Getting things off the ground

MACH Machine Tools recently supplied Hill Helicopters with two new manual machines
MACH Machine Tools recently supplied Hill Helicopters with two new manual machines

A leading UK helicopter manufacturer invests in two new manual machines from MACH Machine Tools to boost the capacity and capabilities of its in-house toolroom facility.

MACH Machine Tools, a leading supplier of CNC and manual machines and machine shop equipment to UK and Irish component manufacturers, has recently supplied, Hill Helicopters, a vertically-integrated manufacturer of luxury private helicopters with two new manual machines.

The machines, comprising a MACH VS-1SP (Super Precision) vertical turret-type mill and a MACH L-1340 lathe were installed at Hill’s 5,250ft2 Development Centre in Rugeley, Staffordshire in May and October 2022 respectively.

The investment in both MACH models was made to increase the machining capacity and capabilities of the company’s, newly-established, toolroom and by doing so, help free up its advanced, production-led CNC machine tools from having to be available to undertake routine and less complex and critical machining operations. Although only recently acquired, the two MACH machines have already proved their worth and are an important part of the company’s overall in-house machining resource.

Hill’s toolroom facility acts like a business within a business
Hill’s toolroom facility acts like a business within a business

The two MACH machines, along with other manual equipment, have been installed in a specially-designated and demarcated toolroom - positioned within the company’s machine shop facility.

The toolroom plays a crucial supporting role in helping the company’s achieve its daily production targets which at present are focused on designing, developing and machining high-precision prototypes and pre-production parts (and their attendant machining processes), for its HX 50 (private), and HC 50 (commercial), helicopter platforms.

To date, the two MACH machines have earned their spurs machining one-offs and small batch series as well as machining intricate features (i.e., thread forms on shafts) on specific parts. The machines are also being used to manufacture a range of jigs and fixtures which, when completed, are transferred over to the production-oriented CNC machines in the machine shop.

Fast and flexible

Explains Hill Helicopter’s lead production engineer, Mark Webb: “The MACH machines are accurate, fast, flexible and reliable and are helping us improve our productivity and process efficiencies.

“Our toolroom facility acts like a ‘business within a business’. It exists to serve and support our wider machine shop needs and takes pressure off our production-oriented CNC machines which, to meet our tight deadlines, are always in high demand.”

Two new manual machines, comprising a MACH VS-1SP and a MACH L-1340 lathe, were installed at Hill’s facility in Rugeley, Staffs
Two new manual machines, comprising a MACH VS-1SP and a MACH L-1340 lathe, were installed at Hill’s facility in Rugeley, Staffs

The acquisition of the two MACH machines followed a chance meeting earlier in the year between Mark Webb and representatives of MACH Machine Tools at the recently-held MACH 2022 exhibition in Birmingham.

“We attended the MACH show in April 2022 primarily to look at acquiring a range of ancillary machine shop equipment like wash tanks, welding kit, rumblers and polishers etc., for our machine shop,” continues Webb. “During our attendance we came across MACH Machine Tool’s stand and there were a number of manual machines that I believed could do an important job for us.

“I met Dave Andrew from MACH Machine Tools to discuss our requirements and after agreeing the scope and scale of the investment and finalising all the details, ordered a manual mill and a manual lathe there and then.”

With a VS-1 SP already in stock and available for immediate delivery, the decision was made by MACH Machine Tools to loan Hill Helicopters an ex-demo L-1340 lathe from its showroom until a new lathe become available.

“We appreciated MACH’s flexible and proactive approach that would enable the mill and lathe to be delivered to us at the same time,” remembers Webb.

The Hill way

Although MACH Machine Tools’ involvement with Hill Helicopters is currently limited to the supply of one manual mill and one manual lathe, this could change quite dramatically in the future.

The planned move in 2024 to a brand new, 330,000ft2 manufacturing facility in Stoke to enable the company to ramp up production to meet its Year 1 and Year 2 targets, which translate to building and delivering 250 and 500 helicopters respectively to customers around the world does present opportunities for the relationship between both companies to grow.

“We will be increasing our headcount quite considerably in the years to come (from 40 to 400+) and, to help address future skills shortage issues and problems recruiting talented staff, will create an Apprentice Training School at the new facility,” concludes Webb. “To ensure new recruits learn basic and foundation level engineering and machining skills and competencies, it is our intention to invest in a number of additional manual machines to train apprentices ‘the Hill way’.”

This is another example of the company controlling the means of production, of its commitment to vertical integration and of developing and bringing, in-house, as many manufacturing technologies and processes as possible.

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