Sub-drill Supply Limited | Westhill (Aberdeenshire), United Kingdom

The economic situation surrounding the UK offshore industry has been well documented for its difficulties in recent years. To rise above the uncertainty and build success where others have failed, Sub-drill has invested heavily in modern Mazak machine tools, OPEN MIND’s hyperMILL® CAM software and a new factory – the results are truly amazing.

In 2011, the Westhill manufacturer of subsea tools and drilling equipment for the global energy industry moved to a purpose built factory, which was then extended to 24,000sq/ft in 2014. Sub-drill succeeded where others failed for a number of reasons.
Firstly, the company manufactured its own brand of products and support services for the offshore sector, which it continually extends. Secondly, the company faced the adverse market conditions by investing in the very latest machine tools.

Commenting on this, Mr Mark Paton the Operations Director at Sub-drill says: “With difficult market conditions, we knew we had to invest in new technology to streamline the business, improve productivity, reduce costs and generate efficiency savings to improve our competitiveness. Firstly, we bought a Mazak E500H turning centre with a 3m bed and 5-axis capability. This enabled us to reduce set-ups, conduct one-hit machining, decrease lead–times and increase productivity. This machine was followed in 2015 by a Mazak Nexus 450 II M. The latest machine that has just been installed is a Mazak Integrex e-670 turning centre with a 4m bed and large through spindle enabling machining of larger more complex parts. The machine also has a 70 Bar High Pressure Coolant system that has enabled us to conduct gun-drilling on complex parts for the Oil & Gas industry. It is the first machine of its type in Scotland with the new Smooth control system.”

“We spoke with Mazak and our shop floor staff that had previously used CAM software, they all categorically recommended hyperMILL®.”

Mark Paton, Operations Director at Sub-drill


“The flexibility of the new machines, the ability to reduce set-ups and conduct one-hit machining has taken the production of large high strength carbon steel, stainless steel, P550 non-magnetic stainless, super duplex and Inconel components and projects from 20-30 weeks down to 8-10 weeks. The arrival of OPEN MIND Technologies hyperMILL® CAM software has been instrumental in reducing lead-times and improving our machining capabilities.”
Each machine tool has given the Aberdeenshire company added capacity and the ability to extend its product portfolio and subcontract services. However, when the manufacturer of drill tools, valves, rig floor and well-head equipment set about manufacturing down-hole drilling tools, it was OPEN MIND’s hyperMILL® software that ‘drilled’ to the bottom of the issue.

Sub-drill Identifies the Problem

Prior to the arrival of hyperMILL®, all components were programmed on the shop floor utilising the Mazak Mazatrol and Smooth control systems. On the older machines, the Mazatrol CNC control units were the control of choice. However, the new development and prototype tools and equipment at Sub-drill required much more complex geometries to be machined to achieve the desired performance from the new product range. The company was witnessing excessive programming times and significant challenges with tool paths and production times. Added to this, Sub-drill manufactures its own brand of ‘Handle Style Lift Caps’ for the off-shore industry. The programming was too complex to undertake at the machine and the only feasible solution was to look into CAM software.

hyperMILL  Solves the Problem

Recalling how the issue was resolved, Mr Paton says: “We spoke with Mazak and our shop floor staff that had previously used CAM software, they all categorically recommended hyperMILL®. We discussed the project with OPEN MIND and they happily delivered a solution with hyperMILL® last year.” The CAM package was supplied with the latest hyperMILL® MAXX Machining module, and hyperCAD®-S. The results were almost immediate for the 20 employee Scottish company.

With Sub-drill’s new downhole tool and equipment designs, new geometries and tool dimensions are continually being reviewed. “The introduction of hyperMILL® was a product driven decision. We realised the market potential for our new development tools and equipment and recognised that hyperMILL® was a necessity for efficiently generating the complex tool paths and strategies. With scope for the development of a range of new tools; manually programming at the CNC control was a time consuming, complex and tedious task that made machining times particularly slow.”

The Benefits of hyperMILL®

The arrival of hyperMILL® instantly made an impact. The programming times have been reduced from 4 to 5 days to around 8 hours. Complex tool forms that couldn’t be programmed with the latest CNC con­trol are now programmed on hyperMILL® in 4 to 6 hours using cycles such as Shape Offset Roughing/Finishing and OPEN MIND’s trochoidal milling cycles to deliver efficient programming times.

Previously, Sub-drill was using the SolidWorks modelling package and manually programming the CNC control from the SolidWorks and AutoCAD drawings. Now, the ultra efficient hyperCAD®-S OPEN MIND’s own CAD system with its direct SolidWorks interface enables Sub-drill to receive SolidWorks CAD files, transfer the native file format in to hyperCAD®-S and prepare the files for downstream pro­gram­ming with hyperMILL®. This eliminates errors and streamlines the process with significant savings. Machine operators are no longer spending long periods conducting CNC programming; machine downtime is reduced and the potential for error or scrapped work is removed.

With regard to the ‘Handle Style Lift Caps’ that were subbed out to an external company to create programs, Sub-drill now has the CAM software capable of programming the ‘kettle bell shaped’ caps in-house. Ma­nu­fac­tu­red from a solid billet with extensive 5-axis machining cycles, the complexity was beyond feasible for the company’s previous programming methods. By subcontracting this work out, Sub-drill was at the mercy of the supply chain. However, the application of hyperMILL®; and in particular the 5-axis helical drilling feature and the barrel cutting strategies, Sub-drill can now produce the complex components in-house in a matter of hours. This has slashed lead times and costs whilst improving component quality, consistency and also giving the company complete control over the process.

Demonstrating the remarkable performance of the hyperMILL® MAXX Machining Package, Sub-drill is now manufacturing a number of its downhole tools in less than 10 hours. The machining time prior to the arrival of hyperMILL® was over 40 hours, a 75% productivity gain. Referring to this huge saving, Mr Paton says: “This huge saving is achieved by utilising the hyperMILL® MAXX Machining high performance roughing features to rapidly remove material. We apply Shape Offset Roughing strategies and trochoidal milling to rough the majority of the material. This is followed by the barrel cutting cycles within hyperMILL® MAXX Machining and the application of specialist cutting tools. These features are further supported by the 5-axis tangential machining cycles that further reduce our finishing times.”

“The tool paths and strategies used by hyperMILL® also improve tool life with efficient machining techniques that also reduces the stress and spindle load on our machine tools. This efficient machining strategy also enhances the surface finish of the finished product. We are delighted with hyperMILL® and the innovations that complete the package. We sometimes wonder how we would manage without it,” concludes Mr Paton.

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