Components for ventilators sit in special workholding fixtures at Maztech Precision Engineering, waiting to be machined.
All photos courtesy of Open Mind Technologies

Maztech Precision Engineering (MPE) regularly produces precision components in ridiculously short turnaround times. For racecar suppliers in the UK’s Motorsport Valley, that’s just an average Tuesday.

So, when the British government began urging motorsports manufacturers to make components for ventilators and other equipment to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, Founder Wayne Bouchier says his crew was ready to do its part. The company won a government order to produce 7,500 aluminum tube manifold components for medical equipment, keeping its four Mazak machining centers running 24/7.

“The tube manifold is a relatively simple 3-axis part, but with the significant quantities required, we needed to design new fixturing to conduct multiple setup machining,” Bouchier says.

That, he adds, is where his company’s focus on having the best equipment and best software played a critical role.

Machining software

MPE uses Open Mind Technologies’ hyperMill CAM software because of its support for multi-axis machining and newer toolpath technologies. When the company started making ventilator components, he says having the right tools helped speed up machining.

“Using the Linear Pattern feature in hyperMill, we have been able to effectively copy and paste the machining cycle from one position to the next on our machining centers. On one of our machines, we now have 16 WNT ZSG4 vises with suitable fixturing set up for non-stop machining,” Bouchier explains. “The hyperMill program for each part is simply copied and pasted, not just across each fixture, but also across all of our machines.”

Maztech has four employees and a prestigious client list. It recently invested in its fourth Mazak machine, a VariAxis i-300 AWC 5-axis machine with 32-pallets and tool storage capacity for 145 tools for continuous around-the-clock production. This has proven priceless during the race to produce ventilators.

“My strategy all along has been to invest in the best machinery, the best CAD/CAM software, the best tooling, the best workholding, the best of everything,” Bouchier says. “It all plays a role in producing the highest quality parts. I think the quality of our parts is a reflection of what we’ve got here on the shop floor; the Mazak machining centers, ITC cutting tools, and of course the hyperMILL CAM system.”

5-axis machining

Maztech started using 5-axis machining in 2017 when they installed a Mazak VariAxis i-500. Bouchier says, “I had a CAM system, but it couldn’t provide suitable post-processors to communicate confidently with the VariAxis configuration. I also wanted the full machine model, so I could simulate everything – as the machine is a big investment.”

Colleagues recommended hyperMill, and many Formula 1 (F1) engine producers use the software, so Bouchier requested a demonstration.

“We picked out a model of one of my parts and Open Mind showed me how to program and simulate it, demonstrating the complete machine model. As someone with CAM experience, I asked loads of questions,” Bouchier recalls. “Entering 5-axis machining is never easy, but hyperMill simplified it… The 5-axis capabilities and comprehensive machine simulation made the decision for me to invest in hyperMill.”

Maztech Precision Engineering uses several Mazak machining centers to machine parts for Formula 1 race cars. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, it shifted production to ventilators.

Ramping up

Bouchier took a 3-day course to familiarize himself with hyperMill before implementing it at MPE. After a few months, he sent team members to training, bought a second seat, and deleted the stored files on his servers from the previous CAM system.

“This prevented us from falling back on the previous system if a difficult challenge arose. This meant we had to reprogram all our previous jobs, and with up to 50% of our work being repeat business, this was a big move,” Bouchier says.

As MPE increased its capabilities to produce complex parts with 5-axis technology, Bouchier became better known in racing circles and began discussing next steps with potential customers. Following advice from numerous motorsport subcontractors, Maztech specified the hyperMill Maxx machining package for high-performance metal removal rates. Other modules specified were the 5-axis Z-level finishing, 5-axis profile finishing, 5-axis freepath, swarf, and 5-axis contouring.

“The main benefits are the sheer number of options in terms of available strategies to machine parts. In the past, we have wanted to do jobs in a particular way and the CAM system has prevented us from taking our chosen strategy. This isn’t the case with hyperMill,” Bouchier says. “It can be the most frustrating thing as an engineer when you know exactly what you want to do, but your CAM package won’t allow you to do what you want.”

The Maxx package supports trochoidal milling and arbitrary stock machining, systems that MPE uses for stainless steel.

“Arbitrary stock machining enables us to maintain a constant load on the spindle and tool to maximize material removal rates. Equally important is the fact that this also prolongs tool life and improves surface finishes by retaining an even chip load,” Bouchier explains.

A designer at Maztech Precision Engineering uses Open Mind Technologies’ hyperMill software to design multi-axis machining strategies for ventilator components.

Workholding

For Maztech to produce complex components with confidence, its engineers have modeled all workholding accessories, such as all vises, vise jaws, and chucks, and created a template for each. That work proved critical in quickly ramping up ventilator component production.

“With hyperMill, if you put good data in you get good data out. If you set up your tools exactly as they are set up in hyperMill, run a collision check and the software says there is no collision - you’re 99% guaranteed there won’t be a collision,” Bouchier says. “So, when you first program a job, you open the template and select the vise and the jaws and pull that into your job. Straight away, you are collision checking against your vise and jaws as your machine is modeled up.”

Mazak Corp.

Maztech Precision Engineering

Open Mind Technologies