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Champion jet skiers look to ATP and XYZ for that vital competitive edge.

Air Time Products' Chris Giles with the XYZ 710 VMC that is the latest addition to the Leicester company's machine tool inventory.

Date of issue: 21st December 2012

ATP after-market jet skiing components ready to be shipped to customers around the world.

ATP after-market jet skiing components ready to be shipped to customers around the world.

Seven-times World Freeride Champion Pierre Maixent on his ATP-sponsored Jet Ski demonstrates the power to weight ratio that enables his Jet Ski to accelerate faster than a Ferrari sports car.

Seven-times World Freeride Champion Pierre Maixent on his ATP-sponsored Jet Ski demonstrates the power to weight ratio that enables his Jet Ski to accelerate faster than a Ferrari sports car.

Hanging upside down in mid-air is all in a day's work for top jet skiers Lee Stone, a freestyle champion at the age of 14 and World Pro Champion at 19, and Pierre Maixent, a seven-times world freeride champion, both of whom are among a team of riders sponsored by Air Time Products. Jet Ski is a registered trademark of industrial giant Kawasaki of Japan - and synonymous with small motorised watercraft. Air Time Products, on the other hand, is a small by comparison but thriving business set up and run by husband and wife team Chris and Lisa Giles. However, as any jet skiing enthusiast will testify, the Leicester-based company is recognised world-wide for its comprehensive range of innovative after-market components tailored specifically for the freestyle and freeride specialist. Around 95 per cent of production is exported, upgrading various aspects of the mass-produced Jet Ski and equipping it perfectly for the type of tricks jet skiers like to do.

What for former professional musician and jet skiing enthusiast Chris Giles began as a hobby 22 years ago, and a welcome break from the stress of performing, is now a design and manufacturing operation housed in a 2500 sq. ft. industrial unit customised, he says, "to our way of working". Although the initial premise from inception eight years ago was that ATP would design its own products and then outsource machining of its aluminium and stainless steel components, it was not long before production moved in-house, even though neither Chris nor Lisa, who is also an accomplished and enthusiastic jet skier, have any previous formal engineering qualifications or experience.

The couple's move into CNC machining resulted from a visit to the Nuneaton showroom and demonstration facility of XYZ Machine Tools Ltd, and their subsequent decision to install an XYZ Mini Mill 560 compact machining centre. "We have had to learn about every aspect of the machining process from materials through to programming and operating a CNC machine," says Lisa Giles. This was, she adds, made easier by the training provided as part of the purchase, along with a tooling package and the reassurance of a three-year warranty. "The applications and training people from XYZ spent a lot of time with us when we were learning about CNC," says Chris Giles, "and they continue to help, the telephone help line being particularly useful when we need some advice or assistance."

The Mini Mill has since been followed by an XYZ ProTURN CNC/manual lathe and, most recently, by a 20 hp/8000 rev/min XYZ 710 VMC with 4th axis capability. This vertical machining centre's 760 mm by 430 mm table can hold workpieces weighing up to 500 kg, and its 4th axis capability can be used either as an indexer for moving the part to a set angle or as a fully-interpolated axis for spiral milling. The Siemens 828D conversational control fitted as standard can be programmed on the shopfloor without any G coding knowledge, courtesy of ShopMill sequence programming. Alternatively, programming can be done off-line, using CADCAM - as is the case at ATP - or other applications.

One example of the benefits resulting from this latest investment is a carburettor component that requires 24 0.9 mm diameter holes to be drilled precisely at 15º intervals. This now takes just three minutes instead of the 15 minutes previously needed, and Chris Giles is confident the cycle time will be reduced still further.

"I can't sign up to do a degree in engineering and I can't be bothered with all the intricacies of G coding," he says. "All this is achieved because we are very determined. So I learn what I need to know in order to do what I have to do." In fact, between them, Chris and Lisa Giles are responsible for every aspect of their business, including supporting 14 dealerships as far afield as the USA and Australia, with their son, Ollie, lending a hand setting and running machines. "We don't really plan our forward investment," says Chris Giles. "The limit is how many machines we can run without having to bring someone else into the business."

Individual machines are not allocated to specific jobs, although the VMC 710 is used for all 4th axis work. ATP keeps a lot of stock, enabling it to respond quickly to internet orders, with Lisa Giles co-ordinating production priorities in terms of the 68 products currently available, such as handle pole brackets, carburettors, flywheels and manifold spacers. The CNC machines are re-set for the next priority product as they become available, with small, regular batches of 20 to 100 parts being the norm rather than long production runs. Anodising, bead blasting, engraving and 'tattoo' finishing is done in-house, with polishing and welding outsourced to specialist companies.