The perfect package

5 axis machining of large parts at RE Thompson
5 axis machining of large parts at RE Thompson

Subcontract manufacturer, RE Thompson’s plans for its manufacturing facility and implementing the correct CAM system were seen as critical decisions requiring due diligence, so it turned to Open Mind’s hyperMILL package.

Founded in 1948, RE Thompson has manufactured aerospace components for more than 60 years, diversifying into the electronics and semiconductor, medical, hydrogen, and electric vehicle (EV) sectors in its more recent history. To undertake this diversification, the company has invested over £7 million in the last 10 years; an investment that includes opening a second 20,000ft2 manufacturing facility, installing advanced fibre connectivity and decarbonising infrastructure and new machine tools.

The next step for the Hampshire company is to increase throughput and automation. Unlike most subcontractors, RE Thompson already has impressive factory floor automation with a remarkable 512 pallets on just nine machining centres. The bottleneck for RE Thompson has been the process flow away from the factory floor – primarily CAM programming.

Commenting upon the existing system, company owner, Michael Thompson says: “The system was falling down on meeting our requirements. We first put the old system in our factory around 30 years ago and over the years it has failed to keep up with technology. We looked at five or six systems. It was a very short review, as we quickly narrowed it down to two packages. hyperMILL is very well supported in the UK, lots of prestigious companies use it and there is local support.

“However, local support is now increasingly irrelevant, we have been implementing the system with Open Mind over Teams during Covid and have yet to meet them in person. We sometimes have people in six to eight locations working from home, so being able to implement hyperMILL with everyone involved has been fantastic. We found that hyperMILL had advanced tool path strategies and the overall support was outstanding. The flexibility of hyperMILL is second to none and they have really honed in on 3 and 5-axis strategies as well as turning – with its reputation in high-end 5-axis machining, we were very surprised by how good the turning package is.”

Michael Thompson from RE Thompson
Michael Thompson from RE Thompson

Small parts, big gains

Looking at particular components manufactured by RE Thompson, Thompson adds: “hyperMILL will help us with very small parts where we want to make multiples through to very large semiconductor chambers. There was one part in the MPI stage that would save us a staggering four days by using hyperMILL. This saving will be achieved through automating datum settings. These jobs can take weeks to program, but just in one area, hyperMILL will make a huge four-day saving – that is just phenomenal.

“When you have a lot of datums and ports on a job, we have to set those all individually and markdown in detail what had been set up. With hyperMILL, it just does it for you. This saving is just in setting the jobs, it doesn’t even account for the possible savings in overall programming and machining. When it comes to machining cycles and retracts, hyperMILL will naturally follow the shortest tool path – at present, our system retracts the tool all the way out for each process. This will save a huge amount of time on machining cycles.”

On the factory floor, the company produces everything from one-offs to runs of hundreds of parts. Turning naturally has higher production volumes, but some milling jobs can be up to 500-off a year. New business is from the semiconductor, maritime autonomous vehicle, aerospace enclosure, hydrogen, and EV industries – all requiring ever-faster turnaround times.

The production floor at RE Thompson with automated cells
The production floor at RE Thompson with automated cells

Off-machine savings

Looking at this evolving mix of work, Thompson continues: “Where hyperMILL will make a difference is during the time from order receipt to first-off production. We expect lead-times to be hugely reduced. It means our productivity will at least double as we can do the MPI and produce a lot more in a shorter time. We will be investing in 10 seats of hyperMILL, but I expect this to double and eventually increase fourfold, as we expect our throughput to more than double with hyperMILL.”

As head of sales, Matthew Shaw notes: “The addition of hyperMILL will be great for the sales team, as we will have more capacity to sell. hyperMILL will give us greater speed to market, a faster-quoting process and with improved throughput, our lead-times will improve significantly.”

With regards to being more competitive, Thompson concludes: “Sometimes we weren’t competitive machining propeller blades or impellers, as we couldn’t use barrel tools. So, our sales team had trouble selling that facility. With hyperMILL, we will be able to utilise all of those tools and strategies. The tool library is also very impressive. Having the facility to build a tool library with comprehensive data on machining parameters excites our team, and Open Mind has even more features in the pipeline.”

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