CNC experts at NTS Norma Drachten push the boundaries of manufacturability

Published on by Precision components. The reading time is approximately 8 minutes.

Janko Bijlsma is a CNC programmer and operator at NTS Norma in Drachten. There he works together with his nephew Sybren From who, because of Janko, developed a great passion for the field at an early age and became a CNC milling machinist. What drives them both is the utmost precision and enormous complexity concerned in the milling work. In Drachten the seemingly impossible is often realized after all. “We make the smallest of the smallest objects here. Components that are on the boundaries of manufacturability.”

“I have been working at NTS Norma in Drachten since 2007,” says Janko: “before that I worked as a CNC milling machinist for Philips. At NTS I am involved in milling and I program multi-axis machines and turn-mill combinations in TopSolid software. I usually do that at the office, but I now occasionally work from home due to the health crisis.”

Specialization in small components and parts

“In Drachten basically everything we make is small and compact. About a hundred people work at this location. Just like at our location in Hengelo, everything we make involves high precision, but in Hengelo larger products are made. In Drachten we only make very small parts. The products we make here sometimes have features with a size of 0.3mm or even smaller. ”

Ultimate precision on the border of manufacturability

“We make the smallest of the smallest components here,” Sybren continues. “It ,for example, concerns parts of around 9mm in which we make holes of 0.15mm, with a cylindricity or tolerance of 2 micron to 3 micron by using tools of only 0.1mm. That ultimate precision makes the work very challenging for me. The biggest challenge lies in the products that are very difficult to make and that are on the boundaries of manufacturability. ”

Do everything in your power to achieve the seemingly impossible

“Nine out of ten assignments are on the verge of what can be manufactured. That also directly indicates the complexity,” Janko adds. “Five out of the ten requests that we get cannot be made immediately, but often we succeed in making them at a later moment in time. When you get such a seemingly impossible request, you do everything you can to get it done. You talk to machine and tool suppliers, you perform thorough research and sometimes you brainstorm with each other. And each time you fill your backpack with experience and expertise for future questions. That's exactly what makes it so much fun. ”

Perseverance leads to good results

“A good example of what once seemed an impossible request is a product that we now have in mass production. It concerns a small part with slots of 0.3 mm for which we used the 3-axis milling machine and wire spark. Now these products are completely milled on a 5-axis milling machine. When we first got the request it seemed almost impossible. At that time, we consulted all kinds of machine and tool suppliers and various suppliers tested if it could be done but initially without result. In the end, we found a machine supplier whose machine could do it. Now we have two machines running 24/7 to produce the specific part. Two more machines will follow shortly. We are achieving a very good turnover with what initially seemed impossible.”

Continuous learning process through pioneering, brainstorming, experimenting and gaining expertise

“We are continuously pioneering, experimenting, brainstorming with colleagues and suppliers and consulting with customers who bring in their own expertise and stimulate our creativity. Because of this process you are sometimes able to do things that you previously thought were impossible. It is a continuous learning process. Sometimes you really have a mission impossible. Then you communicate with the customer that it is not possible at that time but that it perhaps could be achieved at a later time. ”

Variation in products and materials and being distinctive is what makes it beautiful

“When we receive such a request, the customer first of all brings in his own expertise. Together you take a critical look at the drawing and you, for example, discuss tolerances or discuss a construction. Sometimes we are also involved in the final application of a component. That is very interesting and it enables us to have a through discussion on how to make something. We love working with special materials such as titanium, heat-resistant alloys or hardened materials. But sometimes also molybdenum or niobium, which is used in machines for cancer treatment. The variety of products and materials makes it fun. It is nice to work on something in which you can distinguish yourself. ”

Cross-pollination, persistence and continuous testing will take you further

“At the start of such a project all those involved are present both externally and internally which is great,” continues Sybren. “It is also very nice to be able to work with colleagues who come up with fresh ideas. For example, I was trying to machine a part to make a stent. The product contained a highly tolerated rounding that I could not manage. The golden tip from a colleague was: "pack the product in clay, to improve the stability of the product". That worked. Through cross-pollination, persistence and continuous testing, you will eventually get a lot done. For example, I recently managed to make a hole of 0.15mm and 0.8mm depth. That is a real breakthrough. ”

Ultramodern work floor in Drachten filled with high-tech machines

“I've been working at NTS for eight years now and I'm still learning new things every day. I came into contact with NTS when I was 14 years old and had to choose an internship. Janko is my uncle and he suggested that I could do an internship at NTS. My first reaction was, "What will I be doing there?" I imagined a dirty workplace with men in dirty overalls with dirty hands. But nothing could be further from the truth. What I saw looked more like an ultra-modern laboratory filled with all kinds of high-tech machines. I really enjoyed the internship and at the age of 16 I started at NTS in a study program in which I combined work with learning. ”

Ended up in an industry I never knew existed

“Because of the internship I found a job in a sector that I didn't even know existed. I had chosen for electro at secondary school, but I didn’t really like it. During my apprenticeship trajectory I consecutively obtained a machine fitter degree in fine mechanics in two years and a CNC machining degree in two years. After that I followed a training in machining technology in Hengelo for another two years. Now I am a CNC milling machinist on, among others, the five-axis milling machine.”

Programming operations in TopSolid

“We work with very different machines. We have a number of three-axis milling machines, a number of five-axis milling machines, four turning and milling combinations and a number of standard CNC lathes. I use TopSolid to program the machines. You use it to make a digital representation of reality in which you indicate: ‘I want to cut a corner here, drill a hole there and so on.’ The machine then does exactly what has been entered. The only thing you have to do manually is to clamp the material and set the machine. Then you check your products with measuring tools and measuring machines with the help of microscopes ”

Database with operations and tools

“We use the same software for all milling machines and turning and milling combinations. Janko manages that software. Because everyone works in the same software, you can also help each other. For example, I recently ordered a 0.2mm diamond coated milling cutter from Asia. I then tell Janko which tool it is and he creates it in the software. In this way he builds up a very large database of tools, auxiliary tools and clamping equipment. ”

Opportunities, contacts and appreciation make NTS a great company

“The fact that you are given the time and space to test and try things out is what makes the work at NTS so beautiful. The small cutter is an example of this.” Janko fully agrees: “the ability you have to experiment over and over again, the contact with your environment, the opportunities you are given and the appreciation make NTS Norma in Drachten an incredibly nice company to work for. To people who are interested in working at NTS I would say just drop by. And to the young generation: "come and have a look, try it out for a day because then you can see and experience our work and how much fun it is."

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