Machines of the Gods

Jun 22, 2017

Mike Richardson travels to CMS Industries’ headquarters in Northern Italy to witness the sheer size of not just the company’s facilities, but its seemingly Olympian range of specialised CNC machining centres.

Poseidon, Ares, Cronus, Athena - CMS Industries’ range of CNC machining centres reads like a ‘who’s who’ list of Greek mythological gods. Having studied Greek literature in translation at school, I’ll always have a so spot for any company with imaginatively-named equipment whose names have appeared in exciting films like Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans. Unfortunately, as I soon discovered, the Greek literature lessons weren’t nearly as exciting as I’d hoped!

 

 

But by Zeus, let’s get back on track. Established in 1969, CMS provides CNC equipment for a wide variety of markets manufacturing aluminium and composite materials, among others. The company’s technical research & development and constant innovation help ensure that its products remain at the forefront of technological advances.

Walking through the company’s vast machine tool manufacturing and assembly facility, based in an Italian valley near San Pellegrino where natural mineral water springs eternal, I’m struck by incredible variety of different types of machines undergoing construction. Indeed, no one machine appears to be the same; it’s almost as if they are built entirely bespoke, depending on the customers’ requirements.

For the aerospace sector, CMS’ 3- and 5-axis CNC machine tool range is designed to satisfy the requirements for high-speed machining applications that cover carbon fibre machining, composite trimming and drilling and honeycomb machining, structural aluminium aerospace components, the machining of stacked aluminium sheet, and pattern & mould, tooling and prototype production. For larger work envelopes with higher Z axis capacity, CMS offers its Poseidon and Cronus range of gantry milling machines, with X axis travel beyond 60,000mm and Y axis up to 10,000mm. Choices of spindle up to 44kW are said to enable the delivery of high levels of torque at lower rpm.

“Our customers tend to want the flexibility and customisation of a CNC machine tool, and not a machine that is simply standard and o -the-shelf,” begins company sales manager, Giulio Gasparini. “They prefer a machine solution that is tailored to their specific application. Many of our customers are buying their second or third machine, so they’ve learnt more about what could be a better fit for a specific solution, or they want to complement something that builds on what they already have, i.e. customisation involving the configuration of a machine’s vacuum table for example. We build standard modularised components all the time, but beyond this, we’re able to perform a certain amount of machine tool customisation to suit the customers’ specific needs.

“Aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin produce carbon fibre wing skin components on our machining centres. There are many UK SME companies producing aircraft interior and seating components. The majority of Boeing 787 Dreamliner and B777 interior parts are made on our machines, and the curved composite panels located near the cabin windows are cut and trimmed on our machines, as are all the overhead luggage bins. Our customers are also involved in engine nacelles and carbon fibre engine blade manufacture.”

 

 

Great minds think alike
Gasparini says that historically, CMS has employed local people based in the valley who are traditionally very hard working - many of whom have been with the company for 20-25 years: “We’re fortunate that in this region, it is easy to find good mechanically-minded people with the right mentality and flair for applications and customisation.”

CMS plans to launch a new 5-axis CNC machining centre this year.
In a departure from the usual ‘god-naming’ taxonomy, the company has decided to christen this one the ‘Ikon’. Designed for fast, accurate volume composite and aluminium machining, perhaps what’s most eye-catching about the Ikon twin vertical rotating table machine I’m stood in front of is its two vertical mounted tables, each 3,100mm x 1,800mm with rotational movement that takes place in and out of the machining envelope. Said to help facilitate ergonomic and efficient loading/unloading of components during the machining cycle, each table benefits from an integrated vacuum clamping system and zero-point location system, which simplifies fixture change and location as well as significantly reducing change over times between batches.

“In addition to the new Ikon machine, we’ve updated our top of the range Cronus portal machines,” Gasparini continues. “For the smaller versions, we’ve also updated the structure and improved many of the components, plus we’ve named our new high end version, Ethos. The rigidity has been dramatically improved whilst the cutting performance will be significantly enhanced to provide CMS customers with even more productivity gains.”

I ask Gasparini what differentiates CMS from the competition; it’s sheer breadth of machine tool variety springs to mind. He first points to the company’s levels of experience and customisation.

“We offer customer advice for the complete machine tool package, i.e. the machine, the configuration, the accessories, tooling and extraction systems. Secondly, despite being a fairly large company, we’re well-organised in terms of our product documentation and our methodologies. If you were to ask us how one of our machines was built 20-years ago, we’re able to demonstrate that we have it fully- documented and on file. We also place a lot of emphasis on the importance of local support in terms of not only our knowledge of the application, but also our machines and our ability to support them.”

It’s good to listen
And in terms of the company’s business challenges this year, my visit to the CMS facility coincides with a major move-around of its buildings and plant refurbishment. “This year’s task is to finish the construction of the new buildings and relocate our existing site into them. We will finally have the space to organise production in a more efficient way,” adds Gasparini.

To some, it may appear like a Herculean effort to continue designing and building such a vast array of fully-customised CNC machine tools, but CMS Industries has the Midas touch when it comes to satisfying its customers’ unique demands.

“We always listen to our good customers because often, some of the more innovative ones will approach us asking for something entire new and out of the box,” Gasparini concludes. “Because we trust them, we’ll design a machine for a specific application that may sometimes appear crazy or very unusual, but end up starting a new production trend within the market. CMS is very good at finding new ideas, but it’s even better at listening to customers.”