The mechanical workshop of the Department of Physics at Durham University has expanded its manufacturing capacity following the purchase of an XYZ SMX 3500 bed mill with ProtoTRAK control. This machine sits alongside several other XYZ machines, including an SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe, and is being used in the manufacture of components destined for the department’s research work. The mechanical workshop is a hive of activity with work being placed with it from across the university, not just the Physics department. It is therefore important that complex parts, mainly one off or small batches, for use in astronomy, atomic and molecular and work on superconducting materials research, can be quickly and easily programmed and produced.

While the machines in the department’s workshop used to be available for students to use, they are now solely the domain of Workshop Supervisor Stephen Lishman and his six technicians along with two apprentices. The students and their tutors now concentrate on the research and design work, with the programming and machining left to the workshop team. The technicians regularly work across several machines during a project, so it was important to have a standard control and the department settled on the ProtoTRAK control from XYZ Machine Tools. Having just one control system allows free movement between machines as demand dictates. “The ability to transfer skills from machine to machine is important to us as we rarely know what we will be machining next and our technicians and apprentices find the ProtoTRAK control easy to use. This in turn helps to generate good quality and accurate parts from the machines”. says Stephen Lishman.

The department purchased its first XYZ machines back in 1998, with additional machines being added up to 2003, at which point the decision was taken to upgrade its stock of manual machines and an investment programme was instigated to switch from manual to CNC, with ProtoTRAK being the control of choice. The result is that the workshop now has just one old CNC machine that doesn’t have a ProtoTRAK control and, as a result, it is rarely used. The five XYZ machines installed since 2004 consist of two XYZ SMX 2000 turret mills, one XYZ SMX 2500 bed mill, the XYZ Proturn SLX 1630 lathe and the latest being the XYZ SMX 3500 with its 5HP programmable 5000 revs/min spindle and 770 x 500 x 500 mm axis travels.

“The choice of XYZ Machines is down to their ease of use, accuracy, repeatability and all round value for money,” says Stephen Lishman. “By focussing on one make of machine and control our skills have developed alongside the machines that we buy. We are also reassured by the quality of the support provided by XYZ Machine Tools. There is always someone at the end of a phone if we have any questions, training is excellent and when we get a new machine they point out all of the specific changes/upgrades from the previous model, so that we know where we are. Not being a production facility, as such, there are times when we need reminders on how to get the best out of the machines so it is nice to know that a phone call will provide any answers that we need”.

Another plus for Mr Lishman was the detail that the installation team went to when delivering the SMX 3500. Durham University campus is built on a hilly site; therefore delivering machine tools can be awkward. The XYZ team made sure they did a pre-installation visit, took photographs and ensured that the truck and crane were right for the job. “Delivery as a result of the good communications between XYZ and the university ensured that the installation was straightforward, with the final commissioning taking place within 24 hours of us booking an engineer to call,” confirms Stephen Lishman.

XYZ Machine Tools has strong links with the education market and has recently strengthened that position with the appointment of Kerry Kidd, who has been with XYZ most of its 30 years in business to the new role of Education Sales Director. “Education is now a significant part of XYZ’s turnover and this led to the creation of this position to provide hands-on management of this area of our business, especially with the Government actively promoting vocational training in areas such as UTC’s (University Technical Colleges), which will further fuel the growth for machine tool sales in this area,” says Kerry Kidd.

(Above) The new XYZ SMX 3500 installed in the Mechanical Workshop in the Department of Physics at Durham University.

(Above) The workshop uses the XYZ SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe to produce some complex parts for atomic and molecular research projects.