Subcontract machine shop buys first CNC VMC...from Fanuc

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When James Camden Engineering Ltd had an issue machining some complicated aerospace parts, it turned to FANUC and its renowned ROBODRILL vertical machining centre for a solution. The Warwick-based subcontractor conducted a comprehensive review of the CNC machine tool market and concluded that FANUC offered the best combination of cost, performance, precision, technology and service.

With a plant list that includes EDM, manual milling and lathes, the company was having difficulty completing certain parts and it was the expertise of the FANUC team that swung the purchasing decision. As Jordan Coles, a Tool Room Machinist at James Camden Engineering says: “We looked at lots of suppliers and their respective machines, but it was the FANUC sales engineer that was more focused upon our needs. To this end, FANUC looked at our components, the type of regular work and the quantities we produce and accordingly recommended the FANUC ROBODRILL D21MiA5 High Power Version machining centre.”

For the small subcontractor it was a paradigm shift in moving to its first CNC VMC and FANUC were only too aware of this. As Mr Coles continues: “There is often a perception, like the one we had, that VMC’s and FANUC machines in particular, are aimed at higher-volume production and that FANUC is a premium brand with a higher price tag. However, Nigel House from FANUC blew such perceptions away and delivered a solution to our problems.”

As the first CNC machining centre for the company, the 3-axis ROBODRILL was sold as an application product to the prototype and small batch manufacturer. Mr Coles continues: “We haven’t just bought this machine for production machining; it’s been brought in for machining extremely accurate small batch parts. When we looked at the market, we wanted a super accurate machine that could work to high tolerances and would be very precise and very consistent in its performance.”

The company manufactures aerospace and motorsport parts, and one particular job that led to the arrival of the ROBODRILL was a titanium aerospace job that is 3D printed via the DMLS method. This part required complex thread milling and the specific taps for the unusual thread had a 6-week lead-time. James Camden Engineering attempted to thread mill the parts, but this was difficult on its manual milling machines. Commenting on this, Mr Coles continues: “3D printing of critical features isn’t as precise as machining on the FANUC ROBODRILL, so we receive the 3D printed parts and finish all the critical features on our machining centre. We ask our 3D print vendor to print parts on a platform with a reference block that is relevant to the machine tool platform and the orientation of the parts. When we receive the part, we use the Marposs laser tool setting probe on the FANUC ROBODRILL to find our position. From this reference point we can finish our parts with exceptional precision levels.”

Whilst the spindle probing system guarantees the precision levels the subcontractor requires with its on-machine probing, the FANUC ROBODRILL platform achieves a bi-directional axis positioning accuracy of less than 0.006mm with a repeatability of less than 0.004mm. This is credit to the AC Servo motors and high-precision thermal compensation that is clarified via the FANUC 31i-B5 CNC control unit. All this is built upon a sturdy and compact platform that weighs in beyond 2000kg.

For giving James Camden Engineering the edge from a productivity perspective, the FANUC ROBODRILL has a 30m/min feed rate and a maximum spindle speed of 10,000rpm that is derived from a 11kW spindle motor. This combination of speed and power is well suited to the demands of the Warwick Company. Concluding on this, Mr Coles says: “From a service perspective, we couldn’t ask for more. The sales team were attentive to our needs and understood our business and our goals. After the purchase, the application engineers have proven to be great guys that frequently pop-in to check on us and our machine; they give us regular advice and see how we are getting on. In comparison, we’ve had other machine tool vendors that sell us a machine, drop it off, do the training and we don’t hear from them again. So, the service from FANUC has genuinely been beyond all expectations.”

More information about the ROBODRILL vertical machining centre can be found at

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