As demand for its precision engineering and specialist automotive fixture work increased, Leicester-based Glenborough Engineering Co. was faced with a familiar challenge to many, that of finding additional skilled labour. However, the enthusiasm of one employee, linked to the purchase of a ProtoTRAK controlled milling machine from XYZ Machine Tools, put those concerns behind them.

Established over 50 year ago, Glenborough Engineering has built a solid reputation for the manufacture of precision sub-contract engineered components and the innovative design of jigs and fixtures for the automotive industry that are used in the production of car seat assemblies, turnkey robotic welding cells, and assembly machines. The very nature of these fixtures and special purpose machines means many parts are produced in low volumes, with ones and twos in left and right hand pairs being the norm. To produce these parts on vertical machining centres proves to be highly inefficient, so Glenborough makes use of a number of manual turret mills in the hands of skilled machinists.

The problem with the combination of manual machines and the type of work that Glenborough produces was as business grew so did the need for highly skilled machine operators, which proved hard to find. “Like many we have struggled to recruit the types of skills that we need, advertising locally resulted in a very poor response,” says Glenborough’s Manufacturing Manager, John Padkin. “We do take on apprentices and, when we look to invest in new machinery it is normally one of the apprentices that is targeted with operating the machine, as we assumed that a certain skill level would be required.”

That was until Mr Padkin, along with Glenborough’s milling supervisor and an apprentice had a demonstration of an XYZ SMX 2500 bed mill, fitted with a ProtoTRAK SMX control system. The simplicity of the ProtoTRAK control left the group suitably impressed, especially with the ease of use of the canned cycles for pockets and bolt hole patterns. This demonstration convinced them that they had found an alternative for manual machines for low volume production and a step up to ProtoTRAK was the way forward.

Initially, the plan was still for the apprentice, under supervision, to operate the machine, but the inquisitive mind of Mitch Noble, who had been employed by Glenborough Engineering as a general labourer, fork truck driver, changed Glenborough’s approach how it viewed it skills requirements. “Mitch approached me as he wanted to develop himself and saw the new machine as an opportunity to do that. While he had no formal engineering training the interest and attitude to learn that he displayed encouraged me to give him that opportunity. So, we took a chance, sent him on the XYZ training course and within a couple of days of him returning he was setting and programming the SMX 2500 unsupervised. Now he is creating some quite complex components and has become extremely confident on the machine, only asking advice on technical aspects such as cutting data, when required,” says John Padkin.

In the early days Mitch made occasional use of the XYZ helpline, when he needed assistance programming more complex profiles. Calling the helpline from next to the machine, XYZ’s Mark Higson talked him through the process. “There were only a couple of occasions when I was really stuck, but XYZ helped straight away,” says Mitch. “To be honest, operating the ProtoTRAK machine is relatively straightforward, even for someone with no engineering skills, you can program a ProtoTRAK machine. Everything is failsafe, when I have created the program I can run through it by TRAKing the tool path, by winding the handles, or using the graphics on screen, to make sure that everything is OK. I never thought that I would be working on a machine like this, but because of the simplicity and ease of use of the control it was a fantastic introduction to programming and machining. Nothing really tripped me up and now that I am more confident, I am looking to do more complex work on the machine. My view on life is that you’ve got to have a go at something, if you don’t you will never know what you can achieve, it’s no good being scared of anything.”

The success of Mitch on the XYZ SMX 2500 has brought into focus the way in which Glenborough operates and it is already in discussions to install two more XYZ SMX bed mills, another SMX 2500 and a larger model. Two apprentices have already been employed with these new machines in mind. “We knew from past experience of an XYZ manual machine that this new SMX 2500 would be robust and reliable, but we were not familiar with the capabilities of ProtoTRAK control and these have been something of a revelation. We have been absolutely delighted with the performance of the machine and the fact that Mitch was able to grab this opportunity and develop a new opportunity for himself. Something that if we had continued down the manual machine route he would not have been able to do. We have certainly had our eyes opened to the potential that ProtoTRAK can bring to a business like ours that had a reliance on skilled machine operators. We now know that for this type of low-volume production we are no longer reliant on finding highly skilled machine operators as ProtoTRAK allows us to produce parts of equal quality using the labour resources that we already have,” says John Padkin.

(Above) Mitch Noble, who stepped up from general labouring with no engineering skills, to setting, programming and operating an XYZ SMX 2500 mill in just a matter of days.