hyperMILL Helps Maztech Speed Through Covid-19 Project
Close to ‘Motorsport Valley’ in Letchworth, Maztech Precision Engineering (MPE) was founded just six years ago by Wayne Bouchier to specialise in multi-axis CNC machining. During this period, the company has earned a reputation for producing quality components for a diverse and growing customer base, specifically in the aerospace, automotive and Formula 1 markets. Now, with the F1 teams so heavily involved in the Coronavirus (Covid-19) ventilator project, reputable technology partners like Maztech are now making parts for ventilators.
"My strategy all along has been to invest in the best machinery, the best CAD/CAM software, the best tooling, the best workholding, the best of everything. This is because, I believe it all plays a role in producing the highest quality parts. I think the quality of our parts is a reflection of what we’ve got here on the shop floor; the Mazak machining centres, ITC cutting tools and of course the hyperMILL CAM system from OPEN MIND Technologies,” says Wayne Bouchier, the 31 year old Managing Director that founded the company when he was just 25.
It is this strategy that has now seen Maztech become involved in the government response, winning an order to produce 7,500 aluminium tube manifold components. The company is currently running its four Mazak machining centres 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
As a company, Maztech has four members of staff and a prestigious client list that is largely attributed to the philosophy of investing in the best. Maztech recently invested in its fourth Mazak machine, a VariAxis i-300 AWC 5-axis machine that boasts 32-pallets and tool storage capacity for 145 tools for continuous round-the-clock production. This has proven priceless during the race to produce ventilators.
Starting the 5-axis journey with OPEN MIND
Prior to gaining the confidence and client list to support the installation of the VariAxis i-300 AWC 32 pallet machine, Maztech first had to start its 5-axis journey, and this started back in 2017 with the installation of the company’s first 5-axis machining centre, a Mazak VariAxis i-500. Recalling the weeks prior to installation, Wayne says: “I had a CAM system, but it couldn’t provide suitable post-processors to communicate confidently with the VariAxis configuration. I also wanted the full machine model, so I could simulate everything – as the machine is a big investment. I couldn’t find anyone that would or could do this, but the dozens of people I did speak to, they all recommended hyperMILL. We also do a lot of work with a UK based F1 engine manufacturer and they use hyperMILL. Everywhere I turned in the F1 and motorsport industry, it seemed like everyone was using hyperMILL. With so many high-profile F1 teams and the subcontract supply chain using hyperMILL, I thought that it must be a good system.”
“I called OPEN MIND and I had Ken Baldwin to come and give me a demo. We then picked out a model of one of my parts; Ken programmed it and showed me how to simulate it, demonstrating the complete machine model. As someone with CAM experience, I asked loads of questions regarding strategies and where particular features were within the system. Once this was all explained and I gained some familiarity, it offered far more in terms of strategies and capabilities compared to the previous system. Entering 5-axis machining is never easy, but hyperMILL simplified it and made it no more complicated than it needed to be. After the demo, I was very happy and confident in the system and I didn’t need to look at any other CAM systems, so we bought our first seat of hyperMILL from OPEN MIND Technologies.”
Jumping straight in
“I was that impressed with hyperMILL that I just jumped in. This isn’t short sighted, as down the years I have seen and used most CAM packages. I speak to industry colleagues that have limitations with CAM systems regardless of vendor, this isn’t the case with hyperMILL. Essentially, it was the 5-axis capabilities and the comprehensive machine simulation that made the decision for me to invest in hyperMILL. OPEN MIND organised post-processors for all our machines and not just our 5-axis, they also set up all the machine models and we made the decision to make a clean-break from our previous system and start fresh with hyperMILL.”
“I did the 3-day training at OPEN MIND in Bicester and when I got back to the office, we were up and away. After a few months, I sent the apprentice on the course and then I sent another team member. Once everyone was conversant with hyperMILL, I bought a second seat and eventually made the move to delete all the stored files from our servers that related to our previous CAM system, this prevented us from ‘falling-back’ on the previous system if a difficult challenge arose. This meant we had to re-program all our previous jobs and with up to 50% of our work being repeat business, this was a big move.”
Within a matter of weeks of the third team member doing the hyperMILL course, Maztech bought its third seat of hyperMILL. This resulted in the Hertfordshire company having three PC’s with hyperMILL, two seats with a 3+2 axis license and the third with a full simultaneous 5-axis license.
