Precision partnership develops new air bearing technique

Loxham Precision, a high precision machine tool company based at Cranfield University, and Ultra Precision Motions (UPM), a specialist bearing company based near Swindon have announced a collaboration that will see the creation of a new high precision manufacturing technology for producing air bearing components.

Loxham Precision, a high precision machine tool company located at Cranfield University and Ultra Precision Motions (UPM), a specialist bearing company based near Swindon have announced a collaboration that will see the creation of a new high precision manufacturing technology for producing air bearing components.

This collaboration has gained support from the Manufacturing and Materials programme operated by Innovate UK.

The project will see the companies develop a new manufacturing technique to produce specialist air bearing components that are widely employed within the multi-axis µ6 CNC machine tool range produced by Loxham Precision. Air bearings of this type offer a non-contact, friction-free motion that enables high precision machining of super smooth surfaces.

Paul Shore of Loxham Precision said: “This Innovate UK project will establish a new means to produce micrometre scale features of novel air bearing designs originally pioneered by UPM. This new production technology will enable the automated fabrication of air bearings significantly reducing their manufacturing cost.”

The recently launched Loxham µ6 machine product is a 6-axis CNC micro-machining system. Dimensionally, it occupies a similar footprint to that of a domestic white goods product (600mm x 600mm x 1,000mm) yet provides a workpiece machining volume of 125mm x 125mm x 150mm.

The machine provides comprehensive turn-mill capabilities and is designed for eased automation with post machining metrology. The machine’s electronics and control systems are integrated into the base of the machine which has integral temperature control.

The µ6 is described by Mr Shore as ‘new era’ and highly integrated in the same way mobile phones are also cameras and portable music players. It provides 2/3-axis precision turning and 4/5-axis micro-milling. In comparison to conventional machine tools the µ6 has a very small environmental footprint, operates via single phase electricity supply, employs non-contacting air bearings and has a 100% recyclable machine structure. And at less than 500kg, the machine is easily transported and brought into operation.

Furthermore, the machine has been developed with a local manufacturing supply chain reducing distribution costs and emissions impact.

Aimed predominantly at the manufacture of instruments, sensors, moulds, optics, medical devices, quantum devices, compound semiconductors and components for the watchmaking industry, Loxham has sold µ6 machines into leading UK research centres and is currently validating performance of automated versions for a number of commercial organisations.

Loxham Precision www.loxhamprecision.com

Cranfield University www.cranfield.ac.uk

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