Entrepreneurialism – alive and kicking in Stoke-on-Trent!
Progressive precision fabrication and machining specialist uses the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) to invest in its first horizontal machining centre, which also happens to be its first Doosan machine tool acquisition.
Mills CNC, the exclusive distributor of Doosan machine tools in the UK and Ireland, has recently supplied ECAM Engineering Ltd., with a new NHP 6300 horizontal machining centre.
The machine was installed at the company’s 20,000sq. ft. facility in April 2021, and is the first horizontal machining centre to be acquired by the company in its 52 year history, as well as being its first Doosan machine tool investment.
The NHP 6300 is a large-capacity, rigidly-designed and built machining centre renowned in the market for its heavy-duty cutting capabilities and its high material removal rates. The arrival of the machine, as intended, has not only increased ECAM’s machining capacity but also its production capabilities and will, over time, improve the company’s operational efficiencies and productivity levels.
Says ECAM’s managing director, Phil Arme:
“We have a number of 3-axis vertical machining centres at our disposal and use them to machine precision components, made from steel plate of varying thicknesses, that have previously been through our in-house steel profiling and fabrication processes.
“The arrival of the new NHP 6300, with its twin-pallet configuration and B-axis table, will enable us to machine these parts quicker and more efficiently than was previously the case. Furthermore, the new machine’s rigidity, large working envelope and powerful BT 50 spindle technology also provides significant opportunities for us to secure new contracts that involve the machining of larger and heavier components.”
The investment: background
ECAM Engineering is a progressive company – one committed to continuous improvement.
The company specialises in supplying precision fabricated and machined components to a range of customers operating in the construction (Yellow Goods), rail and automative sectors…to name but a few. The company’s biggest customer, incidentally, is JCB – which is only a stone’s throw away from ECAM’s facility in Cheadle.
Back in March 2020, at the start of the pandemic and when the first national lockdown was introduced, the outlook for ECAM (as it was for many manufacturers) was uncertain.
Some of the company’s major customers were cancelling and/or postponing work, and were furloughing staff.
Remembers Phil Arme:
“They were unprecedented times but I was confident that, with the expertise and skill of our (36 strong) workforce combined with our in-depth knowledge of the sectors and industries we serve, we would cope with the current uncertainties and emerge stronger than before.”
Such optimism, as it transpired, was well placed because, although the pandemic did have an impact on the company’s business operations, it was short-lived and, since the turn of the year, ECAM Engineering has reported significantly increased business activity that is now exceeding pre-pandemic levels!
The pick-up in business, that started back in Autumn 2020, was indeed the catalyst for the company’s NHP 6300 horizontal machining centre investment.
Explains Phil Arme:
“Although not originally in our 2021 CAPEX plans, the upturn in activity and its (positive) impact on business confidence combined with the introduction of the Government’s CIBLS programme (and its favourable repayment terms and conditions), provided the ideal opportunity for us to invest in the company to make us better prepared to capitalise on the upturn.”
The investment: rationale
A particular area of the business where the company was looking to strengthen was in its machine shop.
Says Phil Arme:
“Over recent years we have invested heavily in our people…in our plant and equipment…and in our systems and processes. In 2019 we increased the size (floor space) of the company by 30% when we acquired two new units adjacent to our main facility. During the same time frame we also invested in a new plasma cutting machine and a new CNC press brake.
“Our objective is to become a one-stop shop for customers – not just providing world-class (in-house) steel plate profiling, welding and fabrication, and machining services…but also a full range of integrated ‘secondary’ specialisms that include painting, shot blasting, plating and powder coating.”
To improve the company’s machining capabilities it was always in the plan to invest in a new horizontal machining centre: the decision being less ‘if’ rather than ‘when’.
“I did my homework and investigated what a large-capacity horizontal machine could give us”, explains Phil Arme.
The key advantages were as follows:
• The ability to machine larger, heavier and more awkward-shaped workpieces.
• The ability, via the machine’s rigid construction and advanced BT 50 spindle technology, to reduce part cycle times on existing jobs by being able to ramp up speeds and feeds and take more aggressive depths of cut etc.
• The ability to improve productivity via the machine’s twin-pallet configuration i.e. enabling jobs to be set-up on the ‘free’ pallet whilst machining operations were occurring (simultaneously) on the machine’s second pallet.
• The ability to increase production efficiencies through the use of innovative and custom-designed and manufactured jigs and fixtures (i.e. tombstone fixtures), that enable multiple parts to be machined to completion in a single set-up.
The investment: Doosan and Mills CNC angle
To identify (and ultimately select) the most effective and appropriate horizontal machining centre, ECAM
researched the market.
Says Phil Arme:
“In addition to doing our own desk research we asked customers and experts in the field who they would consider approaching if they were in the market for a horizontal. A significant percentage mentioned Mills CNC and the Doosan machine tools it sells and supports in the UK and Ireland.
“We began discussions with Mills soon afterwards, and visited the company’s facility in Leamington where we met representatives from their sales and applications teams.
“We were impressed with the set up and were more than impressed with the NHP 6300 machine they recommended.”
The NHP 6300
The NHP 6300 machine acquired by ECAM Engineering was supplied with a 37kW/15,000rpm (BT 50) spindle, a 60 tool servo-driven ATC and features the latest Fanuc 31i control.
The machine is equipped with roller LM guideways (for increased accuracies), a versatile B-axis table that rotates in increments as small as 0.0001°, and twin (630mm sized) pallets. It also boasts impressive rapids (60m/min) and has large X/Y/Z axis travels (1050mm x 900mm x 1000mm).
Says Phil Arme:
“In addition to its brilliant spec, the NHP 6300 was in stock and available for immediate delivery.”
Since being installed…
The NHP 6300 was delivered and installed at ECAM’s facility in April 2021 with operator training occurring a few days later.
Since then it has predominantly been used to machine bespoke jigs and fixtures (i.e. the tombstone’s mentioned earlier).
Explains Phil Arme:
“We have taken our time in order to become totally familiar with the machine and to understand its strengths and its limitations. In the near future the machine will be used to machine steel components, often with intricate details and features, to high precision and tight tolerances.”
Since the beginning of the year ECAM Engineering has demonstrated its progressive and proactive business approach.
At a time when many manufacturers were ‘battening down the hatches’ ECAM was on the front foot and, in addition to investing £250k in new machinery the last eight months, has also introduced and recruited three apprentices onto its in-house Apprenticeship Training Programme, run in conjunction with North Staffordshire Engineering Group.
Concludes Phil Arme:
“Recent events demonstrate that you can’t necessarily predict the future. However, you can prepare yourself to meet the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities it presents.”