The beginnings of Investment Casting Systems is a fairly familiar one, with founder Ted Head turning his Mechanical Engineering Design and Manufacturing expertise and professional model making skills into the successful Engineering business that it is today. Starting out in his garage with a bench lathe and small 30” x 6” milling machine, Ted turned his hand to general engineering subcontract some 37 years ago, before quickly moving into toolmaking, growing into an eight-man business during the 1980s.
One of four XYZ 1060 HS vertical machining centres at Investment Casting Systems
This success at toolmaking provided the opportunity for Investment Casting System’s next diversification when a toolmaking customer asked if Investment Casting Systems could also provide injection moulding services. Injection moulding soon grew to account for 66 per cent of the company’s turnover processing over 800 tonnes of raw material annually. As a result, toolmaking became a support service for this side of the business, providing maintenance and build of new tools for its own in-house requirements, which includes plastic injection tools up to 10 tonnes. This didn’t mean that investment in the toolroom ceased, quite the opposite in fact, with significant financial outlay being undertaken to bring this side of the business up to achieve ISO 9001:2008, AS 9100 Rev. C and World Class Tool Maker accreditations, the business has also been awarded the SC21 Bronze award. In more recent times the toolroom has expanded, with £600,000 being spent on machine tools and infrastructure over the past four years. This has allowed it to re-enter the sub-contract toolmaking sector, producing close tolerance tooling for a variety of industries, including power generation (gas turbines) and aerospace, the latter has recently resulted in an export order to the USA valued at £750,000 for carbon composite products, an area that ICS is expanding into.
Since then we have continued to invest in XYZ machines for a number of reasons, they provide exceptional quality at a good price, they are accurate and stand up to the test of time and, the service we receive from XYZ is second to none.
Operators David Granados (left) and Will Neil with one of the XYZ 1060 HS vertical machining centres.
Helping with this development are a number of machines from XYZ Machine Tools. “We bought our first XYZ machines, a Pro 2000 turret mill and a DPM bed mill 15 years ago and they are still with us today,” says Investment Casting System’s Technical Director, James Head. “Since then we have continued to invest in XYZ machines for a number of reasons, they provide exceptional quality at a good price, they are accurate and stand up to the test of time and, the service we receive from XYZ is second to none.”
A mould tool being machined on one of the XYZ 1060 HS VMCs.
An example of the accuracy and longevity of the XYZ machines was highlighted during a recent assessment of all the machines in the toolroom as part of Investment Casting Systems’ World Class Toolroom/ISO 9001 status. “To maintain our world class status we have to have our machine tools laser calibrated to within 5 micron/metre so that we are confident that we can repeat processes on any machine. All of the XYZ machines came within that, even the seven year old XYZ 1060HS. These are accuracies that you would normally expect from much more expensive machine tools.”
The arrival of our first XYZ 1060 HS really opened our eyes to what a good quality vertical machining centre, combined with good tooling can do.
An XYZ ProtoTRAK SMX 2500 with operator Geoff Stevens
Of the 12 XYZ machines at Investment Casting Systems, four are XYZ 1060 HS vertical machining centres. These high speed machines are ideal for the toolroom environment as they feature a 12,000 revs/min, 20 hp, spindle, 43 m/min rapid traverse rates and accuracy is enhanced by use of temperature controlled spindle and ballscrews. Control is provided by the Siemens 840D High Speed ShopMill Control. “When we first looked at the XYZ machines, the Siemens control was an issue, because in the world of toolmaking other controls tend to be more familiar, but all of our toolmakers have taken to it, with its ease of use being a major advantage. The XYZ supplied control also comes with many features that are deemed as extras with other machine suppliers. The arrival of our first XYZ 1060 HS really opened our eyes to what a good quality vertical machining centre, combined with good tooling can do.”
A complex mould tool that has been machined lights-out on the XYZ 1060 HS.
The confidence in the XYZ machines means that they are also being used for lights out work over the weekends. Some of the larger mould tools have single programme cycle times of 75 hours, so Investment Casting Systems schedules these jobs for Friday afternoon, leaving them running over the weekend. “This ability and confidence to run lights out effectively gives us free machining time on a lot of jobs, leaving the machines free during the manned hours to fit in shorter cycle, more urgent work,” says James Head.
The latest XYZ Machine to arrive at Investment Casting Systems is an XYZ 710 vertical machining centre. The decision not to add a fifth XYZ 1060 HS was as simple as lack of space. With the development of a new composites division, Technical Composites Systems, floorspace in the toolroom was restricted, but the capacity of the XYZ 710, with axis travels of 710 x 450 x 500 mm (xyz) provides additional machining capacity that will be used as Technical Composite Systems develops. “We created Technical Composite Systems in 2016 to address what we saw as opportunities in the world of composite manufacturing,” says Mike Sloan PhD, Director, Technical Composite Systems. “What we have created is a comprehensive composite manufacturing facility for the aerospace and defence sectors that will maximise the synergy between our toolroom activities and the world of composites.”
Investment Casting Systems manufactures mould tools up to 10 tonnes
With extensive experience of manufacturing tooling for the composite industry, this new division will further enhance the services provided by Investment Casting Systems by adding design services, tooling, material selection, manufacturing and finishing of a range of materials including carbon fibre, Kevlar and glass fibres. While the initial focus will be on providing services to external customers, longer term, there are plans to develop OEM composite components. “The majority of the tooling we make for the composite industry is going to aircraft seat manufacturers, with the majority of those tools being used for the creation of first and super first class seats. These are manufactured from composites to save weight as for every 1kg saved they save an enormous amount in fuel every year running into hundreds of dollars. With Technical Composite Systems we will be looking to build on this work, which will keep the toolroom, and the XYZ machines very busy,” concludes James Head.