hyperMILL® Revs-Up Productivity
Alcon Components Limited | Northampton, United Kingdom
As part of the Alcon Group, Alcon Precision Engineering has been at the cutting edge of performance automotive manufacturing since its inception. To manufacture complex components for the automotive and motorsport sectors, the company relies on OPEN MIND Technologies' hyperMILL® CAM software.
Previously known as GE Precision before its acquisition by the Alcon Group, Alcon Precision Engineering has been using hyperMILL® since 2008. When the Tamworth-based Alcon Group, a world-leading manufacturer of brakes and clutches for the automotive and motorsport industries recognised the quality and surface finishes of the components manufactured at Alcon Precision Engineering, it also adopted OPEN MIND Technologies hyperMILL® CAM software to improve the quality of its components. For Alcon Precision Engineering, a company that has always had its niche in the high-end manufacture of motorsport engines, gearboxes and critical components – a high-end CAM system has always been of critical importance.
Commenting upon this, Alcon Precision Engineering Managing Director, Mr Garry Edwards recalls: “I’ve used all the leading CAM systems down the years and they all have their individual quirky features that make them a feasible choice – but hyperMILL® has all the quirky features of all its rivals and lots more besides. When the business was first running, we did a lot of work for Mercedes F1 and they use hyperMILL®, as do most of the F1 teams and the motorsport supply chain – it’s a ‘must have’ system for everything from simple to complex 5-axis work.”
“If you put all the best bits of all CAM systems together you’ve got hyperMILL®.”
Garry Edwards, Managing Director
The company has been instrumental in a range of high-performance car and motorbike engine projects and present, the workload includes a dedicated cast iron machining cell for producing military brake callipers with the remaining 85% of the business having a mix of general automotive, motorsport and aerospace work. However, the bulk of the output focuses on high-end engine and gearbox components such as the head, block, bearing caps, inlet manifolds, covers and cases for a naturally aspirated niche V12 engine for supercars such as the Ferarri GTO. Nestled in the heart of the ‘motorsport valley’, the Northampton manufacturer has also designed, developed and manufactured a 250cc 4-stroke single-cylinder motorbike engine that conforms to the MOTO 3 rules and can compete in the MOTO GP Series.
Commenting upon the engine, Garry Edwards says: “We wanted to prove our capability by designing and manufacturing a MOTO GP engine from the ground up. The 52 horsepower unit was trialled and tested on the track against Honda and KTM units; the two leading powertrain suppliers in the class that had evolved their designs over years of development. Our very first engine without re-development work was faster than one manufacturer and slightly slower than the other – a great testament to our engineering expertise. Sadly, to bring a race engine to production requires huge financial support beyond the realms of a subcontract manufacturing business.”
Garry adds: “As a demonstrator, the engine really does show our capabilities where we are using full 5-axis simultaneous machining, machining from solid billets and sand castings, so we encompass everything in terms of where our capabilities are. Quality is very important at Alcon Precision Engineering; we want to stand out with quality being our primary focus along with customer focus. Everything we’ve manufactured since 2007 has always been about quality, the appearance of the parts, the functionality, and we also want to ensure we are giving the best possible service to our customers.”
Complex high precision motorsport engine part produced by Alcon Precision
Technologically advanced manufacturing systems
Adding to this, Alex Hodgson, Business Development Manager at Alcon Precision Engineering says: “Typically with 5-axis machining, you close your doors to certain industry sectors. This is due to the time and complexity involved in machining components. Our new manufacturing systems are so technologically advanced, and in particular, our CAM package, but it enables us to produce parts within surprisingly low-cost brackets that look just as beautiful as premium parts. We are trying to develop an aesthetically perfect-looking engine and to do this we had to dig deep into 5-axis machining. When you do this, you encounter step-over and crossover lines that are created by the cutting tools. This was overcome by our CAM package, it allowed us to look into detail at our tool paths and stepovers, so we could use a smooth blending feature within our CAM package. All of this comes together to create an aesthetically perfect part.”
Confirming this, Garry says: “A major benefit that stands out is the tool paths within the Surface Machining feature. Parts like engine covers need to be aesthetically perfect and with hyperMILL®, if the middle of the cover or part is shaped like a flower, for example, you can select this central shape as a guide for the entire toolpath. This will ensure the entire toolpath follows the contours of the part to perfectly blend the surface. Comparing this and other features – hyperMILL® is a world apart from other CAM systems.”
Feature recognition, Tube Machining feature and much more
Referring to other key features within the hyperMILL® CAM system, Garry continues: “Another thing we found when using hyperMILL® is the feature recognition option that creates less reliance on our team having to create geometries, surfaces and guide curves. The system is very efficient in terms of production engineering and programming times. Previously, we invested in a different CAM system which was very clunky, took a long time to process toolpaths and there was no feature recognition like we get with hyperMILL® - so we decided to change. Once I had a demonstration of the capabilities of hyperMILL®, I was sold.”
Looking at another area where hyperMILL® has made an impact at Alcon Precision Engineering, Garry says: “OPEN MIND is far better than any system from its competitors. When it comes to machining engine ports, competitor systems required the creation of tool geometries for the associated port, with hyperMILL® they have the Tube Machining feature that enables you to select a surface and the tool automatically cuts in a helix motion with the tool clearance included – this is all self- generating and takes the difficulty out of the process. It’s completely revolutionary.”
Concluding on the company’s application of OPEN MIND’s hyperMILL®, Garry says: “The demonstration MOTO GP engine shows that having good CAM alone is not enough. You have to have good engineers that have been through the experience of machining, production engineering and programming themselves. With that skill and experience, our team know exactly how they want the parts to look. The CAM system we use enables our team to achieve that. Over the years that we have been using hyperMILL®, I think the system is the perfect tool for us to achieve the best quality for our customers. It has every available cycle for every part that you could ever want to machine.”