Family drives expansion with help of WNT

Having worked at Hertfordshire-based Precise Components since 1987, Ed Laanest jumped at the chance to buy the business when the then owners retired in 2002. At the time it was using mainly manual machines, with just two basic CNC machines at Ed’s disposal. Moving forward 15 years the business has expanded in terms of floor space and also machining capability, with a diverse mix of CNC lathes, mill-turn centres, vertical machining centres and the latest arrival; a  Mazak HCN 4000 four axis machining centre, with a six pallet pool, with many machines running 24/7.

With his sons Tom and Sam now a full time part of the business and acting as a driving force in the development of the machining centre side of things, Precise Components is building on its expertise in the high volume manufacture of architectural fittings, and also in the manufacture of high precision mechanical parts for various applications involving turning and milling operations. In particular it is working in the lighting sector, where batch sizes can range from 500 off up to 10,000 off. Much of this work is in aluminium, but the company also is proficient in machining a wide range of materials from plastics through to stainless steel. “The decision to invest in the Mazak was due in part to an order we received from our biggest customer for a large quantity of bespoke light fixtures. Our milling capability had fallen behind and the VMCs were manually loaded, so needed an operator by them all the time. With the Mazak and its pallet system we would have our first machining centre capable of running lights out, which has always been of the highest priority to us.” says Ed Laanest.

With the arrival of a machine with an 18,000 revs/min spindle, six pallets and a 60 tool carousel, the next decision for Precise Components was an effective work holding solution. It was here they turned to WNT (UK). “We had already used WNT’s ZSG4 vice system on our VMCs and were very happy with it, the versatility of the reversible jaws and the use of the zero point location system makes them very easy and quick to use and set,” says Tom Laanest. “Therefore, it made perfect sense to equip the Mazak with the same workholding system, but utilising tombstone clamping towers to get multiple vices on a single pallet. The success we found on our VMCs cemented our decision.”

The total workholding package from WNT included six tombstone clamping towers and 72 WNT ZSG4 vices, allowing multiple set-ups to be completed and, where necessary, enabling long running jobs to be permanently set on the Mazak. One of the key features of the WNT ZSG4 vices that appealed to the company was the clamping process, which requires just a 160 degree maximum movement and by using a torque wrench the clamping power can be set precisely, up to the maximum 32 kN. This limited movement makes loading multiple vices, in what may be confined spaces, fast and precise without any interference between the handle, operator’s hands and the machine. Another area of versatility that was of interest was the modular nature the zero point system offered, allowing different clamping setups to be used in the future. The unique jaws of the ZSG4 system also provide benefits in that they are capable of gripping on as little as 3 mm of material parts can be relocated in the vice accurately, if required, without the use of a crimping machine to generate location points.

In addition to workholding Precise Components also makes use of WNT (UK), and its local Technical Sales Engineer Duncan Slough, for tooling and machining advice. The new Mazak is now fully equipped with WNT tooling, including the use of the adaptable Centro P collet system for high speed milling. The Centro P collet chucks provide high gripping force, double that of conventional chucks, along with excellent precision as runout is less than 6 micron at 3x diameter. Similar to the ZSG vices clamping force is guaranteed by use of a torque setting wrench. The Centro P collets have proved ideal at Precise Components in conjunction with WNTs Diamond Like Coated (DLC) solid carbide end mills for the machining of aluminium parts. The 16 mm diameter cutters are running at considerably higher cutting speeds than conventional coated cutters could achieve, with typical speeds and feeds of the order of 14,000 revs/min and a feedrate of 10,000 mm/min with depth of cut of 48 mm.

“Using the Centro P collets in conjunction with the WNT DLC cutters we are witnessing tool life increases of 500 per cent and cycle times have been cut by at least 50 per cent. The support we have had from Duncan at WNT has helped us adapt to the new equipment quickly and easily, in fact I don’t think we have worked with a company that is so willing to assist with cutting data and advice. Since having the machine we have also maximised use of through tool coolant and used thread forming for the first time.” says Tom Laanest. With the arrival of the Mazak HCN 4000 Precise Components has also invested in CAM software and here again WNT has provided CAD models of its entire library of tools along with models of the vices and tombstone fixtures. Having this information readily to hand further reduces any risk of collisions when the programs are transferred to the machine.

The service and support provided by WNT (UK) to Precise Components is typical of how the Sheffield-based tooling specialist works with its customers. “By working with our customers, who tend to be small and medium sized businesses, we can help them grow and that is to the benefit of them and us,” says Duncan Slough, WNT’s Technical Sales Engineer.