When pneumatics expert John (Jack) Bushby formed Sheffield-based Air Accessories in 1967 it was as a wholesaler of proprietary products from the world’s leading manufacturers, something that continues to this day. From those early days, customer service was at the heart of everything the company did, and this vision remains under current owner and managing director Nick McKee. Part of that service is delivering products that meet customer needs precisely, and these don’t always come from a standard catalogue; therefore, a need for additional machining capacity to meet in-house product development was called for.
“Jack saw the value in manufacturing, not just reselling and that is something we have continued and expanded upon,” says Nick McKee. “We are consistently developing products either for new applications or to meet existing scenarios, some of which may be 30 years old, but we can improve them, or continue to supply older more obscure components by developing things in-house, which gives us a competitive edge.” This ‘edge’ has led to a doubling in turnover since Nick took over the business and led to a push from Ian Malpass, Air Accessories Production Manager and CNC setter operator Clive Glossop to extend its in-house machining capacity. Already a user of an XYZ ProtoTRAK mill an update to that seemed to be the obvious route for the company to take, as that control is ideal for the one-off and low-volume work planned. However, Ian and Clive had other ideas.
Nick McKee (right) with Clive Glossop at Air Accessories new XYZ 500 LR vertical machining centre, which has opened up new opportunities for the Sheffield-based pneumatic and hydraulic specialist.
They put forward a proposal to bring in vertical machining centre capacity in the form of an XYZ 500 LR VMC. “My first reaction was no, we needed lots of things but a new CNC machine was way down my list, but after spending about 30 minutes talking to Martyn Jones from XYZ Machine Tools discussing the benefits of the machine, payback and finance options I was convinced and changed my mind to a yes there and then,” says Nick McKee. “At the back of my mind was the fact that we are pneumatic engineers not production engineers and my thought was a machine of this type was a luxury, not a necessity, but I recognise that to get the best out of people you need to have better equipment. The new machine would also reduce our reliance on putting work out to sub-contract and, give us greater flexibility. Now that we have the machine, we may well become production engineers as it gives us the flexibility we need, it’s like having another member of staff.”
While Nick describes the purchase as a ‘gut-feel’ decision, as other businesses couldn’t justify the investment for the way in which the machine is being used, but it was a gut-feel that proved instinctive as the machine is rarely idle, it has greatly reduced Air Accessories reliance on using sub-contract. And, it has opened up opportunities for new business, even in the short time that it has been installed. A further benefit to Nick McKee was a financial one in the shape of R&D Tax Credits. “With much of our machining being proving out development work it was becoming harder to pass on those costs to customers. For years I was always against things like this as it was accountant-driven, but since having the machine we’ve looked into it and it is an eye-opener to realise how much time you invest in research and development. With this in mind and prompted by Martyn Jones from XYZ to work out a true hourly rate for running the machine, we created a template that allows us to claim what we can from Government. In reality it’s a straightforward process with our claims either being accepted or rejected, you just have to be honest with your claims for tax relief.”
A typical actuator designed, developed and manufactured by Air Accessories.
The change from the ProtoTRAK controlled mill, which remains in-situ, to the Siemens 828D controlled XYZ 500 LR was a logical step for Air Accessories and one that was straightforward. Clive, while already familiar with the control, took advantage of the free training at XYZ’ Machine Tools’ Sheffield showroom and once installed the machine was quickly producing parts. “Having this additional machining capacity helps us to be a little bit different from our competitors, as we feel it is important to have that ability to make products, not just supply them,” says Nick McKee. “We are now seen as one-stop-shop and can cater for more customers and their individual needs.”
The XYZ 500 LR is the entry-level machine in XYZ Machine Tools Linear rail machining centre range. This highly capable machine benefits from an 8000 revs/min 18 hp (13 kW) BT40 spindle, with 10,000 and 12,000 revs/min units available as options. Feedrates in all axes are 20 m/min, with axis travels of 510 mm by 400 mm by 450 mm (xyz) and a 12 position carousel-type toolchanger is fitted as standard. For even greater versatility the control can be upgraded with Siemens’ Advanced Software.