axis Swarf Cutting Strategy that utilises the edge of a standard end mill to apply chamfers and forms. This is far easier than using 3+2 machining, and by creating multi-function use for standard tools, it reduces both our tooling inventory and the need for special or additional tools in the tooling carousel.”

As a company that is keen to adopt the latest strategies to improve productivity, Hi-Spec is also utilising barrel cutters. As the founder of CAM strategies for the barrel tool concept, OPEN MIND is the trailblazer for CAM strategies for this technology. “We have started using barrel tools and they are massively improving our cycle times with the increased step-overs when compared to ball nose tools. On a wedge-type component for rock crushing machinery, we have applied the barrel tools in place of ball nose tools. On one particular feature, the ball nose tool had a cycle time of 12 minutes – by changing to the barrel tool we reduced this to less than 4 minutes, a 75% saving. Furthermore, the surface finish is significantly better than with the ball nose tools. We previously had a cycle time of 45 minutes per part and the application of barrel tools and other strategies within hyperMILL have cut this to less than 30 minutes.” This impressive time saving is magnified by the company recently producing a batch of 200 parts with an additional 100 components in the pipeline.

Identifying another impressive strategy, Darren adds: “Another feature we are using is the 5-axis Drilling Strategy. This interpolates the job around a tool. So, we can use a standard end mill to drill holes of any diameter. By rotating the part around the end mill, there is no need for large drills and the associated costs of multiple drill sizes, plus we don’t need to drill pilot holes. Additionally, it removes the number of required tools in the tooling carousel, giving us more freedom to maximise our tooling positions. It is also more forgiving on the machine tool, as we don’t need to draw a lot of torque from the machine whereas large drills draw a lot of power.”

Overall, hyperMILL has drastically reduced cycle times and improved throughput whilst improving surface finishes and component quality. Furthermore, the intuitive cycles have streamlined programming tasks whilst providing a new outlook on programming strategies and simultaneously improved tool life, performance and reduced inventory. In conclusion, Darren says: “hyperMILL has been excellent and the service is outstanding. Even collision avoidance is remarkable. It shows everything in the work area from the workholding to the tool configuration and this gives us astounding confidence. In some instances, it is almost ‘too good’. For example, if we programme an 8.7mm diameter for an 8.5mm hole due to a customer error on the drawing or model, the hyperMILL collision avoidance will identify the error as a collision. The confidence this gives our team is outstanding, we are delighted we opted for hyperMILL.”

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