An investment in a new Mazak machining center convinced Neil and Gareth Williams, Joint Managing Directors of Halesowen-based Hockley Pattern, that the time had come to move up to Delcam’s PowerMILL CAM software for five-axis and high-speed machining.
One of the UK’s leading toolmakers for the aerospace and automotive industries, Hockley Pattern specialises in turnkey tooling packages for the production of composite components, together with all the associated jigs and fixtures for trimming, drilling, checking, assembling and bonding those parts. The company boasts an impressive list of clients in both sectors, having supplied the likes of Airbus, Bombardier, Rolls Royce, Spirit Aerostructures, Triumph Structures, GE Aviation, GKN, Bentley, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.
The company was founded by Neil and Gareth’s father in 1979 and is now jointly managed by the two brothers. Since moving to its current site in Halesowen six years ago, it has doubled its turnover, increased its workforce to 53 people and now has the strongest order book since it started trading.
The brothers decided to invest in a Mazak VTC 800 five-axis machining center to expand the company’s existing machining capacity, in particular to accommodate a large tooling order from Airbus. They believed the machine would be ideally suited to the production of the large, complex tooling required in a variety of different materials by the aerospace industry. However, he was less confident in the capabilities of the company’s CAM system.
“We were making a significant investment in a machine that had the potential to process difficult-to-machine materials, much more quickly and to exceptionally high tolerances,” remembered Neil Williams. “There didn’t seem to be much point in making that investment without a CAM system that could help us take full advantage of the machine’s capabilities. We had been thinking about switching to Delcam software for some time and the new five-axis machine meant it was definitely time to make the change.”
“Our aim is always to keep on improving and developing our manufacturing procedures to ensure that we can support all of our customers’ needs,” continued Mr. Williams. “Even during the last recession, we kept on investing in new equipment. This not only ensures that we stay competitive, it also means that we can continue to deliver the highest quality tooling.”
As CNC Manager, Darren Laker was responsible for supervising the transition to the new software. “We had one programmer that had used PowerMILL in a previous job, which meant we could start using the software almost immediately,” he recalled. “However, he had only used the software for three-axis programming so Delcam put one of its experts on-site for an intense session in five-axis operation. Similarly, we had on-site support when we needed to add some extra options for the new machine to the standard post-processor.”
The benefits of the change soon became apparent. “With our previous software, the tool wouldn’t always be retracted far enough from the job so we had to check everything really carefully before we sent toolpaths to the machine or we would risk gouging the part,” said Mr. Laker. “With PowerMILL, we haven’t seen any similar problems. I’m sure the reliability comes from the fact that Delcam has its own manufacturing facility where it can test its software on real jobs.”
“Programming our drilling routines has become much faster,” he added. “With PowerMILL, you can detect all the holes in a model and group them by size automatically ready for drilling. Previously, we had to select, measure and program each hole individually. This took far longer and there was always a chance of missing a hole in our more complex parts.”
PowerMILL’s built-in CAD tools are also a big help, for example, when programmers want to add run-off surfaces to models or to cap holes before generating milling toolpaths. Models don’t have to be sent back to the CAD office for modification, which could cause delays, especially at the weekends when there wouldn’t be any CAD staff on-site.
Even though Mr. Laker knows that there is plenty more to come as his team becomes more familiar with PowerMILL, he is already convinced that the change was the right decision. “Most people I talk to about our business ask if I use Delcam software,” he claimed. “I’m very pleased that I can now say “Yes” because of the credibility that comes from being a Delcam user.”