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AB Graphic International has installed a Hurco DCX22 bridge-type machining centre to enable the company to carry out work that was previously subcontracted.

AB has predicted that the 2,200mm x 1,700mm x 750mm capacity machine will pay for itself within 18 months.

Phil Robson, operations manager at AB Graphic, said: ‘We machine a lot of ones and twos when producing larger structural plates; 12-off is a big batch for us.

‘Rapid setup is therefore very important for economical manufacture of components.

‘We chose the Hurco machine partly because the Windows-based conversational control has the ability to import data files directly from our CAD system, speeding program preparation,’ he added.

‘Over our network or using a memory stick, I download a DXF file of the part to the Hurco Ultimax CNC and it appears on one of the two screens,’ said Andy Playforth, machine operator.

‘The conversational menu within the Winmax software comes up on the other screen to guide me through the programming sequence.

‘I extract all component features and dimensions from the 2D file.

‘For example, the software will identify all holes of a certain size and put them automatically into the program.

‘I just need to tell the machine which drill to use.

‘Similarly, pocket coordinates are entered without having to key them in manually.

‘Again, I simply specify the mill and the direction of travel and the next part of the cycle writes itself automatically.

‘In this way, the program is quickly compiled.

‘If a repeat job is being run and design changes have been made since the last iteration of the component, edits to the program are made on screen from notes on the drawing,’ he added.

Playforth said that a large aluminium plate measuring 2,150mm x 1,500mm x 20mm and containing more than 100 features can be programmed in less than 45 minutes at the Ultimax control.

In contrast, the same job would take many hours on a different control on the shop floor, as all parameters would have to be keyed in manually, with a subsequent risk of human error and potential for scrapped parts.

‘Having two screens on the Ultimax CNC system means I can see a graphic of the part created as the program is built up,’ said Playforth.

‘It is rather like having a CAD/CAM system inside the control.

‘You can get similar software for other controls, but it costs extra and we would need to retrofit different packages to all of the various CNCs on our shop floor to achieve the same functionality,’ he added.

Another advantage of Winmax, said Playforth, is that the program stores the position of the part on the table as well as the cutting cycle.

So if the next billet is fixtured in exactly the same place and no edits are required, production can start immediately.

AB Graphic’s policy is to subcontract out half to three-quarters of component production, according to the workload on its own shop floor.

It was one of the local subcontractors, which operates several, yet smaller, Hurco machining centres, which recommended AB Graphic source its bridge-type machine from the same supplier.

The DCX22 machine also provides all-round guarding, allowing aluminium to be milled at high speed without showering chips all over the shop floor.

In practice, the machine is said to be very accurate.

Some dimensional and positional tolerances – hole centres for the path rollers that transport the web, for example – are down to 10 micron total to ensure accurate label production and printing.

Based on the performance of the DCX22, when another machining centre on the shop floor had reached the end of its useful life, the company chose to replace it with another Hurco, a VMX42m with 1,067mm x 610mm x 610mm working envelope.

It is fitted with a Max control, which has all of the Windows functionality of an Ultimax, but without the second screen.

Speed of programming is just one way in which AB Graphic maximises production efficiency.

Both Hurco machines, and seven other machining centres on the shop floor, carry drilled jig plates on the tables to reduce the time needed to locate and clamp components.

Renishaw tool length setting and probing for datuming components and post-machining inspection have been fitted to the Hurcos to ensure that machining starts as soon as possible after the component has been fixtured.

A further initiative has been to work with tooling suppliers to maximise metal removal rates.

Solid carbide cutters are used, mainly from SGS, for machining aluminium and Fenn for use on steel.

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