There can be few companies that have embraced CNC machining so quickly and enthusiastically as S&E Engineering. The family-run subcontractor installed its first computer-controlled machine tool in 2005 and by January 2007 had invested in four vertical machining centres and three CNC lathes – all from Hurco.
Martin Sanderson started the Scunthorpe company in 1988 with a £10,000 bank loan, at which time he had a mortgage and a family to support. The first month’s turnover was £48, which focussed his mind on swiftly increasing the level and profitability of his business. This he did, and by 2005 he owned an impressive array of manually operated machines including large horizontal and vertical borers, three centre lathes, one of which can turn parts up to four metres long, and a number of smaller machines.
There has always been an emphasis at S&E Engineering on machining of larger workpieces, which sets the subcontractor apart from many of its competitors. Once he started to invest in CNC machines, Mr Sanderson decided to maintain his capability to provide large-capacity milling by installing two Hurco VMX64s, which have working volumes of 1,625 x 860 x 760 mm and can accommodate nearly three tonnes on the tables. Two smaller VMX42s provide 1,066 x 610 x 610 mm machining capacity for components weighing up to 1,360 kg.
There were compelling reasons for S&E Engineering to invest in CNC machine tools. Potential customers were saying that they would not allow non-CNC plant to be used to machine their parts. Some work for which the subcontractor was asked to quote could not practically be produced on a manual machine to the required tolerances. Then one customer supplying repair equipment to the offshore industry suggested that more work would be forthcoming if a machining centre were to be installed, although there was no guarantee.
Mr Sanderson duly bought the first VMX42, which rapidly reached capacity based on his firm’s 7.00 am to 5.00 pm shift pattern. So it has been with all of the other Hurco machining centres, which have hardly stopped from the time they were installed. Where possible the machining centres, particularly the larger models, are left unattended to cut a part into an evening ghost shift.
The second CNC machine on site was one of the lathes – a 254 mm chuck model designated TM10 – followed by another identical machine and a smaller 203 mm-chuck TM8. The idea was to migrate the benefits that resulted from the first machining centre across to the turning department, in the first instance for batch production of steel components.
Martin Sanderson’s brother, Jamie, is responsible for running the turning cell and despite having had no previous programming experience, was conversant with generating programs using the Hurco Max controls after just two days’ training. Previously, his time was spent looking after one manual lathe.
Commented machine shop manager, Jim Swan, brother-in-law to the Sandersons, “We routinely hold tolerances of 20 microns on all of our Hurco machines and the 100th part off is exactly the same as the first – a degree of accuracy and repeatability that is not possible using manual machine tools.
“The other major benefit is that labour cost per machine is around one third of what it used to be for a given output, so we have been able to freeze the prices we charge customers to compete more effectively in a global marketplace and still make a profit.”
All programs are input on the shop floor using Hurco’s conversational Ultimax or Max control systems, which S&E Engineering staff find easy to use and ideal for small batch work and even one-offs, as are frequently ordered by customers working in sub-sea and highway maintenance. In this connection, bearing in mind that the company is new to CNC, Hurco’s telephone back-up has been very helpful when the occasional programming problem has been encountered.
The decision to opt for Hurco machines hinged on the capability of the controls, coupled with the high residual value of the equipment, as confirmed by the firm that provided the finance, Hitachi Capital. Martin Sanderson intends to keep the CNC lathes and machining centres for five years before part exchanging what will be relatively lightly used machines for new models. On that basis, he will enjoy three and a half years of ‘free’ use of the lathes after they have been amortised and at least two years’ machining centre operation after the finance periods have ended.