Making and shaping the mould

Making and shaping the mould

The large volume working area of the Poseidon 5-axis machine

Forming large workpieces for mould manufacturing requires machining technology on a big scale. Ed Hill hears how investment in a new CMS Poseidon 5-axis machining centre is helping one UK subcontractor expand its business in more ways than one.

When it comes to making moulds, there’s not much that Loughborough-based Patterns & Moulds has not tackled over its 50-year history.

Involved in a broad range of industry sectors including: construction; marine, aerospace and defence; automotive and renewable energy, the company has been engaged in projects as diverse as the new Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh   Lords Cricket Ground, motor cruiser moulds, automotive styling, train mock-up’s, wind turbine blades, military vehicles and a sculpture of former England football manager, Sir Bobby Robson.

The company is run by father and son team George and Gary Lucas. Gary Lucas begins: “We occupy approximately 45,000ft² of modern industrial units and employ around 30 people. We specialise in the production of machined tooling using our four, 5-axis CNC machines.”

Much of the company’s work involves producing large mould tools of various shapes and complexities. It makes moulds and tooling constructed from GRP, timber, rubber, steel and all grades of tooling materials. In recent years making and supplying composite components has become a major part of the company’s work.

Aiming bigger

When Patterns & Moulds wanted to expand the size and capacity of the moulds it produces it turned to CMS. The Italian manufacturer CMS (Costruzioni Macchine Speciali) makes large CNC milling machines producing complex shapes in materials including wood, stone, glass, plastic, aluminium and composites.

Lucas says: “After a factory visit to the CMS site in Italy during 2015 this convinced us of their capacity, capabilities and overall quality approach to manufacturing large scale machines, this along with the technical assistance in the UK in configuring our machine specification and the centrally located support team here in the UK confirmed placing our order with them was the correct decision.”

Patterns & Moulds installed a CMS Poseidon high-speed 5-axis machining centre in June 2015 to complement its existing machines, offering greater capacity along with a significant increase in overall machining volume. The new machine means the company can now machine up to 13m x 5m x 2.5m in size.

Heavyweight machining: Craning in the gantry parts of the CMS Poseidon

Constructed from a stabilised steel structure, the Poseidon machine is made up of a dual rack moving gantry on which a Z-axis column and cutting spindle is mounted.

Installing such a large machine meant that Patterns & Moulds had to do some preparation work at its facility before it could be delivered. Machining such large sized workpieces means stability is crucial to the accurate operation of the machine.

“We had to expand into a further high bay unit adding approximately 15,000ft² to our site,” Lucas explains. “We increased the door openings to suit the larger scale capacity of the machine excavating the floor area to achieve approximately 800mm deep solid mass concrete foundation plinths for the machine to be mounted on.”

Patterns & Moulds was supported by its business banking partner HSBC, who helped it with the purchase of the new machine. Installation was straightforward and according to the subcontractor aftersales support from CMS has been reliable.

“The training was very good and flexible in its approach, working alongside us as and when we needed some assistance. Our proximity to Nottingham and the UK base of CMS has also meant that on the odd occasion we’ve needed some service support this has always been there for us and available promptly.”

Machining epoxy seamless modelling paste

Multiple materials

The Poseidon machine has to tackle many different types of material, depending on the type of project Patterns & Moulds is undertaking.

“We machine everything from polystyrene and low density styling foams through to high density tooling board and everything in between. This includes epoxy seamless modelling paste (SMP) that we apply by hand, in-house through our own 2KM application machine. Material choice is more than often a discussion between our customers and ourselves depending upon the end use of the pattern/mould we are machining and what their requirements are.”

Patterns & Moulds has an in-house design and drawing team to help realise customers’ ideas and demands. The team can take projects from a rough sketch through to a CAD drawing and 3D model using SolidWorks. The company uses both Mastercam and Autodesk Powermill for the machining programmes on its CNC milling machines.

Because the moulds made by the Patterns & Moulds vary so much in size and shape the company brings in specialist subcontractors to inspect completed designs.

Lucas says: “As and when required they can use the correct piece of equipment whether it’s a measuring arm or a Laser tracker to carry out inspection. This is better for us rather than investing in lots of pieces of equipment and then not fully utilising them.”

The installation of the new Poseidon machine is all part of Patterns & Mould’s goal to tender for an even wider range of work and increase its efficiencies in production.

“The overall machining envelope of this machine has allowed us to tackle larger workpieces with ease whilst retaining the tight tolerances and quality approach our customers have come to expect from us. We work in many different sectors so each market requires a slightly different approach but it still ends with a fundamentally high-quality finished product.

“The new Poseidon machine has allowed us to undertake several projects that our other machines could not have coped with size wise, these vary across several markets from automotive styling bucks, to patterns and direct moulds for cladding new stations on the London Underground Crossrail project to sub-sea turbine blade moulds 9m long.”

In fact, the company has been so impressed with the Poseidon machine they have already ordered and installed a further CMS machine commissioned in February 2017. The new equipment means that however creative the designs are for the moulds that it produces, the company is able to deliver them.

“The CNC machining side of our business is growing year on year, with repeat work from existing customers along with building relationships with new clients,” Lucas concludes. “This year has seen us already investing in another CMS machine, this time a smaller Antares machine, giving us further machining capacity to aid an increase in the order volumes we are experiencing.

“Technology now plays a huge and vital role within Patterns & Moulds, as we 3D solid model the vast majority of items that go through the factory, allowing us to be precise and accurate. This enables us to be very creative and machine free form shapes and parts our customers have designed.”


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