Case study Software supports success of tooling for carbon composites
For a UK producer of carbon-fibre reinforced parts, adding CAD/CAM programs and a 5-axis machining unit has helped drive profits, reduced production time and expanded the business into even more sectors.
When Simon Farren started Reverie Ltd 13 years ago with the focus upon high-quality carbon fibre aftermarket parts for the motorsport sector, the ex-Lotus engineer couldn't have envisaged the success that would stem from the appetite of car enthusiasts for lighter and faster vehicles. Initially producing body parts and panels from pre-pre fibre glass, Kevlar and carbon fibre to reduce weight in the limited edition Lotus 340R, the business grew when demand started to pour in from the world’s 9,000 or so Lotus Elise drivers.
The Colchester, UK, business – with its own autoclave oven for carbon fibre production – grew exponentially when it won the Petronas FP1 Superbike contract to produce full carbon fibre panel sets for the team.
Bike deal drives growth
The contract soon took the small business to an employee base of 20 with additional contractors drafted in for support for the 14-month build plan. The project enabled Reverie to pour revenue into product development and an expansion of its site and facilities. The re-investment also led to the arrival of a 5-axis routing machine from Thermwood and CAD & CAM packages from Open Mind Technologies.
The addition of the router and Hyper CAD and Hyper Mill from Open Mind in July 2012 enabled the company to “hit the ground running”, according to Farren, who is managing director. “One problem for us was that we were subbing out almost £15,000 of work each month. Whilst the financial implications weren't a critical issue, availability was. We were using leading motorsport subcontractors that could only support us adequately until December. This was when F1 teams loaded the subcontractors with development work for the forthcoming season. The knock-on effect was that we struggled to be able to quote or meet the lead-times of our customers due to the workload of our supply chain. By acquiring our own machine, CAD and CAM software, we have eliminated excessive lead-times, saved over £150,000 in subcontracting costs in the first 12 months and also been able to open our business up to new opportunities.”
The difference a year makes
The opportunities have helped increase turnover by 30% in a year. Additionally, the firm has become less reliant on motorsport work, which has fallen from 80% of the workload to 60%. The remainder now includes its own products and those for electronics, telecoms and defence sectors. All this is said to be credited to the investment in the router and the software.
A year down the line and the company is delighted with its purchase, Farren said. “We manufacture aluminium and epoxy patterns and tools in male or female format for our epoxy pre-preg parts/tools. We transfer jobs from part models in Solid Works to the Hyper CAD package. This allows us to generate a CAD model of the tooling or pattern required and add-in features.” He explained that this enables the manufacturing team to review the complete tool pre-production and ensure it was fit for purpose before exporting the file to Hyper Mill for the tool paths to be generated for the machine tool.
Since the Hyper Mill and Hyper CAD introduction, the benefits are reportedly evident. The very first job produced internally was a six-cylinder air-box epoxy male pattern that required a carbon mould tool. The company then fitted an oil mister system and progressed to machining alloy moulds previously manufactured externally with a lead-time of seven days per part; three parts completed the assembly, so the 21 days required were too long to win the contract. By using the software, the company finished all three components in the seven-day timescale, reducing lead times by 40%.
Cutting through the chop
On a project to reverse-engineer in CAD and produce an 18-foot skiff mast extension and spreader assemblies for a sailing boat, the task required three parts, and each needed a two-piece tool for production. If they were to be externally produced, each tool had a minimum lead-time of three days – a total of three female two-piece tools. By conducting the project internally with the software and the 5-axis machine, the entire contract was completed in three days.
Hyper Mill offers specific advantages, Peter Farndell, Reverie's manufacturing engineer, explained: “The Z-level finishing feature has improved productivity when cavity-machining our mould tools whilst simultaneously enhancing our surface finishes.”
According to company founder Farren, “Since acquiring the 5-axis router and the Hyper CAD and Hyper Mill packages, we have improved cycle times, product quality and reduced our overall lead-times. Most impressively, our capabilities have increased beyond recognition and this has enabled us to win new orders and bring in work previously outside our scope. Without the new machining capabilities and the Open Mind software, the company growth and the extensive product range wouldn’t have been possible.”