The perfect match
Discussing the company’s CAM requirements with OPEN MIND’s Ken Baldwin ensured that Maztech was on course to specify the exact modules the subcontract machine shop needed. But, as a diligent and increasingly well-connected company in motorsport circles, Maztech spoke with industry peers machining similar components for recommendations. Following advice from numerous motorsport subcontractors, Maztech specified the hyperMILL MAXX Machining Package for high-performance metal removal rates. Other modules specified by the small business were the 5-axis Z-level finishing, 5-axis profile finishing, 5-axis freepath, 5-axis SWARF (Side Walls And Radial Faces) and 5-axis contouring.
Compared to the previous CAM system, Maztech witnessed a multitude of benefits by converting to hyperMILL. As Wayne Bouchier continues: “The main benefits are the sheer number of options in terms of available strategies to machine parts. In the past, we have wanted to do jobs in a particular way and the CAM system has prevented us from taking our chosen strategy, this isn’t the case with hyperMILL. It can be the most frustrating thing, as an engineer when you know exactly what you want to do, but your CAM package won’t allow you to do what you want. Now, every job that I want to program in my particular way, I can. This is saving us a huge amount of time in both programming and machining times on the shop floor.”
The Covid-19 Response
Discussing the race to produce ventilator parts and how hyperMILL has helped, Wayne says: “The tube manifold is a relatively simple 3-axis part, but with such quantities we needed to design new fixturing to conduct multiple set-up machining. Using the Linear Pattern feature in hyperMILL, we have been able to effectively ‘copy and paste’ the machining cycle from one position to the next on our machining centres. On one of our machines, we now have 16 WNT ZSG4 vices with suitable fixturing set-up for non-stop machining. The hyperMILL programme for each part is simply ‘copied and pasted’, not just across each fixture, but also across all of our machines.”
Highlighting other benefits of hyperMILL, Wayne continues: “hyperMILL also has all the modern up-to-date programming strategies within hyperMILL MAXX Machining, such as trochoidal milling and Arbitrary Stock Machining. This is a massive benefit for us as we machine a lot of stainless steel. The reduction in machining times with hyperMILL MAXX Machining can be huge. The Arbitrary Stock Machining module enables us to maintain a constant load on the spindle and tool to maximise material removal rates. Equally important is the fact that this is also prolonging tool life and improving surface finishes by retaining an even chip load,” says Wayne.
Likewise, the Z-level finishing module within hyperMILL enables Maztech to retain a continuous Z-axis movement when undercutting pockets and waterline machining, thus ensuring optimal surface finishes. This is complemented by the 5-axis SWARF module that tilts the cutting tool to the desired angle during 5-axis machining of angled walls within pockets. By tilting the cutting tool, the end user can increase the engagement between tool and component, further increasing stock removal rates, extending tool life and surface finishes significantly. “The new strategies are improving our cycle times by at least 20% on most components and significantly more on heavy stock removal parts. Furthermore, our tool life has been hugely improved. We have doubled the turnover and output of our business in the last three years, but our tooling costs have remained relatively constant. Whilst this is largely credit to the cutting tool vendor, the new hyperMILL strategies have contributed hugely by increasing engagement and reducing tool loads.”
From a programming perspective, the office functions have been streamlined significantly, As Wayne recalls: “Our programming times are at least 35-40% faster with hyperMILL. One example of this is the Mirror function within hyperMILL. More than 30% of our work has a left and right-hand variant, for these parts hyperMILL and its Mirror function is slashing programming times from hours to minutes.”
For Maztech to produce complex components with confidence, its engineers have modelled all workholding accessories, such as all vises, vise jaws and chucks, and created a template for each. “With hyperMILL, if you put good data in you get good data out. If you set up your tools exactly as they are set up in hyperMILL, run a collision check and the software says that there is no collision - you’re 99% guaranteed there won’t be a collision.”
“So, when you first programme a job, you open the template and select the vise and the jaws and pull that into your job. So straight away, you are collision checking against your vise and jaws as your machine is modelled up. Especially on the 5-axis machine with its tilting spindle, you know that the spindle isn’t going to catch a table, as its collision checks everything,” says Bouchier.
In answer to the question as to whether he thinks the CAD/CAM hyperMILL package is as important as the CNC machines, Bouchier claims it’s more so: “I think without a decent CAD/CAM package you could have the best machine in the world but if you’ve got nothing to drive it, it’s an absolute waste of time.”