With a history stretching back over 400 years it is fair to say that change has come gradually at Bridport Foundry, where the company continues to create a wide range of cast products in iron, SG Iron, Bronze and aluminium, for customers ranging from general engineers, architectural restorers, steam enthusiasts and even royalty. More recent history has seen the business move on, through a mix of organic growth and acquisition.

Since 1988 Bridport Foundry has been owned by the Lambert family and specifically, in more recent times by brothers John and Steve Lambert. The brothers brought with them a renewed enthusiasm along with a desire to develop and diversify the business by adding complimentary companies to the group. With an interest in steam, the first of these acquisitions was Plastow Traction Engines in 2004, a manufacturer of scale traction engine kits and parts, many of which are cast. With Plastow on board it made perfect sense to purchase its sister company Stuart Models when it came up for sale in 2012. Stuart Models is the world’s oldest manufacturer of small model steam engines, having been founded in the late 1800’s by Stuart Turner. Again, as with the Plastow models, these are sold to customers as sets of castings, for the customer to machine, as pre-machined kits ready for assembly or, as ready-to-run models.

It was an increase in demand for the pre-machined kits and ready-to-run models that then turned John and Steve’s attention to investing in modern machine tools. “Having taken over Guernsey-based Stuart Models we moved all of the existing stock to Bridport, to give some idea of scale it arrived in 10, 40 foot trailers, which brought the town to a standstill almost. This volume of stock was indicative of the amount of machining that we were going to encounter and while initially we put all this out to sub-contract, it was a cost to the business and we lost some control over the quality of the finished products. Given that the customer base for Stuart Models is made up of current or ex-engineers aged between 55 and 90 they are quick to respond if the quality is not right,” says John Lambert.

Therefore, given that the space was available, the brothers decided to invest in machining capacity, however, as John openly admits, their machining experience was more ‘agricultural’ than precision, so that any machine had to be user friendly and easy to program and operate. This led them to their first XYZ machine tool, a SMX 2500 ProtoTRAK bed mill. “The ProtoTRAK control was a perfect transition for us moving from manual machines to CNC and it is perfectly straightforward and easy to operate, even for someone with such limited programming knowledge that we had. We are using the XYZ SMX 2500 mainly for pocketing, PCD drilling and tapping work on cast iron components, work that is increasing as more and more customers are ordering the pre-machined kits.

The confidence gained by having the XYZ SMX 2500 ProtoTRAK bed mill made the next investment in a lathe much easier. “With the positive experience of the ProtoTRAK control it made perfect sense when we came round to buying a lathe to continue with XYZ and buy a SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe. This is being used to machine the many types of flywheels we need for the models, and with stock turnover being what it is it is kept busy. We quickly gained confidence with the control and, if ever we do have a question, we know that XYZ are at the end of the telephone and the support they offer is superb,” says John Lambert. 

The XYZ SMX 2500 ProtoTRAK bed mill and SLX 1630 ProTURN lathe are the smallest machines in the XYZ Bed Mill and ProTurn ranges with the bed mill having a 3HP Variable speed (40-3600 revs/min) two range R8 spindle (30 ISO optional) and a 1245 mm x 228 mm table. Control is provided by the latest ProtoTRAK SMX control unit that provides positioning in two or three axes with canned cycles for pockets of every conceivable shape including pockets with islands; thread milling; bolt hole patterns; drilling; tapping and boring. It can also perform 3-D surfacing with the on board DNC capability.

The SLX 1630 features a 400 mm swing over the bed and a 54 mm spindle bore combined with a between centre distance of 760 mm. Power is provided by a 5.75 Kw (7.5hp), spindle motor with a speed range of 150 to 2500 revs/min employing constant surface sped control. For the ProTURN range control is provided by the latest ProtoTRAK SLX CNC unit that enables the machine to be operated manually or under full CNC control, with clearance cycles, profiling, grooving, drilling routines, standard and custom threads.

(Above) The latest development by Stuart Models is this fully-assembled ready-to-run steam plant that is targeting a different customer demographic.

(Above) John (left) and Steve Lambert at work in their foundry.

(Above) A small vertical steam engine fitted with reversing gear.