Release date: 5th October 2005
ALPHACAM PLAYS A CENTRAL ROLE
REEDWAY PRECISION’S OPERATIONS
Licom Software is at the Heart of Contract Machinist’s Development
Structure and process control are recurring terms used by Mike Treadwell, managing director of Reedway Precision, a contract machining company based on the South coast that is bucking the downward trend of Britain’s engineering sector in the 21st Century.
He also believes that these are the core benefits provided by his company’s investment in Licom alphacam software, putting off-line programming at the heart of Reedway’s ability to work smarter and more cost-effectively - in order to maintain a profitable niche in today’s competitive market place.
With an engineering track record that can be traced back more than 50 years, Reedway Precision was purchased by Mike Treadwell 18 years ago as a company servicing the needs of the gauge and tool making sector. Today, the business, based at Southbourne, near Chichester has developed into a well-respected contract machining operation, specialising in the supply of complex, multi-operation components in a variety of materials, including stainless steels, titanium and inconels. According to Mr Treadwell: “Versatility is one of our key strengths. Reedway supplies customers in industries as diverse as the aerospace, oil, marine equipment, motorsport, defence, electronics and banking equipment sectors, with components that can range from 1 mm to 2 metres in length and weigh anything from a few grams to 3 tonnes.”
The company’s transformation was triggered in the early nineties, when UK mould and tool suppliers found themselves under increasing pressure from foreign competitors, notably Spain and the Far East.
“Margins were continually being squeezed, with lower and lower prices from overseas,” he notes. “It resulted in plenty of attrition within the British mould making industry. However, the cut-throat prices from abroad that appeared almost too good to be true, frequently turned out to be just that - with UK moulders subsequently finding problems with their overseas-sourced tools, which they then tried to get rectified by British companies.
“We recognised that our future would be more secure if we focused on offering more complex machining services, particularly in difficult-to-work materials. That way, we could differentiate ourselves from the pack and potentially command more attractive margins.”
A key element in Reedway’s development has been Treadwell’s commitment to investing “every penny the company earns” into its equipment resources. The purchase of increasingly capable CNC production equipment also prompted the early adoption of off-line programming methods. Its initial investment in CAM technology was a low-cost 2.5D system. Yet, this undoubtedly helped to play a major role in supporting the company’s change of direction and structure.
“It offered us the potential to capture the programming knowledge we had built up within the company. It also opened up the way to standardising our operations and, for the first time, enabled us to get to the point where we only needed to do things once,” he adds.
During the next four years, the company continued to strengthen its CNC resources, not least through a £750,000 investment in a suite of new horizontal and vertical machining centres at its 12,500 ft2 premises.
By this time, the limitations of its original programming system had begun to become apparent. “Yet, it had opened our eyes to the possibilities,” Treadwell continues. “It was clear that we needed a high capability system to support our long term development.”
Indeed, the importance of selecting the right system - to meet both short and long term goals - would prove fundamental to Reedway’s subsequent success. So, before setting about the selection process, the company decided it needed someone with good all-round programming experience, who also had the potential to play an important role in its senior management team.
“Mark Hole, now the company’s Engineering Director, joined us with many years programming experience,” says Treadwell. “We then set about evaluating a number of well-known, high capability CAD/CAM systems. However, through Mark’s ability to ask the right questions and focus on the capabilities that would be important to us, we soon narrowed our choice down to Licom’s alphacam software.”
It proved to be a critical decision. But one that Treadwell and his colleagues have never regretted; not least because its alphacam installation paved the way for the company to adopt a more structured way of working.
Among its early initiatives was the decision to move all machine programming off-line.
“For the system to deliver on its full potential, we had to ensure that all manufacturing data was recorded and managed properly,” explains Treadwell.
“The alphacam system’s tool library facility allowed us to standardise on tools, as well as define company-specific speeds and feeds. Previously, each operator might have his own preferred brand of cutting inserts, or may be persuaded to try a new grade of tip on a particular job. By coordinating our activities, we could start to ensure commonality of cutting tools and methods. The proof of the pudding is that savings made over the years on our tool inventory have more than paid for our Licom system,” he continues.
“Another key benefit of working this way is that alphacam helps us to identify and resolve queries on jobs earlier in the process - long before they get anywhere near a machine - at a point where they cost a lot less to put right.”
According to Treadwell, every job undertaken by Reedway is first re-drawn and entered onto the alphacam system based on mid-tolerance dimensions. All drawing conflicts and missing detail, both on conventional paper and CAD drawings, are clarified with the customer at this stage, before the order is released to production.
“It enables us to iron out potential problems before committing to cutting metal. It can be a real pain sometimes, although it definitely pays dividends in the long run,” he observes.
“Our Licom system is the key to removing the variables that could lead to misunderstandings and mistakes; enabling us to make components for customer that are right first time, as well as right on time.”
Within 12 months of installing alphacam, Reedway had produced more than 800 fully specified CNC machining programmes. Furthermore, the company was utilising some of the software’s other capabilities to prepare extremely detailed set-up sheets and toolpath simulations for its operators, as well as visualisations of complete machining strategies to help bolster customer confidence in the organisation’s capabilities.
“Over the years, we have built total reliance on our alphacam system,” says Treadwell. “We simply couldn’t operate without it.”
This is underlined by the company’s recent addition of an extra software license, to act both as a safety net and to cater for the company’s latest machine tool investments.
During the past six months, Reedway has acquired a new Heller horizontal machining centre, a Hitachi-Seiki 7-axis lathe, a second vertical turning machine, an additional multi axis lathe and 3 off Sugami multi pallet FMS machines.
“Each of these gives us additional capabilities, which are matched by our alphacam system,” Treadwell continues. “The software is extremely user-friendly and fully supports our values of quality, responsiveness, cost-effectiveness and customer communications.
“It is also flexible enough to withstand the winds of change; providing us with long term benefits as our needs have altered over the years. I am confident that it will continue to do so for a long time to come in the future too,” he concludes.
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