Size doesn’t matter

Electronic packaging experts Master Machining get on with what they are good at.

Tucked away in a relatively small 350m² facility in Centurion, Gauteng is a company that thrives on the pressure of supplying a demanding industry.

The company is a contract machining operation that specialises in producing complex, high-precision parts for the avionics and electronics industry that have applications in air, land, security, marine systems and defence markets.

“We like to say we concentrate on the electronic packaging business, and have done virtually since the inception of the business in 1984. We are not the manufacturers of the final product, but we provide our clients with components that are used in the manufacture of avionics and communication equipment and systems,” explained Andre Vermuelen, who is the man member of Master Machining cc.

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Master Machining is run by Eric and Andre Vermuelen. The company was started by Andre in 1984, and Eric joined his brother 17 years ago

“We focus on a niche market that is very, very large,” Vermuelen explained. “It’s a market that is high quality, low volume, high value added.”

Specifically, Master Machining manufactures more than 300 different components each year ranging in size from tiny pieces – smaller than a thumb – to components that may be a couple of kilograms, and mostly in aluminium.

Confidentiality and traceability
On a Saab aircraft such as the Gripen, for example, one could find Master Machining components in the avionic or electronic communication system.

“We are not sure whether this is the case, because we provide our clients with the complete confidentiality that they demand, and all components manufactured by us are coded so that we do not even know in what final product they will end up in.”

“This is an important aspect of the business, as is the quality and traceability of each component. We have developed our own job card system, which in some cases has been embraced by our clients, so that every single ‘happening or event’ with that component is recorded and can easily be traced. We are supplying companies that have many safety critical aspects incorporated into their products, and they need to be assured that their solutions will improve operational capabilities of their clients.”

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Master Machining is a contract machining operation that specialises at producing complex, high-precision parts for the avionics and electronics industry that have applications in air, land, security, marine systems and defence markets

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The company concentrates on the electronic packaging business, and has done virtually since the inception of the business in 1984. Master Machining is not a manufacturer of the final product, but provides their clients with components that are used in the manufacture of avionics and communication equipment and systems

“As for volumes, it depends largely on the component that has been requested. A component that is smaller than a thumb – we can do hundreds of those at a time. There are also a number of components that we have learnt over the years are repeat orders. These ones we will keep in stock so the client can order off the shelf.”

Like many captive machine shops, Master Machining is among the last stops for new product development components. “After all the designing and tweaking are finished, the machine shop is free to make the part. Unfortunately, the shop is usually where all of the upstream lead-time losses come home to roost.”

“It does not mean that we cannot offer a design service. We have been around long enough to know whom to call on when this service is needed. But it is not the core function of the shop.”

“There’s no question that advances in software technology are impacting metalworking across the board. Generally, however, application of the power of the computer to cutting metal is confined to the upstream side of the process.”

“Software that enables shops to visualise a design using solids, fixture a workpiece and verify the cutting and interference points has existed for a while. Usually these software steps reside off the shop floor in the domain of manufacturing and production engineers. These are increasingly powerful tools for getting a shop ready to cut metal.”

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The company has recently purchased a Headman CNC turning centre model CK 7130B, which has been supplied by MJH Machine Tools, and is one of the first to be installed in South Africa

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An existing Akira-Seiki Performa SR3 machining centre, also supplied by MJH Machine Tools

“But regardless of how well the manufacturing process is conceived in software, there is almost always additional work to be done when the workpiece blank is mounted on the machine tool and the first cutter moves in for the kill.”

“This is where our knowledge and skill comes in and we expect our machinists, all 13 of them, to be in tune so that we can offer our clients advice.”

“We have focused on the machining aspect and knowingly choosing the right equipment to perform the specific function. An example on hand for us is that we invested in a relatively inexpensive DK GewindeQuick GQ-6 threading machine. We could have done all our threading operations on the milling or machining centres, but because of the intricacy of the threading that we are involved in the CNC machines are too powerful, and we would have spent thousands of Rands on buying new threading tooling because of the breakages.”

“We can tap between 2 000 and 3 000 holes in a single shift with thread sizes ranging from M 0.8 to M 6. The machine is a compact, innovative table machine for the economical production of precision threads in the prototype and batch production. Besides the many advantages of torque-controlled threading, we now avoid tool breakage and scrap costs.”

History
Vermuelen, who has his mechanical engineering T5 ticket from Pretoria Technikon, began his working career working for a boss, but he soon realised that he knew more than his boss and his colleagues, who were university qualified engineers. This made life awkward for him, and at the age of 27 he was ‘forced’ to start his own machine shop.

“I acquired a few manual machines and used contacts in the avionics business, which at that time were mostly situated in and around the Pretoria area, to get going. My first CNC, which was an Emco milling machine, was purchased in 1988. In those days I was quite deft at writing machining programs to run the machines. Can you believe that the size of the computers memory was 20 megabytes then?”

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“As for volumes, it depends largely on the component that has been requested. A component that is smaller than a thumb – we can do hundreds of those at a time. There are also a number of components that we have learnt over the years are repeat orders. These ones we will keep in stock so the client can order off the shelf.”

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In 1998 Master Machining purchased a Haas VF-0 which is still used daily in the shop. At the time it was the 10th Haas to be installed in South Africa. The company has subsequently purchased a further three Haas CNC machining centres of various sizes

“A few more Emcos followed, and in 1998 I purchased a Haas VF-0 which is still used daily in the shop. At the time it was the 10th Haas to be installed in South Africa. I have subsequently purchased a further three Haas CNC machining centres of various sizes. These machines are supported by another machining centre, and a couple of wire eroders which include a Chmer and a spark eroder.”

“The components we machine have to be highly accurate with tolerances between minus 50 micron and plus 50 micron. Most will be used in radio frequency situations and they make up 95% of our monthly production.”

Going back to turning
“I made a decision in 2 000 to drop turning from our service offerings as most of our machining revolved around milling operations, and of course tapping/threading. It is now apparent the clients are wanting more from us, and this is the reason why we have now purchased a Headman CNC turning centre model CK 7130B, which has been supplied by MJH Machine Tools.

“The machine is a relatively small machine and is one of the first to be installed in South Africa, but it suits our current needs. It has a maximum swing diameter over the bed of
350 mm, a maximum swing diameter over the slide of 140 mm, a maximum length of work-piece of 350 mm, a spindle bore of 55 mm with a spindle speed of 300~3500rpm.”

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Master Machining can tap between 2 000 and 3 000 holes in a single shift with thread sizes ranging from M 0.8 to M 6. The company employs a DK GewindeQuick GQ-6 threading machine to carry out this operation

“At this stage we are not looking for turning work. At least we can now accommodate our existing clients if they require turning to be done.”

“We are now looking for a compact 3D scanning system that will give us efficient 3D data acquisition. I believe the latest technology is referred to as blue light technology. We currently use a white light video system for quality inspection, which is perfectly suitable at the moment, but we need to up our game in this area.”

According to Vermuelen, it takes precision surroundings to manufacture precision parts. More importantly it is about choosing the correct equipment and sticking to what you know. “We have diversified and been successful in acquiring new customers, however we have not looked for other markets. After all, we have had great success with our current customers and we are virtually stretched to our limit.”

For further details contact Master Machining on TEL 012 661 5028