Like many businesses 2020 posed challenges for HiCi, a designer and manufacturer of high quality and innovative hand tools for joiners and carpenters under the Trig Jig brand. The past 12 months saw the Newark, Nottinghamshire-based business’s export market contracted due to concerns over Brexit and Covid, in part due to distribution issues. However, strong growth in the UK market compensated and turnover remained stable. With those export markets now opening again, 2021 is targeted as another year of growth for the business.

“At the end of 2019 sales had doubled over the previous year and we fully expected 2020 to be a similar story,” says Dan Soanes-Brown, CEO, HiCi. “Covid put paid to that but what the pandemic allowed us to do was focus on processes and plan for the introduction of additional products. We are also seeing the release of a lot of pent-up spending within the UK construction industry, projects that were postponed are coming back and we are seeing that reflected in demand for our tools.” The result is an expectation of strong growth for existing products and will also be driven in part by an ambitious schedule of one new product launch every month in 2021. The first two of these new products, a Carpenter’s Square and a T-Square are the first to benefit from production on HiCi’s latest investment, an XYZ 750LR vertical machining centre, HiCi’s first, but not last, machine from XYZ Machine Tools.

When looking to supplement the existing machining capacity, which consisted of two elderly vertical machining centres, HiCi looked at a number of options; with performance and reliability being the key elements in that search. Equipped with a 12,000 revs/min spindle, Siemens 828D Control and optimised digital servos, the XYZ 750 LR with its linear rail construction met those criteria. Like every capital investment price was also a consideration and here the XYZ 750 LR also came out favourably. “Price is obviously important and there were three machines that we were looking at; the XYZ machine was the most competitively priced, and I couldn’t see where the extra £10,000 that the other machines would cost was going,” says Dan Soanes-Brown. “Another factor was the ability to actually see the machine in action, with XYZ Machine Tools being the only supplier able to demonstrate a machine of the spec we wanted. For a young company like ours it was important to see what we were spending our money on in the flesh.”

With the machine installed HiCi is now reaping the benefits with the XYZ 750 LR doing the work of the two existing machines, and thanks to the higher spindle speed and control it is achieving much better surface quality and consistency. “The reliability and performance are enabling us to plan much better. Once we have the XYZ 750 LR running to 80 per cent capacity we will then order a second machine, as we look on it as a long-term brand investment and will look to go with XYZ again with the Siemens control.” Part of that decision is driven by the fact that HiCi has taken on an apprentice and he has quickly got up to speed with the machine and control. And, while all of the part-programs at HiCi are created offline and fed directly to the machine via the RS232 port, the standardisation on one control system will help streamline manufacturing.

With the majority of parts manufactured at HiCi being from aluminium or stainless steel plate, the machining process involves multiple parts located in jigs and fixtures. Here the XYZ 750 LR’s 830mm x 410mm table size and 750mm x 440mm x 500mm axis travels (XYZ) play an important role to maximise production. Features such as these, along with 20m/min feed rates, 18 hp spindle and its 3500 kg solid cast construction have made the machine a popular choice from the four machine linear rail range of vertical machining centres from XYZ Machine Tools. “The linear rail machines have proved to be a valuable addition to our range that complements our traditional box way machines by giving customers greater choice,” says Nigel Atherton, Managing Director, XYZ Machine Tools.

Productivity at HiCi is benefitting from the arrival of the XYZ 750 LR