Living and breathing continuous improvement

GF Machining Solutions has recently supplied two, new high-performance Mikron machining centres to Mechlam Precision Tooling
GF Machining Solutions has recently supplied two, new high-performance Mikron machining centres to Mechlam Precision Tooling

Investment in two Mikron machining centres from GF Machining Solutions at Mechlam Precision Tooling has helped the company negotiate its way through the pandemic and set new, ambitious growth targets for the future. PES finds out more.

GF Machining Solutions, the milling, EDM, laser and additive manufacturing machine tool manufacturer and automation and tooling systems specialist, has recently supplied two, new high-performance Mikron machining centres with, advanced Heidenhain controls, to Mechlam Precision Tooling, a long-established precision mould tool, fixturing and subcontract manufacturing specialist, based in Haydock, Merseyside.

The new Mill E 700U simultaneous 5-axis machine, equipped with an integrated 7-station automatic pallet changer (APC), and the new, large-capacity VCE 1200 Pro 3-axis machining centre – both major additions to Mechlam’s already impressive machine tool line-up – were installed at the company’s 8,000ft² facility in Autumn 2021.

Over the last seven months the machines have been put through their paces machining a range of complex, high-precision parts, that includes complex and intricate components for mould tools, made from an equally diverse range of materials such as aluminium alloys, tool steels, stainless steels, Inconels and plastics.

Superior standards

A hallmark of Mechlam – and one that helps explain the company’s continuing success and the strong position it occupies in many of its customers’ supply chains – is the quality, accuracy and finish of the parts and components it is able to machine; achieving exacting tolerances of ±5µm and surface finishes down to Ra 0.2µm, is the rule – not the exception.

The two new Mikron machines have taken their place alongside a number of the company’s previously-acquired GF Machining Solutions’ machines that include both high-speed and universal Mikron 3-axis machining centres and AgieCharmilles advanced wire and die-sink EDM machines.

A new Mill E 700U simultaneous 5-axis machine, equipped with an integrated 7-station automatic pallet changer
A new Mill E 700U simultaneous 5-axis machine, equipped with an integrated 7-station automatic pallet changer

“We have always invested in GF Machining Solutions’ technology,” explains Martin Atherton, Mechlam Precision Tooling’s owner and director. “The machines are reliable, represent great value and deliver the accuracies, repeatability and surface finishes we require and our customers demand.

“The powerful, large capacity VCE1200 Pro, with its 18kW/16,000rpm spindle has increased our machining capacity and enables us to process large mould tool parts and precision components. Its large worktable (1,220mm x 620mm) means we can also comfortably machine multiple smaller components, using innovative and productivity-boosting fixtures in a single set up.”

The investment in the Mill E 700U simultaneous 5-axis machining centre with an integrated pallet changer reflects a discernible trend that, over the last few years, has seen Mechlam acquire multi-tasking machine tools.

“Although the company’s focus initially was on the mould tool and die sector we have, in recent years, diversified and expanded our operations so that now we also provide a high-quality subcontract machining service to customers operating in the automotive, medical, aerospace, motorsport and general engineering sectors,” Mr Atherton continues.

“To ensure we are competitive and are able to meet customers’ stringent delivery deadlines, we invest in multi-tasking machines with integrated automation.”

This strategy has seen Mechlam invest in a high-performance turning centre with Y-axis and driven tooling capabilities and, more recently, in the new Mill E 700U.

Stable and reliable machining

The Mill E 700U 5-axis machine is equipped with a powerful and thermally-stable 36kW/20,000rpm motor spindle, a 120-position automatic tool change (ATC) and a seven-station automatic pallet changer. It also features 30m/minute rapids, a directly-driven rotary/tilting table which, through its robust design and responsive dynamics, ensures high workpiece quality and optimised process reliability.

“The 700U gives us simultaneous 5-axis machining capabilities which enables us to machine complex and intricate features and details on mould tool parts and precision components that cannot be achieved, quickly or easily, using 3+2 operations,” says Mr Atherton.

“Furthermore, because we can machine parts to completion in a single set up on the machine, processing times are reduced (set up and cycle times) and production bottlenecks avoided. The accuracy is maintained because parts do not need to be transferred between machines meaning customer lead-times are more easily met.”

The productivity and efficiency gains delivered by the Mill E 700U have been augmented with the integration of the workpiece pallet changer.

A new large-capacity VCE 1200 Pro 3-axis machining centre
A new large-capacity VCE 1200 Pro 3-axis machining centre

“Using innovative, multi-sided fixturing, we load up the machine’s seven pallets at the end of each day to get up to 12 hours additional lights-out, unattended operation,” Mr Atherton notes. “The ability to run unattended helps reduce the cost per part and dramatically improves the return on investment.”

Mechlam Precision Tooling was established 21 years ago. In the early days the company was primarily involved in electrode design but, after a couple of years of trading, strengthened its offering to also include machining and providing a one-stop solutions service to its customers.

Over the last 18 years, which has seen the company relocate its operations three times to larger premises, Mechlam has grown significantly and now employs 19 people.

Three of a kind

There are three interconnected strands to Mechlam’s business activities: the machining of high-precision parts for plastic and rubber injection mould tools used in the medical, pharmaceutical, ophthalmic, personal care, hygiene, and automotive sectors; the design and manufacture of innovative, high-quality fixturing (e.g. specialist workholding machining and inspection solutions) supplied to a number of manufacturing companies as part of turnkey and process improvement solutions it supplies to its customers; and the machining of high-quality components (prototypes and one-offs, through to medium batch series) to a growing number of customers requiring access to a proven precision subcontract machining specialist.

Mechlam Precision Tooling is committed to continuous improvement and regularly invests in its people, plant and equipment, processes and systems. The company’s ethos, and how it achieves differentiation in the market, is through its focus on quality (reflected in its ISO 9001: 2015 accreditation); technology, regular and prudent investment in the latest manufacturing equipment and high customer retention levels.

The diversified nature of Mechlam’s business operations and the company’s ethos and culture came under pressure with the outbreak of the COVID pandemic when, virtually overnight, 50% of its business disappeared.

The new Mikron machines can produce high-quality components from prototypes and one-offs to small-to-medium batches
The new Mikron machines can produce high-quality components from prototypes and one-offs to small-to-medium batches

“The global automotive and medical sectors were paralysed, and the ramifications were felt throughout the supply chain,” Mr Atherton explains. “Cancelled and postponed orders from a number of our mould making customers in particular hit turnover but fortunately an increase in demand for our specialist fixturing design and for our precision component subcontract machining services helped pull us through what was a difficult time.”

The way ahead

Having high-productivity and high-performance milling, turning and EDM machines at its disposal was critically important in helping Mechlam weather the storm. It has proved equally important in helping the company capitalise on opportunities in the post COVID era.

“We invested in the two new Mikron machining centres during the pandemic because we needed to improve our milling capacity and capabilities. The investment enables us to grow the precision subcontract machining side of the business, which is extremely buoyant, without compromising our ability to respond to our mould tool customers.

“Now we are getting back to normal, and business from our mould making customers has returned, the decision to invest in new machines has been vindicated. We are stronger, more capable and more productive than ever,” Mr Atherton concludes.

As part of its continuous improvement programme, Mechlam constantly monitors and benchmarks its performance – identifying and addressing weaknesses when and where they are found.

Later this year, the company will upgrade its wire EDM capabilities by investing in a new high-precision AgieCharmilles Cut P 350 Pro machine and will increase and modernise its inspection department.

Mechlam Precision Tooling

GF Machining Solutions

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