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Phoenix Tooling, a supplier of components and subassemblies to military and civil aircraft companies, has invested in a five-axis turn-mill machining centre from Hardinge Machine Tools.

The company also uses seven Bridgeport vertical machining centres (VMCs), including two five-axis machines and several two- and three-axis turret mills.

According to Ray Guttridge, managing director of Phoenix Tooling, these machines have enabled the company to progress into more complex components, to work with more difficult materials and to hold ever stricter size and geometric tolerances.

Phoenix Tooling moved into five-axis machining through the installation of two Bridgeport 5AX machining centres.

Guttridge said: ‘We could never consider producing the type of component we now have to make, largely out of solid billets, by individual operational settings.

‘Moving to single-cycle techniques has enabled us to combine sometimes eight or even 10 conventional operations into just two and, as a result, have lopped at least 50 per cent off our previous lead times in producing typical batches of between 50 and 200 parts,’ he added.

By moving into single operational techniques, Phoenix Tooling has also improved its spindle utilisation, according to Guttridge.

Phoenix Tooling normally spends GBP250,000 to GBP300,000 a year on new equipment and has recently added the latest Bridgeport XR 760 VMC with fourth-axis capability and a Hardinge RS-51MSY mill-turn centre that features a subspindle and a Y-axis cross feed to the turret.

The turning centre adds a single cycle capability on smaller parts and introduces the capability for hard turning and hard milling owing to the high rigidity of the Hardinge collet-ready spindles, guideway systems and turret construction supported on a polymer composite bed.

Guttridge continued: ‘It also provides cost-effective high-accuracy machining due to its linear scales with a resolution of 0.0001mm in the X and Z axis.

‘Machining errors are not in our vocabulary as the type of work we produce means we are up against strict zero-defect policies employed by customers, even on chamfers, and when a raw billet of titanium can start off between GBP500 and GBP1,000 precision has to be inbred and at the forefront of everything we do,’ he said.

Phoenix Tooling produces a range of components and has, over the years, machined parts from titanium, special steels, nylon, plastic, different types of aluminium and even special grades of rubber.

Batches vary from prototypes involving up to five parts to long-term contracts such as a jet fighter side stick that involves a quantity of 3,000 to be supplied in batches of 20 or so over several years.

Cycle times vary from 20 minutes to more than three hours on the VMCs.

Some wire EDM operations are run unmanned day and night.

All the VMCs and five-axis machines are fitted with Heidenhain controls, which provide the flexibility advantage of common programs and interface well with the Pro-Engineer, 3D Feature CAM and Bridgeport EZ-mill offline programming systems installed.

On the subject of the fast-jet side stick, Guttridge discussed the complexity of multiple blended profiles and the exact geometrical tolerances of the different features in order to create the precise feel to the pilot.

‘Some positional tolerances are within +0.0025mm.

‘We could never produce half the parts in the assembly without four- and five-axis facilities and the skills to take advantage of the technology,’ he said.

Another example is an optical housing made from a solid aluminium billet, where access to produce the different features and maintain the geometric relationships could again only be achieved on batch production by combining these into a single cycle on the Bridgeport 5AX following the setting up of initial machining data.

The latest Bridgeport XR 760 installed is powered by a 21kW, 12,000rev/min spindle with 134Nm of torque.

It has a 30-tool magazine and rapid traverse rates of 43m/min over the 760mm in the X- and 610mm in the Y axis.

The 610mm Z axis has a rapid traverse rate of 36m/min, with a work table of 900 x 600mm.

The working volume is said to be ideal for the type of part that Phoenix Tooling is producing.

Meanwhile, the Hardinge RS-51MSY mill-turn centre has a turning diameter of 356 x 638mm in Z.

The 12-station all-driven turret has +50.8mm to -34.9mm of true Y-axis cross feed, suitable for heavier milling applications.

While the machine has a 51mm bar capacity, Phoenix Tooling did not specify a bar feed.

The machine is used to work from billeted material in the 5in (13cm) chuck to turn-mill components in a single cycle working to automatic transfer between the main and sub spindles.

Hardinge Machine Tools

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