Lion Engineering complements £1 million machine tool investment with FeatureCAM
A £1 million investment in machine tools is significant by any company’s standards, but often new, state-of-the-art, machine tool technology can expose deficiencies in other areas of the manufacturing process.
This is exactly what happened when Lion Engineering invested in Mazak machine tools, capable of high-speed cutting and offering significant improvements to productivity. Unfortunately, the new machine tools exposed significant limitations in the company’s CAM software, in particular in the post-processor capabilities.
Post-processor software converts CAM data to specific machine tool commands and is an essential component in using computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing to produce machined parts.
Lion Engineering, which is based in Great Yarmouth, primarily manufactures components for the onshore/offshore drilling industry; it produces many different types of products for down-hole drilling and production equipment. Lion also specialises in applying hard-facing treatments and welding services to help reduce wear in abrasive conditions.
Director Martin Brown, who joined the company in 1972 and took part in a management buy-out from the previous owners in 1985, explained that working for the petrochemical industry could be very demanding with the standards and expectations being extremely high. "We are as busy now as I have ever known it since joining the company,” he claimed. "During the last downturn, stocks of parts were run down and these now need to be replaced; whilst activities in the industry remain at the higher level so shall the demands on our services.”
"There has been a dramatic change in the industry over the last ten years,” he added. "As new technology and the price of oil have increased, it has become economic to drill deeper wells in more harsh environments. This has both increased the demands on the equipment we supply and made the costs of any failure even higher.”
Lion Engineering first moved into CAM four years ago when it increased its milling capacity and acquired a CME four-axis milling centre. The company tried various CAM systems but was never completely satisfied with the software or the support staff. "They never seemed to have the knowledge and experience we needed,” said Mr. Brown.
"Problems with the software were affecting our ability to deliver parts as quickly as our customers demanded,” he remembered. "Quite rightly, they weren’t interested in the shortcomings of our programming system. They wanted to be using the equipment, not listening to excuses over our delivery times.”
The investment in Mazak machinery, including an Integrex e-500 mill-turn, a VTC-800 five-axis mill, a VTC-300 four-axis mill and a Nexus three-axis lathe with live tooling, brought the situation to a head. The existing CAM system was not equipped with post-processors for the new equipment, which meant that the company was unable to realise the operational efficiencies that the Mazak machinery would normally offer. In addition, it was unable to program the helical milling operations needed to produce critical features within the components.
Lion Engineering then made the decision to change its CAM system to FeatureCAM, Delcam’s feature-based CAM software, which combines cutting-edge technology with ease of use to offer significantly reduced programming times.
"Once the decision to change had been made we immediately began to look at other CAM providers including seeking references from some of our sub-contractors who had experience with Delcam,” said Mr Brown. "We bought FeatureCAM two years ago, and have found both the software and the support to be really good.”
Machinist and programmer Neil Boags had struggled with the previous CAM system for his first year at Lion Engineering and couldn’t believe how much easier and more reliable FeatureCAM was. "It just worked!” he said. "I was new to CAM when I came to Lion as I had only used programming on the control at my previous company. The support I received from the Delcam staff was excellent. They helped me work around any problems I had and were able to undertake some minor changes to the post-processors to get the machines running exactly as we wanted.”
"FeatureCAM gives us the high-quality surface finish we need for our specialist surface treatments,” added Mr Brown. "Our integrated machining and surface finishing service is one of the most important reasons why our customers prefer to use us. We need to deliver the highest quality at every stage to satisfy some very demanding clients.”
The original reason for the major investment was to enable a diversification away from the oil industry. However, high demand from old and new customers in the sector has meant that most of the new capacity was quickly taken up. Mr. Brown still feels that a broader client base will be needed in the long term. He is already looking into a further expansion in capacity and has applied for planning permission to add another new building for the company’s next stage of development.
12 October 2011