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  • 50 YEARS OF CNF PRECISION ENGINEERING LIMITED This week (17/4/2017) CNF Precision Engineering Limited celebrates its 50th Birthday. Founded by the current owners father, Clive Fearnley, in 1967 in a small room above a dairy in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, UK.
    Clive was able to setup his new venture with a £200 loan from his brother-in-law to buy a small second hand manual lathe, a pillar drill, and some small tools. Work was plentiful in those days, with some big companies in an around Aylesbury looking for new suppliers. Clive, with his engineering background, was well placed to pick up some of this work and take the company forward. In 1977, he had long outgrown the small room above Ron Miller’s Dairy in Aylesbury and made plans to move to a factory unit round the corner on the same industrial estate. The decision was made to purchase the premises instead of lease them, and this was key to the company surviving recessions that would hit later on in the 80’s and 90’s. When Clive moved into the new premises the machines were still manual with very little in the way of guarding around them. It wasn’t until about 5 years later that we saw the very first retrofit CNCs coming along, where manual milling machines had CNC units added to them. Our first was a Bridgeport Manual knee mill being fitted with an Anilam Crusader CNC Controller, which would give very basic CNC operation to a previously manual machine. All tools still had to be manually changed. Eventually CNF had 4 x Anilam retrofits similar to the one below. Although looking extremely dated now, in its day, it was truly the most cutting edge machining technology. Around the same time we also purchased our first automated lathe. This was an EMI-MEC Sprint E machine that was programmed using a plug board matrix for tool sequence. Soon after a larger EMI-MEC Sprint S was purchased to keep up with demand. Finally a couple of years later these were replaced with EMI-MEC Supersprint full CNC lathes running Bosh CNC controllers. One of the original employees who worked these machines for us is still employed at CNF. He now runs modern multi axis Citizen sliding head machines. As the 80’s progressed more machine tool manufacturers were entering the market with ever more complex machines. CNF by now had dumped all its Anilam machines in favour of purpose built Bridgeport Interact machines. Still knee type machines, these were designed as CNC machines from the ground up running basic Heidenhain CNC Control units (TNC151). With the development of purpose built machines, we needed software to program them more effectively and our first CAD/CAM system came into the business in the late 80s in the form of a program called EasyCAD running on DOS. Simple 2D toolpath generation was made possible. EasyCAD moved onto Windows platform and soon became FastCAD in the early 90s. The reseller we purchased the product through then developed its own software which we then moved to: Licom Systems (Now owned by PlanIT and is called Alphacam). This product served us extremely well for many years. The late 80s also saw us purchase out first CMM machine to accurately measure components. It was almost unheard of in those days for a company of our size to have such complex measuring equipment on site. Clive’s eldest son Bob, joined the company in 1985 after completing an apprenticeship at Bifurcated and Tubular Rivet Company in Aylesbury. His youngest son Neil joined the company in 1988. Next was the purchase of a series of CNC Lathes. First up was a Boxford, which we called the Fried Egg due to its colour then came an EMCO 320. In 1995 we purchased our very first purpose built machining centre. The machine was a Cincinatti Sabre 750 purchased from Dugard Machine Tools in Hove. This really was a step change for us with a much faster Heidenhain Controller (TNC360), running a machine that was significantly faster than anything we had previously owned. The size of the machine also meant we could load multiple vices onto the table and produce multiple parts in each run of the program instead of one at a time. This machine was also our first that was fully enclosed, meaning it was safer for the operator, and all the swarf was encapsulated within the machine rather than all over the factory floors and walls as had been previously. The downside for us then was the machines were much bigger and our current factory was a long narrow unit so the new breed of machines made space a challenge with us working with as little as a metre around them. In 1997 CNF gained its first quality approval in the form of BS5750, which is now the equivalent of ISO9001. A year later we added another to that with TS157 Aerospace which is now today’s equivalent of AS9100 Aerospace Standard. CNF still holds ISO9001 and AS9100 quality approvals. Our next purchase was into volume production turning. Sliding head lathes were relatively new in those days. Being able to mill and turn components complete in a single operation utilising 2 spindles was the way we had to go. In 1997 we took delivery of our first Sliding Head Machine which was a Citizen M32 – 13 Axis sliding head machine. This is where we first embarked upon true 24/7 unmanned production. This completely changed our turning practices and we have never looked back. Around the same time we also purchased a Hyundai HiT20M multi axis mill turn machine for larger diameter components. Our turning section had been dragged into the 20th century very quickly and we were beating out competition on many fronts. In 2005 we purchased our first Horizontal twin pallet machine. This was in an effort to get at least some lights out machining in the milling section, like we already were in the turning section. We were limited on the size of machine we could fit in our current building, so the first one was a small Kitamura HX250. Soon after, all the Bridgeport Interact machines were disposed of in favour of fully enclosed and faster spindle Yang machining centres running Fanuc. In 2008, now into its second generation of ownership, it was decided the current premises were totally unsuitable to stay in, and push the company forward. Later that year the current premises were found 1 mile from our existing place, and an offer was made an accepted. By summer 2009 we were up and running out of the newly renovated facility and purchased our first large horizontal machine. This was a twin pallet Doosan HP5100. This was brand new and delivered into our new premises and was the first machine in. Since being in the new premises CNF has been able to secure some significant contracts and this has seen the company grow and change considerably in the last 8 years. The Doosan machine was sold and replaced with high accuracy multi pallet Matsuura machining centres. We purchased a multi axis Nakamura Mill/Turn machine and yet more Matsuura’s. We were moving out focus into unmanned automation and high speed machining. The company has come a long way since those days. Now operating a plethora of modern 2,3,4 and 5 Axis machines. CNF remains at the forefront of sub-contract machining technologies working for industries including Aerospace, Medical, Defence, F1, Automotive, Scientific, Pharmaceutical etc etc. We have no less than 63 Pallets of milling capacity split across 30 x 4 axis horizontal, 33 x simultaneous 5 Axis and various standard 3-axis machines for smaller volume work. Our focus has been on reducing cycle times on all components, and achieving as much lights out, un-manned machining time as possible which enables us to compete with low cost economies. Not forgetting though our small volume and prototype work, with our latest addition being a single table Matsuura MX-520 simultaneous 5-Axis machine. Not forgetting our commitment to quality assurance with purchases of lots of inspection equipment including CMMs. Our back office operations have also come a long way with the introduction of 5 Axis OpenMind Hypermill CAD/CAM software which now is at the heart of all our programming needs, with virtual simulation of all machining cycles before the programs get anywhere near the machines. Our whole business is also run on our own bespoke designed and developed software which deals with everything from quotation stage, order processing, scheduling, document flow right the way through to final invoicing including all associated quality functions throughout the manufacture of a part. This software has evolved from our founder’s initial idea running on DOS on an Apricot PC in 1982. We now run a system where each operator has his own tablet PC and all job cards and related documentation, job times, etc etc are all delivered electronically, with a very detailed fully traceable route from start to finish. Now for the future…….we have outgrown the building we came into in 2008 and we are now looking to more than triple our workshop area. The hunt is on for suitable premises, so watch this space. The growth and innovation will continue! To see a full list of out machines and capabilities, please visit our website at www.cnfengineering.com Here is to the next 50 years, and we thank all our customers and suppliers for supporting us through to this milestone. We would welcome opportunities to quote on work at any time. Please drop us an email to sales@cnfengineering.com or pay us a visit to see the facility for yourselves.