A combination of Delcam software has powered growth at toolmaker and precision machinist Eccles Tooling Systems in a number of ways. The most obvious growth is in the size of the machine tools at the company, which has recently added an 8m x 3m x 1.3m Correa five-axis mill and a 3m seven-axis Faro arm to its large range of equipment. The company, which has been based in Halesowen, in the UK’s West Midlands, for over 60 years, has also increased the range of industries that it supplies with tooling, prototypes and machined components to include the aerospace, automotive, defence, marine, medical, motorsport and rail industries.
"Seven or eight years ago, around 95% of our work was for the automotive industry,” remembered Managing Director, Bob Morton. "We were undertaking projects for most of the leading manufacturers, including BMW, Ford, Honda, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, Renault, and Toyota. Even so, we knew we had to expand into other areas. We had always done a small amount of work in the aerospace industry so we have focussed on growing that business. We are also winning projects in the marine and rail sectors.”
The latest changes continue the expansion that the company has experienced since the introduction of its first CNC machine in 1996. This addition, together with the use of Delcam software, provided the improved productivity and shortened delivery times that were needed to make the company more competitive. As a result, Eccles was able to increase dramatically the number of projects it was winning. Additional staff, more equipment and larger premises followed, as part of a long-term investment plan to take the business from strength to strength.
The ways in which the Delcam software is used has also changed. "Like most companies, we started with a dedicated CADCAM office to carry out both the design work and the programming of the machines,” said Mr. Morton. "However, as we became more confident with the software, we transferred most of the programming onto the shop floor. PowerMILL is so reliable that the operators don’t need to spend so much time monitoring the machines. While one job is running, they usually have time to program the next project.”
The reliability of the software has also allowed Eccles to do much more "round-the-clock” machining. "We can run projects overnight or even over a weekend with minimal supervision,” claimed Mr. Morton. "Many of the larger parts still need to be produced to fine tolerances. This means longer machining times but there is still the same pressure for fast delivery. 24-hour shift machining is essential with the tight deadlines that we now face.”
Of course, the eight-large capacity Correa CNC machines at Eccles help the company to win larger projects. However, they also increase productivity as the bed sizes range from 2,000mm to 8,000mm, which allows a number of parts to be machined in one operation. "The flexibility of the Delcam software is just as important for this multi-part machining,” said Mr. Morton. "For example, if we need to make a left-hand and right-hand version of a design, we can program one part and then quickly edit the PowerMILL project to produce the mirrored component. Also, we don’t have to complete one piece and then machine the next one. We can integrate the toolpaths for several parts into one session and so minimise the number of tool changes.”
Another big change where the Delcam software proved essential was the introduction of five-axis machining. "With five-axis machining, we can cut our larger parts with shorter cutters that give greater accuracy and allow faster machining,” explained Mr. Morton. "Many of the aerospace projects we are now winning would not be practical without five-axis machining because of the number of set-ups that would be needed on a three-axis machine. PowerMILL has all the strategies we need to get the maximum productivity from our machines.”
"In the twelve years that we have been using CNC machines, we have watched Delcam grow and seen the software become faster and more powerful,” concluded Mr. Morton. "We expect our partnership to strengthen further as we continue our expansion.”