Two XYZ ProtoTRAK Lean Production Machines at True Precision...
Within three months of hearing about the latest innovation from XYZ Machine Tools Ltd, Colin and David Musgrove, joint owners of True Precision Engineering Ltd, had not one but two ProtoTRAK Lean Production Machines up and running in TPE’s Blaydon-on-Tyne premises.
The 15 hp/8000 rev/min LPM, with 20 m/min rapid feed in all three axes, is XYZ’s first ProtoTRAK-controlled CNC machine tool to be fitted with an automatic tool changer, although it has several features that differentiate this new machining system from a standard vertical machining centre. One feature in particular – a control system developed specifically for low volume and complex prototype production and easily programmed using ‘plain English prompts’ – appealed to the two brothers, both time-served toolmakers. They wanted to integrate the new machines into a five-machine CNC cell that would be run by three operators.
“;Depending on the nature of the work we have often had one person running two CNC machines,”; says Colin Musgrove. “;This has helped considerably at a time when it is becoming increasingly difficult to find and recruit skilled people. We do have four apprentices in training out of a workforce of 17, but most of our skilled people have been with us for years and multi-machine operation is another way in which we are planning ahead. There is still ample work out there as a lot of the larger engineering companies no longer do their own machining, and there are fewer smaller companies like ours with the people and the equipment to do the job. TPE has always invested in new machine tools – this has brought in work from the oil and gas industry, for example – while our engineering experience also attracts challenging reverse engineering projects.”;
One of the existing CNC machines in the new machining cell is a ProtoTRAK-equipped CNC/manual mill that, in essence, features the same menu system as the latest-generation PMX control fitted to the LPMs. Designed specifically for companies that need to get up and running quickly, ProtoTRAK has no requirement for the operator to have G and M coding knowledge and provides a fast and stress-free transition from manual to CNC machining. “;The LPMs, which were installed in March 2012, are the next logical step for anyone machining mainly small batches and one-offs,”; says Colin Musgrove, “;whereas a new machining centre would be a whole new ballgame.”;
In fact, the only notable difference between previous generation ProtoTRAK controls and the new PMX is that this latest version features two set-up buttons – Programming set-up and Machine set-up – rather than one. Programming set-up is basically anything that can be done within the control system while the LPM machine is running; Machine set-up is used for operations such as changing or replacing tools that involve stopping the machine.
“;The learning curve has been even easier than we expected,”; says Colin Musgrove, “;and the added advantage of having 16 tools available via the ATC is that the machines can run for much longer periods without direct operator intervention. This makes us more competitive. We are also getting to grips with the potential benefits of faster set-ups using fixture plates.”;
The integral ball lock system machined into the LPM’s 900 mm by 500 mm table provides a highly repeatable and accurate workholding mechanism. When a fixture plate is loaded onto the table for a second time, the operator knows exactly where the datum of the part, or parts, is relative to one or other of the three registers built into the table. So, once the initial set-up has been completed, it can be repeated at any time with the LPM ready to go within a few minutes rather than hours. This is because when a program is saved, the ProtoTRAK PMX control not only saves the process information (and any program notes) but also the datum positioning data. The ease with which a set-up can be completed is demonstrated at TPE when installing a 4th axis capability on either of the two ProtoTRAK LPMs. It takes just minutes to load and locate precisely on the machine table a fixture plate with a 4th axis direct drive unit, and the machine is then ready for action.
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