Burcas expands capabilities with five-axis machining

  • 16-Feb-2009 11:41 EST
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Close-up of the 780-mm-diameter component, showing only the first of a series of complex features machined on the inside circumference using a right-angle milling head.

Last year, family-owned tooling manufacturer and subcontractor Burcas Ltd. installed its first five-axis machining center to supplement three-axis prismatic metal cutting and extensive multiaxis mill turning at its Birmingham, U.K., factory.

An early job put on the trunnion-type, five-axis Hermle C 40 U (U.K. agent Geo Kingsbury Machine Tools, Gosport) was a mild steel component for a well-known U.K. aerospace engine manufacturer. The outer part of the circular component requires complex features to be machined around the inside circumference, while the outside of an inner section has similar milled features. To access the inner surface of the component, a right-angle milling head is held in a fixed position in the spindle while the table is rotated.

Other components currently produced on the Hermle include stainless-steel brackets and complex aluminum components such as engine housings.

“Our manufacture of consumable tooling has been shrinking since the 1980s, but we are still active in cutting tools and have become a major kanban stockist,” said Mike Burrows, Managing Director of Burcas. “Last year we actually increased this side of our business, buying a Kellenberger grinder to manufacture punches and dies for supply to the U.K.’s leading munitions manufacturer. We are also one of the world’s top five manufacturers of carbide knives for the paper industry.

“The aerospace sector has been growing rapidly year on year and will continue to do so until at least 2015. So we are building this side of our business and already have approvals from GE Aviation, Messier-Dowty, Bombardier, and Goodrich. “Forty percent of our £5 million turnover is currently related to aerospace subcontracting, and we intend to double that part of our business in the next few years.”

It was in 2002 that Burcas became involved in aerospace, having been approached by Alstom in Lincoln, which knew that the subcontractor operated a large Boehringer CNC lathe. The relationship progressed quickly, resulting in the purchase by Burcas of five more similar Boehringer lathes, representing a substantial investment.

In 2005, Burrows went on a trade mission to Japan and came back with a 10-year contract to produce actuators for the Airbus A330, for which purpose he bought another, even larger mill-turn centre. Further related business has since been won for producing lower side stays for the same aircraft.

At the end of 2007, knowing that Burcas operated several large, capable lathes, a local aerospace manufacturer offered the subcontractor some turning work for Boeing as well as some prismatic machining for the same OEM. The latter required high-precision, four- and five-axis machining capability, which prompted the acquisition of the Hermle C 40 U.

“The U.K. is the second largest aerospace parts manufacturer in the world, behind the U.S.,” Burrows said, “but it is difficult to break into supplying the sector without significant investment, plus the right approvals. “We always buy top-quality machines, as we have found over the years that they hold accuracy better, last longer, and need less maintenance."
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Boeing and Airbus forecast a worldwide demand for up to 40,000 new aircraft over the next two decades. With a 10-year production backlog and new aircrafts increasingly counting on lightweight composites, manufacturing companies are developing advanced sandwich-structure composite solutions to fill the production gap.

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