Subcontractor Hits Landmark Turnover With Help from OPEN MIND

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Buying its very first machine in December 2016, Multax Engineered Precision Ltd has already hit the turnover landmark of £3m. This growth is a credit to a core philosophy of automated production and reduced man-hours, and of course investment in industry-leading technology.

Like any small business start-up, nothing would have been possible without the dedication and sheer determination shown by company founders John McNab and Ashley Mizen, two ex-work colleagues that were working around the clock in their respective posts while setting up the new business. To achieve their automated production eutopia, the first machine installation was a 10-pallet 5-axis Mikron HSM600U that was supported with a Widia cutting tool voucher promotion scheme from Industrial Tooling Corporation (ITC) and CAM software from OPEN MIND Technologies.

The Andover Company now has 17 staff and has invested close to £3m on 10 machine tools and supporting equipment since its inception. This investment level has been acknowledged with the company winning accolades such as Test Valley ‘Business of the Year’ with industry recognition coming from the Mercedes F1 Team that named Multax ‘Metallics Supplier of the Year.’ This is a credit to the ability of Multax to manufacture anything from simple to complex components with unparalleled quality levels. The company is taking this expertise that has been widely recognised in F1 circles and expanding into other sectors. Multax is actively taking on new customers in all industry sectors. The Ventilator Challenge for the Covid pandemic is a prime example of how this fast-paced business can support customers in all sectors. 

Discussing the automation journey and its subsequent success, Director Ashley Mizen says: “Five of our six 5-axis machines are automated, and we try to maximise our automation as much as possible. We have skeleton staff working overnight and we offer night-shift programming, so we can deliver jobs ‘next-day’ if we need to.”

But Why Chose hyperMILL®?

Taking a closer look at why this rapidly growing automotive, motorsport, aerospace, medical and scientific subcontract manufacturing business places such glowing plaudits upon hyperMILL®, Ashley continues: “I was an OPEN MIND user before we decided to start the business. It is a ‘game-changer’ for our business and we now have seven seats of hyperMILL®. We have integrated machine models, and from my extensive use of various CAM systems, it is so simple to train a non-CAM user, we now have our setters and operators using hyperMILL® as a setting and programming tool. It allows staff to check the datum of the part, produce the tooling sheet, put the NC code into the machine and also run the verification software to prevent collisions.”

“Our team will always use hyperMILL® for everything from the simplest of parts to the most complex. From a business stance, it’s great to have the simplest parts programmed with hyperMILL® as this means we have the programs stored on our central server. If we get a repeat order, we can revisit the programme, see what tools we have used and how the part is clamped, this gets us up and running quickly. hyperMILL® has been a revelation to our business, and we definitely wouldn’t be where we are today without it.”

When asked how hyperMILL® is aiding Multax on the shop floor, Ashley states: “We are a medium to high complex component supplier and the strategies we use means that we use a lot of ball nose tools for 5-axis cutting. With hyperMILL®, many of these strategies can be created in seconds. We also have a lot of like-for-like components come through our facility and we can overlay the models and use them as templates. This makes programming and setups efficient to get up and running.”

Virtual Machine

The Hampshire Company is also adopting the groundbreaking Virtual Machine platform from OPEN MIND. Alluding to this, Ashley continues: “From my understanding, hyperMILL® will now replicate the machine control, so it runs the NC programme rather than using POF files. It also provides fully integrated models in the simulation package. We have also invested in the hyperMILL® Optimisation Package. This looks at the tool paths generated by the software and creates optimisations. For example, hyperMILL® has historically moved the cutting tool to a ‘home’ or ‘safe’ position while the machine table is indexing; to optimise that position, the ’Optimiser’ will just move the tool to a clearance height and then bring the tool back to the workpiece, reducing movements and non-cutting times. hyperMILL® has always been able to do this, but previously it was a lot of effort to get there.”

