Christchurch-based South Fence Machinery knows the lay of the engineering land well, and it was ‘real estate’ and the need to maximise it that ultimately saw the investment in a brand new Okuma MU6300V-L 5-axis vertical machining centre – it’s done more than fill the gap.
Walking through the massive 52,000 square foot Sockburn workshop and you sense the Kiwi engineering No. 8 wire that has come before. Like tracking the growth of a child’s height with lines on a door frame, South Fence’s rich Kiwi engineering heritage is shown through a wide assortment of variously aged machines: mostly Okuma. It’s not a graveyard though, more of a fully-functional machining Mecca. All the machines are still in use, and get put to good use.
“It’s fair to say South Fence has had a long relationship with the Okuma brand,” co-director Martin Neill tells Engineering News with a welcoming southern smile. And he’s quick to point out, “our growth has come with a need for new machines and when it comes to that, and in today’s engineering environment, it’s what comes after the purchase that really counts today.”
The company has invested heavily as international demand has grown for its quality Kiwi-made wire fence machinery and associated equipment. Saying that South Fence is churning out machinery would not do credit to the quality, but with at least three machines a year on the books and high demand from overseas sources, Mr Neill knows that schedule is everything and down time is not an option.
“We have to know that if anything goes wrong there are places, people and parts to turn to. We get that from Okuma. Sure, the new machines we now have on site are faster, more functional and outperform previous models, however machine performance is only a small part of what our business needs from such heavy investment. Back up service and support is critical after the initial investment has been made,” says Mr Neill.
South Fence is the only New Zealand Company to manufacture a complete suite of wire fence machines – fixed knot, hinge joint and stiff stay, covering almost every fencing need from camels in desert sands to cows in gentle pastures; from deer in alpine meadows to security alongside motorways, rail tracks or surrounding buildings.
Co-director Ben Byers is in total agreement, explaining that for them it’s about getting as much as they can from what they have got through maximising efficiencies.
“All of these machines are basically real estate,” he explains, gesturing at the pure physical sizes of two older Okuma machines on site: MCV-A and MCR-A double column machining centres, both still playing a major part in the manufacture of necessary components for their wire machines. But Mr Byers isn’t talking purely of the machine taking up floor space, instead explaining that every machine has to produce parts that are a match for the machining capability available, allowing more efficient production of parts at the limits of the machines machining envelope.
“We have to find the most efficient and cost-effective ways to produce our machines to meet our current market and production demands. With the new Okuma [MU6300V-L] we’ve removed the small – medium sized parts from our larger machines and some of the more complex parts from our machining centres, streamlining the production process. We now have all bases covered and have the right machine for the job, big or small.”
Having a wide range of machining options also means the company can tailor each machine’s specifications to suit customer requirements, while also being able to offer a wider range of general engineering services to the wider Canterbury region.
“Every year we are expected to design and manufacture increasingly complex production machine solutions. To ensure we can use the current CAD/CAM packages efficiently and to continue producing the complex parts required to achieve this, our machine technology and machining techniques must be at the multi-axis/multi-tasking machine level,” explains Mr Byers, also highlighting the ability of multi axis machines reducing multiple machining operations.
With the right machines for the job, South Fence’s 25 staff design and build its wire fence machines for A to Z, using in-house technology and the latest manufacturing techniques to meet its own high quality standards.
The MU6300V-L is an impressive unit with both co-directors singing the praises of a machine that also “sings” sweetly as it works.
“Accuracy, capacity, versatility…. there’s not really much more you could ask for in a 5-axis machine,” says Mr Neill.
The MU6300V-L’s highly rigid trunnion table supports high accuracy 5-axis machining, while the machine’s efficiency and capacity is driven through intelligent technologies that allow excellent 3-axis machining and 5-axis machining with the additional ability of face, end and intricate CNC turning capabilities.
Operator access and visibility has been paramount in design and with a large machining range, tools can be changed with the trunnion still in swing position.
It’s these types of features that attracted South Fence to purchase another Okuma; the second new machine in the space of a year.
“We have an Okuma that is a good 20 years old,” says Mr Neill of the MX55VB. “It still works well but with more business we needed more flexibility so about 12 months ago we bought an Okuma M560V-R machining centre.”
The older machine gives as good as it gets, but the pair agree that the new unit has brought significant improvements in speed, functionality and performance.
The follow on post sale, as mentioned, is vital for the well-oiled business to keep the cogs of progress in motion. With Okuma still able to supply many parts for its older machines, Mr Neill and Mr Byers know that even their machinery purchases of up to 28 years ago have plenty of life left in them yet.
All machinery is fully supported with the very latest cad-cam technology ensuring the very best of Kiwi machinery can be seen on the world and local stage.