Despite only being founded in 2004, Machfab Engineering Ltd is managed by directors with more than 60 years of manufacturing expertise in all aspects of machining, sheet metal and fabrication. But regardless of experience, we can all learn new tricks – and for this Birkenhead company, the learning curve has taken a new twist with investment in 3D printing and CNC machine tools from Dugard.
With customers in industry sectors as diverse as the automotive, aerospace and off-shore through to the petrochemical, pharmaceutical and food industries, Machfab offers a complete range of services that ranges from conventional and CNC milling & turning, jigs & fixtures, breakdown and repair work, press tool manufacture, reverse engineering, prototyping, R&D as well as sheet metalworking. Some of these services were not previously available.
As Machfab Engineering Ltd Director, Mr Ian Hazlehurst says: “Two years ago, we had the idea to diversify the company, we have always predominantly been a conventional machine shop and we wanted to get into CNC machining – but we wanted to do something different to everybody else. So, we went down the 3D printing route to get into additive manufacturing. We worked with the Liverpool Innovation Fund and we managed to get funding from them to purchase our first 3D printer.”
The company bought a Stratasys Fortus 380mc. Explaining the reason for buying the machine, Ian continues: “We bought this machine to get into additive manufacturing and primarily prototyping for R&D work. If we can get a project where we get a final part, we would never be able to offer the service to manufacture that part. So, this is why we invested in CNC machining to offer customers the full package.”
Another reason the company opted to invest in CNC machine tools was that it was not always competitive on batch work or small production runs of components. Alluding to this, Ian continues: “We weren’t competitive on volume work as everyone has CNC machines and we had conventional machines, which meant our production times were a lot longer. So, we decided as part of the project with the 3D printer to invest in two Dugard machining centres.”
The subcontract manufacturer simultaneously purchased a 3-axis Dugard 1100 machining centre with a rotary table as well as a Dugard 1000E machining centre. Explaining this, Ian says: “The story behind the Dugard 1000E machine is that Dugard actually gave us the machine as a ‘test machine’ as we had initially decided to buy the larger Dugard 1100. The Dugard 1000E machine was installed for our guys to learn on – and we liked the machine so much, we bought it as well as the larger Dugard 1100 machine.”
For a company that had not yet stepped into the realms of CNC machining and had a history steeped in conventional machining, the initial loan of a CNC machining centre to prepare the North West Company for CNC production goes a long way to demonstrate the service provided by Brighton based Dugard Machine Tools.
Referring to the larger of the two machines and why the company chose the Dugard 1100, Ian recalls: “We wanted a machine that gave us the diversity of components that we could put on the machine. We have a 4th axis unit installed on the machine, so we can offer additional services and flexibility. We also have the Renishaw probing system. This means that we can take measurements of parts before we remove them from the machine – as certain customers asked if we could do that. Equally important is the fact that the machine has a large bed and a powerful spindle where we can take large chunks of material off, and we can machine hard steels as well.”
The Dugard 1100 VMC provides a spacious work envelope of 1100 by 610 by 560mm in the X, Y and Z axes with a 1000kg maximum table load that can be accommodated on the 1250 by 600mm bed. The machine also provides a 20 to 10,000rpm speed range that guarantees exceptional levels of torque throughout the speed range. Complementing this is the 24-position automatic tool change carousel and the BT40 spindle taper that permits heavy-duty cutting on a complete range of materials, including the most challenging aerospace-grade materials. Furthermore, both machines supplied to Machfab include the powerful Siemens CNC control unit. However, the impressive workhorse is also available with FANUC and Mitsubishi CNC options to suit the requirements of the end-user. The Dugard 1000E that was initially installed as a ‘test machine’ is a cost-effective VMC with similar characteristics to the larger Dugard 1100 VMC, which is why the company opted to keep the trial machine alongside the larger 4th axis Dugard 1100 VMC.
“Now we have the Dugard machines, we know we can make the parts and we know we can make them right. The machines also make us competitive, so we pride ourselves on the fact that we know our pricing will be right and we will deliver on time, and customers will always get exactly what they ask for,” concludes Mr Hazlehurst.