The catalyst for investing in Virtual Machine and the Optimiser software was the COVID pandemic and the ‘Ventilator Challenge’ work the company received. As Ashley continues: “We are extremely proud to be involved in the ventilator project and we received an order for four different parts with an overall quantity of 31,000 that needed to be machined within eight weeks. To achieve this, we designed our own fixturing that allowed us to clamp 10 parts on each face of a tombstone. With 40 parts on each of the seven pallets, we had 280 parts in each of our 5-axis seven pallet GF Mikron machines. By developing our fixturing system and using the hyperMILL® job linking feature, we reduced cycle times from 9 minutes per part to just over 2 minutes. This gave us the realisation that with incremental optimisations in a machine shop that runs 24/7, the benefits of Virtual Machine and the Optimiser could potentially be huge. So, instead of investing in another 5-axis machine, we invested in optimising what we already have. Taking receipt of parts for the fast-turnaround Ventilator Challenge is a huge testament to how our business can adapt to the needs of customers, regardless of what industry sector they are in.”

Returning to Ashley’s previous point regarding extracting tools to a safe point, Ashley says: “Virtual Machine and the Optimiser are in their infancy at Multax and we are instantly seeing significant savings, the potential for our company is huge. If the retraction and return of the cutting tool to the home position take 20+ seconds, we only have to consider the complexity of our parts and the number of pallet indexes plus the number of tool changes to see how the ‘20+ seconds’ for each process will all add to our cycle times.”

Adding to Ashley’s comments, Multax programmer, Mr Michael Pede says: “Virtual Machine is already bringing additional savings with relation to the time the part is actually on the machine. This is largely credit to the simple fact we can speed things up by linking parts together. We also have the Optimiser strategy that works with ‘Virtual Machine’, basically, this will work on the individual tool paths and then link the individual tool paths together using 5-axis movements, this is all done automatically. It takes the time and effort away from the user and does everything automatically based upon the information you give hyperMILL® regarding each machine. To get the most out of hyperMILL®, you need to know what you are doing, but it is remarkably intuitive.”

Continuing upon the simplicity of hyperMILL®, Michael says: “It’s very simple to use, we have had several people with no experience join the company and we teach them in-house and send them on courses.” Looking specifically at the 5-axis machining cell at Multax, Michael says: “It would be impossible to do what we do without a system like hyperMILL®. We utilise it to the point that we can programme something as soon as we receive the work and then run production and even the first-off part, lights-out with nobody here.”

hyperMILL® Optimises Productivity

Looking objectively at how hyperMILL is delivering savings for the ISO: 9001 certified company, Michael says: “From a programming perspective, some of the biggest gains from hyperMILL® are the time savings that come in terms of it being an all in one package where you can do your design and manufacturing in one ecosystem. We can also use the hyperMAXX® strategies to push productivity and tool life to the maximum.”

Looking at how hyperMILL® helps to get the most out of the machine tool technology at Multax, Michael continues: “We get real benefits through the simulations we have whilst the graphical illustrations of the machines allow us to get as close as we absolutely can to the table with the cutting tools.”

Part of the company’s 10 machine inventory includes a Goodway GLS2000 turning centre and a GLS2000LYS Y-axis machine and the hyperMILL® turning package has been installed to help here too. As Michael elaborates: “We recently invested in the turning modules to expand our capabilities and also help with more complex strategies where we can use the high-performance turning package within the MAXX bundle that can be applied to some of the harder materials we are turning. We have managed to utilise this on materials like Inconel and this has dramatically reduced our cycle times and increased our tool life whilst giving us a better surface finish.”

Concerning hyperMAXX® turning, Michael says: “We had one part with a very deep groove in it and the package enabled us to machine a lot faster because we could in-feed in both directions, so rather than retracting out of the part, we were able to feed straight back in with left and right feed cuts. This effectively cut our cycle time by 50% and enabled us to apply different types of tools that we couldn’t use before. The savings can be significant. For example, we had one medical part that was a production run, by re-engineering the job with hyperMILL® we took the cycle time from 10 minutes down to 6, which is a huge saving for a production job. Additionally, the layout of the turning cycles are very similar to milling and they are very easily laid out and easy to use,” concludes Michael.